How the APL hopes to take Australian football to the next level

Last week the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) revealed a key strategic move for professional football in Australia, collectively rebranding the men’s, women’s and youth leagues, with all of them now falling under the ‘A-Leagues’ moniker.

The recent revelations are set to be the start of a host of other strategic priorities which look to revitalise the professional game in Australia, in the coming months.

Speaking to Football Nation Radio (FNR), APL Managing Director Danny Townsend outlined the organisation’s viewpoint on the need to revamp attitudes within the game, particularly when it came to equality for female athletes.

“I think where the naming convention change came from was that we sat back and looked at what was the genesis of the naming of the A-League,” he said.

“Where did it come from, what did it mean and what did it stand for? The information we got was the ‘A’ stood for Australia, it stood for ‘A’ quality, it was the ‘A’ elite competition for football in Australia, which all made sense.

“Then we looked into the genesis of the W-League and where that name came from, and it was a real short bit of work, it was ‘W’ stands for woman.

“So, we thought, if the ‘A’ in the A-League stands for all those wonderful things, why are those things only attached to the men’s game and not the women’s game. We felt we needed to change the brand architecture of the sport to elevate the women’s game…you need young aspiring female athletes to feel that they are part of a football movement that puts the same value on their football as their male counterparts.”

Whilst name changes are easy to do, actions ultimately matter, and when it comes to the women’s side of the game the APL has recently announced the introduction of three more A-League Women’s teams by 2023.

It’s a good show of commitment to the women’s game, with an extended season also part of the APL’s future plans, when financially viable.

On the topic of finances, a huge factor which has helped secure the future of the professional game in Australia is the APL’s recent $200 million TV deal with ViacomCBS.

ViacomCBS – who own Network 10 in Australia, have also acquired a small equity stake in the APL under terms of the deal.

Townsend explained to FNR why the APL’s partnership with ViacomCBS was the best way forward for the game.

“When we went sat down with ViacomCBS and their leadership, they looked across the table and said ‘we believe in your sport, we love your vision for your sport and we want to make it the number one sport on our network’,” he said.

“We wanted a partner that was in the trenches with us, because they are business partners.

“That’s why the shareholding for ViacomCBS in APL was really a symbolic thing. As much as it was great for us to have an organisation of their scale and experience involved, it was what it said about their commitment to football which made this thing work. They’ve been fantastic to deal with.”

The deal will give increased exposure to the A-Leagues across Network 10 properties such as The Project and Studio 10. Alongside this, A-League Men’s matches will be shown on 10’s main channel on Saturday night, with A-League Women’s matches to be shown on Sunday afternoons on 10BOLD.

“The Saturday night free-to-air game was really critical to us, both for the men’s league on the Saturday night and the women on the Sunday,” Townsend said.

“It’s ensuring that we carve out a window in the free-to-air environment that’s about football. From 6.30 to 10:00 on Saturday night, it will football night on a main channel, free-to-air…it will be great for us.”

However, the most important strategic piece to the puzzle according to Townsend is the APL’s $30 million digital football hub – which is set to be revealed later this month.

The hub will give fans the content they want, when they want it, something which the APL Managing Director believes the game has fallen short on over time.

“The challenge we’ve had in our game is there has been a vacuum of football content in Australia,” he said.

“I believe the most critical part of our strategy is what we’re launching before the season, which is the one stop shop for football in Australia, digitally.

“It is the biggest single investment football has made in itself. It’s a $30 million investment into digital infrastructure and data infrastructure that will serve the football fan. It won’t be the home of Australian football; it will be Australia’s home of football.

“What it will deliver is content – audio-visual, editorial and everything else you need. Part of the reason we are doing that, and investing in what we are calling APL studios, is ensuring that by organising the football community in one place we are able to deliver the utility in their everyday lives and focus on how they choose to consume football. If you do that they’ll keep coming back, you put great content in there, you serve it, you understand that fan and their preferences.

The APL will look to showcase A-League Youth games, reinvigorate the fantasy gaming sector and produce a range of unique programming on the digital hub, amongst other initiatives, which will target all types of football fans.

“On the programming around all of the A-Leagues, part of APL studios is actually creating that content – that wasn’t there in previous times,” Townsend said.

“Those midweek wrap up shows, those highlight shows, those debate shows with a focus on getting different cohorts of our fan base engaged. We will do shows for younger fans on the mixture of football culture on things like boots & music and all those things that that fan cohort wants.

“Because we have that flexibility with the studio to do that, you’ll see a lot more content. It’s not just about the studio, it’s about the ability to surface it to fans. With the digital platform that we’ll have, we’ll be able to ensure our content is seen by the different pockets of fans in different demographics.”

With new commercial partners to be announced in the coming weeks, the APL have started their transition away from the FA strongly, with all eyes set to be on the professional game when the leagues kick off from November 19.

