Jamie Harnwell driving the game forward in Western Australia

Jamie Harnwell is Perth Glory’s record appearance holder, with 256 games across three decades. Now Chief Football Officer for Football West, he spoke to Soccerscene about the changes from the NSL to the A-League, the challenges of running a football federation, and his favourite footballing moments throughout his career.

So firstly, what’s the biggest challenges facing Football West at the moment?

Harnwell: I think it’s interesting. Football West is in a really good position, being very fortunate with COVID over here and able to get out and play. The challenges are more for our clubs I suppose, and then Football West supporting them. Facilities are always a challenge for every sport, but certainly for football. We need to make sure there are enough grounds and space for people to play, but also aspects like lighting, adequate change rooms, and those sorts of things are suitable for clubs. We have a number of them almost putting up the closed sign because they have too many players and not enough space for them to play.

The other challenge for Football West and the clubs is the increase in governance requirements. We are basically a volunteer sport in many ways. And the increasing legalities and issues across that for volunteers to deal with can be difficult. So it’s time that we at Football West need to be able to support our clubs, make sure they’re adhering to good practice, and doing the right things so that they can continue to grow.

How has professional football in Australia improved since you first debuted with Perth Glory in the late 90s?

Harnwell: I think it’s actually professional football now. You know when I first started playing, I think there was ourselves and maybe Carlton who were actual full-time professional clubs. The rest were part-time as people were still working during the day, going to training at night, and trying to juggle the two. So certainly the transition into the A-League and full-time professionalism for all clubs has been huge, and just the continued increased coverage and media around the game has made us much more accessible. It’s easier to see and has a much better chance of building that supporter base across the game here in Australia.

What areas do you think the game can continue to improve on going forward into the future?

Harnwell: There’s always talent development and making sure that we stay on pace with best practices and what’s happening in other parts of the world. We are a smaller nation in the grand scheme of things in football, so we need to be smart about how we approach those sorts of things and make sure we get bang for our buck for everything that we do. The other thing is we need to try and increase the commercialism of the game and make sure that we continue to get funds into the game that can assist in the youth development that can help in costs for clubs and all those types of things. So that’s the way I know Football Australia is working hard on it. They’re starting to bring more and more partners into the game. But if you look at the mega machines like AFL, then we probably still have some way to go in that.

How can football win across young athletes into joining the sport over others?

Harnwell:
I think we’re really lucky as a game. I can’t speak for other states, I suppose – but the numbers here at Football West in Western Australia just continue to grow year in year out. We are a very attractive game for parents to pick for young boys and girls. It’s a very easy game to choose and very easy to play and train. So we’re certainly well-positioned in that respect – making sure that our clubs provide positive environments that they enjoy what they do. There isn’t the overarching focus on just winning games, but more a longer-term development based approach that will make sure talented young players will stay in football rather than going across to other codes.

On a personal level, what is your most memorable footballing memory?

Harnwell: There’s probably a few, I suppose for myself as a player – it would have been the first NSL Championship that we won. We’d had a couple of cracks at it before and sort of fell away in the Grand Final. So that first win in 2003 was huge, and really got the monkey off our back, and managing to score in that game with the massive crowd was fantastic. But I’m also a Manchester United fan, so the treble was pretty good as well. So I don’t know which one ranks better for me!

Canberra United A-League Men’s debut delayed to 2025/26 season

Canberra have been dealt a cruel blow in their bid to have an A-League Men’s side, with the A-League confirming that the expansion bid wouldn’t be viable for season 2024/25.

A-Leagues commissioner Nick Garcia has however backed Canberra United to join as the 14th team in the league for the 2025/26 season, following the announcement of Auckland FC as the 13th.

Initially, the goal was to have a 14 team league for 2024/25 to avoid any fixture difficulties with a bye, however the lack of movement surrounding funding for a team in the capital halted those ideas.

The group behind an expansion bid “aren’t able to stand up a team in time for season 2024-25” and frustratingly, fans in the ACT are made to wait another 12 months to see a team they were promised a long time ago.

