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Is Australia ready for a two-year World Cup cycle?

Battle lines are being drawn between FIFA and key stakeholders, as it remains to be seen whether Australia will support the push for a two-year World Cup cycle.

FIFA’s minutes from the 71st Congress, where Saudi Arabia put forward the motion to study the viability of a two-year cycle, doesn’t include what member federations voted for in the motion.

Football Australia hasn’t stated publicly whether they were one of the 166 nations who voted for the motion, or whether they support the plans.

Football Australia is instead adopting a wait-and-see approach, to avoid taking a position before any proposal for changes are put forward after the viability study is completed.

Two-time A-League Coach of the Year Ernie Merrick believes the push from FIFA for a two-year World Cup cycle is because of business and money.

“It’s about profit and loss. It’s not about the people in the sport really, and FIFA are always competing with their confederations, of which there are six, and FIFA only have one event where they make substantial money from revenue and that’s every four years,” Merrick said.

“So in effect FIFA loses money for three years, and then the fourth year and makes massive profits mainly from broadcast, ticket sales, and sponsorship from a World Cup.”

The majority of FIFA’s $8.7 billion in revenue between 2015-2018 came from the 2018 Men’s tournament.

The commercial value of another World Cup every four years is incredibly attractive to the governing body as a way to boost its already full coffers.

Australian football will struggle to keep up with other countries if the World Cup is hosted every two years, according to Merrick.

“At the same time a lot of countries, including Asian countries, are spending an enormous amount of money on facilities and preparation setups for national competition. We all know of England’s setup, which is huge at St George’s Park, and here we don’t have a designated specific setup to prepare national teams,” he said.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure that will have to change to give Australia a chance to qualify on a regular basis. We certainly have good players and good coaches and we can compete with anyone regarding players, coaching and strategy but when it comes to the sort of money involved in preparing a national team, friendly games, and the amount of travel involved, Australia is really going to suffer.”

Michael Valkanis – former A-League coach, player and current Greece assistant coach – believes that without aligning with FIFA international dates, it means the A-League will struggle to adapt to a two-year World Cup cycle.

“We saw the effects of the Socceroos going away to play, and it always makes it difficult on A-League coaches and teams to support that.” Valkanis said.

“You can see the effects it can have on finals games, and we’ve been crying out for a long time that we become parallel with the rest of the world with international dates.”

Some of Australia’s biggest competitors in the AFC are showing ambivalence towards the concept.

“It would depend on how it would all be organised,” a Korean FA official told Deutsche Welle.

“If we want to have consistent success then we need to play as many competitive games against South American and European teams as possible. At the moment, we play one or two games every four years if we qualify. It’s not enough.”

While the viability of a two-year World Cup cycle is being studied, it is unclear how determined FIFA is to implement such a radical change to the football calendar against intense opposition from some of its members.

Merrick believes the end result could be FIFA demanding a portion of the confederation’s revenue.

“I think four years is probably a better situation at the moment – maybe three years down the track – but I think confederations will have to come to an arrangement with FIFA, and FIFA will want to take some of their revenue somehow through licensing,” Merrick said.

Those involved in international football already believe that the best model is the one we have currently, something that Valkanis is a strong fan of.

“I am a traditionalist. I think the World Cup is something special that stands out from any other competition in the world,” he said.

“The only other event that comes close is the Olympic Games, and to change the format so we see it every two years instead of four, I don’t think it leaves it the same. It is special the way it is.”

Football Australia CEO James Johnson will have a challenge on his hands navigating what a change in the World Cup’s schedule means for Australian football, as FIFA continues to push for increased revenue from the game.

Mark Viduka inducted into Sport Australia Hall of Fame

Viduka

Legendary Socceroo and National Soccer League Champion Mark Viduka has been honoured with an induction into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

Viduka, 46, joins fellow Socceroos Ray Baartz, Harry Kewell, Joe Marston MBE, Alfred Quill, Peter Wilson & Johnny Warren OAM MBE in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

The ‘V Bomber’ played 43 ‘A’ internationals for Australia, scoring 11 goals and captaining the side to their only ever knockout rounds appearance at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

Viduka was born in Melbourne in 1975 to a Ukrainian-Croatian mother and Croatian father, and grew up playing at the junior ranks of Melbourne Knights (formerly Melbourne Croatia).

After spending a year at the Australian Institute of Sport in the early 90’s, Viduka made his senior NSL debut for the Knights in 1993 as a 17-year-old.

In his two full seasons for the club, he won both the Golden Boot and Johnny Warren Medal for the best player of the season, twice, and helped the Knights win their maiden title in 1994/95.

In 1995, a move abroad gained momentum and he was sold to Dinamo Zagreb in Croatia, to play for the biggest club in the homeland of his parents. The transfer money earned by the Knights enabled them to build a grandstand at their home in Somers St, named the ‘Mark Viduka Stand’.

Viduka then moved to Celtic and scored 25 league goals in the 1999/2000 season, comfortably winning the Golden Boot, and helped the side win the Scottish League Cup. He was voted the Players’ Player of the Season, and was then sold to English Premier League side Leeds United for £6 million.

It is in the famous Leeds United colours that some of Viduka’s most famous moments were created.

The highlight of his first season was a masterclass against Liverpool FC. Leeds won the match 4-3 against the Reds, with Viduka scoring all four goals for Leeds at Elland Road. He finished that season with 22 goals in all competitions, picking up where he left off with Celtic.