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Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Newcastle Jets secure A-League future with new owners confirmed

Newcastle Jets have confirmed Maverick Sports Partners as the Club’s new owners. This ownership, subject to final approval from the APL and Football Australia, will launch a “new era” for the Jets under MSP ownership.

This massive announcement comes not long after Australian Professional Leagues chairman Stephen Conroy failed to guarantee Newcastle’s future only three months ago.

The statement said that Maverick Sports Partners have confirmed an agreement to acquire the Newcastle Jets Football Club and are now deeply focused on implementing their plans to bring long term stability and success to this Club.

The Group lead by experienced sports administrator Maurice Bisetto who played a major part in the establishment of Western United FC in the A-Leagues.

Maverick Sports Group is an Australian sports consortium based out of Wetherhill Park in Sydney’s South-West.

Newcastle Jets CEO Shane Mattiske confirmed the significant news.

“Today is a hugely significant day for this Club and this community, as we confirm Maverick Sports Partners as the new owners of the Jets,” said Mattiske in a club statement.

“Over the last three years, we have built a strong foundation for the future of this football club, and it is exciting to be beginning a new era with incoming owners who believe in the opportunity that exists with this Club, with this community and with football as a whole.

“Throughout our process, Maurice Bisetto, the consortium representative, and his partners have demonstrated a deep understanding of football and how to bring success. They also understand this community and their plans are very much aligned with the work that is already underway. I know the Group will bring positive new thinking, new connections and a wealth of experience that will drive the growth of this Club moving forward.

“With this transition to a permanent ownership structure, it is important to acknowledge the support that the outgoing ownership group has provided to the Club over the last three and a half years. These owners believed in the importance of this Club to this community and to the A-Leagues’ competition as a whole.

“They have played a hugely significant role in the history of this Club and on behalf of all fans and stakeholders of the Jets I want to acknowledge the commitment and contribution they have made to us all. Their huge support of this Club will forever be remembered.”

Maverick Sports Partners Director Maurice Bisetto is determined to connect with the Newcastle, Hunter Valley and Northern NSW Community.

“We believe in this Club, the A-Leagues and its players and we’re determined to build success for the Jets and this region,” said Bisetto in a statement.

“We have been impressed by the strength of football here in this region. We know there is a strong historical fanbase and a strong participation base here and we want to bring all of these people together for our Men’s and Women’s games.

“Our team at Maverick Sports Partners are absolutely committed to, and very excited, about the opportunity that exists here at the Newcastle Jets. We see this as the beginning of a new era for the Newcastle Jets and look forward to building a truly great Club with the support of this community.”

This news is huge for the league and the Jets financially, with the club no longer being a financial responsibility for the four other A-League clubs that funded them (Sydney FC, Western Sydney, Western United and Wellington Phoenix).

The Jets can easily recruit players and rebuild to become a stronger unit on the field whilst securing stability off it, and the foundation A-League club with a healthy fanbase and great location can continue to exist.

Iconic Lambert Park re-opens after $2m refurbishment

Lambert Park, home of the APIA Leichardt Football Club, officially re-opened on the weekend after a successful $2m refurbishment.

The extensive investment for the iconic local club includes:

– Replacement of the all-weather playing surface

– Improved drainage

– New concrete edge, stairs and fencing around the perimeter

– Improved access with a new ramp to allow access on the field

The ground is gradually improving to become one of the premier NPL surfaces in the country and this is another one of many recent upgrades helped by the commitment of the Inner West Council.

Currently the ground has two main stands on either side of the playing surface. In the southern stands, there are dressing room facilities, a social club with views of the game, press facilities and media facilities.

On Sunday, the new look Lambert Park was the home for the APIA Leichardt vs Gladesville Ravens NPL Women’s game, and the day was spent in celebration of the refurbishment, as the club organised an event.

The event included an official ceremony by Inner West Council pre-game, free ice cream and activations which drew a decent crowd to the game.

APIA posted an update regarding Sunday’s re-opening.

“Lambert Park was filled with Maroon and Blue as over 400 predominantly female footballers celebrated the $2 million Lambert Park upgrade,” APIA confirmed on their social media accounts.

“The day was filled with some fantastic football and some great activations and enjoyed by all.

“The clubs would also like to thank local clubs Balmain & District Football Club, Leichardt Saints and opponents on the day Gladesville Ravens Women’s NPL football for supporting the day.

“It was a special day for football in our community.”

Lambert Park is an iconic ground that has seen some of Australia’s best names start their careers there since it was first used in 1954.

APIA Leichardt Football Club has produced more Matildas and Socceroos than any other club in Australian history.

The ground gets another much deserved upgrade and will continue to host NPL NSW matches across all age groups in both men’s and women’s competitions.

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