A-Leagues commissioner Nick Garcia discussed the next steps the league will take to ensure the team stands up and is sustainable long term.

“We are still in discussion with a preferred consortium for an A-League licence in Canberra, but they aren’t able to stand up a team in time for season 2024-25,” he said in a press conference confirming the news.

“The ACT has a fantastic football fanbase, and we remain committed to Canberra and a 14th A-League team. We want to give new owners the proper runway to set up a team to ensure long-term success.

“The preferred consortium has the right capability – a mix of European top-flight experience, and local Canberra knowledge and relationships – and we continue to work with them.”

The APL had hoped to raise $100m in franchise fees – $25m per club – from Canberra, Auckland and two other sides by the start of the 2025-26 season.

This news comes not long after Canberra United Women’s team were saved by a crucial $200,000 investment by the ACT government and Capital Football were confirmed to be owning the team for the next season.

It is all a bit unorganised from the A-Leagues and the failure to start this Canberra Men’s team will create a bit of fixture difficulty with a bye that compromises the schedule.

The success of Auckland FC is vital for the A-League to be correct in their decision to delay Canberra United and both teams will need to hit the ground running on and off the field to save any embarrassment.

Recent data shows huge growth in the A-Leagues

Recent data has come out of Australia’s top leagues for both men’s and women’s to show a huge increase in support and viewership.

The Isuzu UTE A-League has built on a three-year continuous growth with 1.44 million fans attending the 2023-24 season. The highest number since the 2018-19 season.

This has resulted in a 33% increase in club memberships and a 36% increase in consideration for purchasing membership.

This has also followed a trend of increasing interest in the younger age group with 18-25 marking a 38% increase in fan interest.

This is evident that there is growth in support of the sport and investors and stakeholders should consider this positive data.

The final series is a prime example with the highest numbers of fans since 2009-10 with 138,000 attending. Also, on Channel 10 alone, 1.2 million people watched the finals.

The digital and broadcast viewership has also indicated a year-by-year growth with a 53% increase in Paramount+ viewership and a 16% increase in free-to-air viewership.

This comes in unison with social media which has developed staggeringly the most. On the social and digital channels, there were 530 million video views up 210%, 1.9 million followers which reached a 44% increase and 1.2 billion impressions which is up a significant 70% from last season.

These results indicate that a strong digital and social media presence is key for the A-League’s popularity.

Not just with the fans and supporters the league itself crossed some milestones with record transfer fees and 3.92 goals a game (most in any league worldwide).

Also, it continues to be a league that supports the Australian footballing system and future stars with 15 A-League players called up to the Socceroos squad and a 46% increase in minutes for under 23 players.

This proves the league is not only still supporting the growth and opportunity for young Australian players, but also continues to be expanding and competitive, which are key goals to achieve for any footballing league, especially one that is continuing to try and develop every season.

The Liberty Women’s A-League on the back of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup has shown promising growth in similar sectors as well, indicating that there is a flow-on effect between international support and an embracing of the local national game.

19 players who played in the 2023 Women’s FIFA World Cup played in the Liberty A-League, showing worldwide talent presides and is attracted to this league.

The 2023-24 season ended with the highest attendance ever with 312,176 patrons a 123% increase. This goes in hand with the huge 611% increase in club-specific memberships.

There was also the highest attendance of any women’s club sports match this season at 11,475.

Broadcasting viewership has also had massive growth. There was a 53% increase in average 10Bold FTA audiences and a 68% increase in 10play minutes viewed. The Grand Final itself got 279,000 views up by 64%.

The social media of the Liberty A-League has followed the trend with a community size increase of 32%, impressions up 64%, engagement increased by 80% and a huge 192% increase in videos viewed.

These numbers are a telling sign that these leagues are growing in popularity and have all the support needed for more future success if they are further invested in and supported with long-term strategies and goals. The fans want to maintain support the game and they need the necessary investment to deliver it.

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