In his second and third seasons with Leeds, Viduka scored 16 and 22 goals respectively, with the side continuing to ply their trade in Europe. Viduka was transferred at the end of the fourth season to Middlesbrough for £4.5 million.

After the heartbreak of 1997 and 2001 World Cup qualifying, Australia had their best chance to end the 32-year drought of not making a Men’s World Cup. After losing the first leg 1-0 to Uruguay away in Montevideo, the Socceroos took Uruguay to penalties in the second leg after Mark Bresciano made it 1-1 on aggregate.

Heroics from Mark Schwarzer in the ensuing penalty shoot-out ensured the Socceroos would qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, and despite Viduka missing a penalty in the shoot-out, he expertly captained the national team to one of the biggest and most memorable nights in Australian sport’s history.

And after the 2008/09 season with Middlesbrough – and despite interest from brand-new A-League club Melbourne Heart, Viduka called time on his incredible career. An icon of the game, Viduka will forever be one of Australia’s and the NSL’s finest ever exports to the Premier League.

The importance of boosting the connection between clubs and their local businesses

Football clubs across the world have financially suffered over the past two years, through the length of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it was the smaller businesses in these clubs’ catchment areas who were affected even more.

Local businesses are a vital part of the overall football economy across the world, including in Australia, but according to studies local businesses saw their revenues slashed by 20-30% on average.

With stadium gates around the world already reopening or in the process of it, these clubs have the opportunity to not only rebuild their own revenue, but play an important role in boosting their local economies as a whole.

Blackpool-based Eleven Sports Media is rapidly expanding their existing mission to assist in that process.

Over the past 13 years the company has bridged the gap between clubs’ time-starved commercial teams and their local business communities.

Eleven specialise in owning, managing and operating Community Partner programmes for clubs who decide to use their services. Resources are freed up, with the club provided a solution which grows multiple long-lasting partnerships with local businesses.

Over the past year, demand for the company’s deeply held community values, top-class activation expertise and high-tech stadium inventory has surged.

The company’s Stadium, StatTV and StatZone fan-engagement platforms continue to evolve rapidly, with many clubs across the world noticing these improvements.

More than 40 clubs across all the of the UK (many of them being in the Premier League) have partnered with Eleven Sports Media, with the company also recently striking a deal with MLS side New York City FC (NYCFC).

Their growth is a testament to the work they do in helping clubs build strong connections with their local business communities.

“We have been fortunate to work across all tiers of the game and in all regions of the country for many years,” Matt Cairns, founder and CEO of Eleven, told FC Business.

“We know exactly how important the ties between clubs and the businesses around them truly are.

“It’s those businesses that will always be there to support their clubs through the ups and downs, and we understand what those local businesses need for real growth. That’s why we have evolved our model so far beyond simple stadium advertising. From boosting digital audiences through to achieving CSR objectives or creating high-impact experiences, we cover all the bases to make sure those businesses enjoy real returns from of their partnerships with clubs.”

Eleven’s new agreement with the New York club will see them develop new partnerships for local businesses, giving them an unprecedented platform for growth possibilities in the future.

The company’s branding will also be displayed on NYCFC’s academy kits, an investment that Cairns says speaks to Eleven’s commitment both to the MLS club and to the new partners it will engage on their behalf.

“We are the shirt sponsors of over a dozen Academy teams, and it’s great to add NYCFC to that list. Investing in our partner clubs is hugely important to us – it matters to those clubs, and to the local businesses around them. There’s no better way to demonstrate our own values, as well as the rewards that come from meaningfully engaging with clubs in this way,” Cairns stated.

Matt Goodman, Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Operating Officer at NYCFC, believes the club’s partnership with Eleven is an evolution of a community focused ethos that the MLS team has maintained since it was founded.

“We’re a community asset,” he told FC Business.

“Our role is to connect with the community to empower better lives through soccer. We would have said that before the global pandemic, but even more so after it.

“Our responsibility is to help pick the citizens of the city, those businesses, back up.”

Goodman was an influential member in a team that delivered a unique collaboration with Mastercard last year, which extended the club’s commercial and digital marketing expertise to struggling local businesses.

The club has also worked to free up retail room for local challenger drinks brands – another one of the ways it has provided opportunities for small businesses within New York to gain exposure in the marketplace.

“The most exciting part about partnering with Eleven is that shared emphasis on small business and on community,” Goodman said.

“To help those who need help the most. Eleven’s history with global football, coupled with an emphasis on community, is the most unique part of how Eleven operates.

“What the partnership will do is it will give us a much larger platform to be able to speak to more fans and give more small businesses, a bigger platform for success. And that to us is the most important part.”

It’s a similar story in the UK, where Eleven is the shirt sponsor for both Celtic FC Women and the club’s B-team, providing the Scottish giants with an array of technology and partnership solutions.

The club was founded in its community to initially address the issue of poverty, and despite its strong worldwide following, its devotion to its local roots remains strong. Eleven has added many local businesses to Celtic’s network of local partnerships.

“The club was born in the community,” Commercial Director of Celtic FC, Adrian Filby, told FC Business.

“Local businesses are an important part of the community; they employ local people – they are supporters. Our partnerships with Eleven gives them the opportunity to be part of a premium global brand.

“Therefore, we are – in a big way- supporting them and helping them come back through a difficult period.”

“It’s about bringing everybody back to what the club stood for. Without local businesses, without local people employed, there isn’t a local football club.

“We’re all one, so it’s a critical part of the ecosystem for us.”

In finding these innovative ways to connect with local businesses and expand their relationships, with the help of companies like Eleven, clubs are viably supporting their own future – but also that of their local economies.

 

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