Matildas did the nation proud but this may just be the beginning

The Matildas ended their Olympic campaign in fourth place last night, after losing 4-3 to the USA in the Bronze medal match.

Overall, this is the best result the Matildas have achieved at the Olympics in their history, surpassing their 5th place finish at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

In the warm up matches in the build-up to the tournament under new coach Tony Gustavsson, the Matildas were shaky to say the least.

A 5-2 loss to Germany, followed by a 5-0 loss to the Netherlands, led to many questioning the resolve of the team before kicking a ball at the Olympic Games.

Gustavsson and his squad of players didn’t panic however, and when the Matildas’ Olympic campaign officially begun, they opened with a 2-1 win over New Zealand.

An entertaining 4-2 loss to Sweden was followed by a gritty 0-0 draw with the USA which allowed the Australian side to progress to a quarter final match up against Great Britain.

A 4-3 victory over Great Britain in the quarter final, in a game which showcased their ‘never say die’ attitude was the clear high point of the tournament for the Matildas.

Australians in their droves tuned into to every Matildas match, with their eventual 1-0 loss to Sweden in the semi final watched by an average audience of over 1.8 million and thousands more streaming the game on 7Plus.

Figures such as this highlight how the team has become one of Australia’s most loved sporting teams, with the country heartbroken yet proud of their efforts.

The Matildas are undoubtedly ‘box office’ but their Olympic exploits are just the beginning of a big couple of years to come for Tony Gustavsson’s side.

The team are set to compete in the 2022 Asian Cup in India in the coming months, looking to go one step better this time after losing in the final in 2018 to Japan.

The tournament in India is a chance for this group of players to win their first Asian Cup since 2010, but will also give the side more competitive tournament minutes before the big one, a home Women’s World Cup in 2023.

The Women’s World Cup in 2023 will be the biggest event held on Australian shores since the 2000 Olympics, and economically it will be a major boost for the country after the significant hit it has taken due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2019 Women’s World Cup, which was hosted by France, made an estimated $461 million GDP contribution to the host nation.

Tom Rischbieth, Football Australia’s head of commercial and events, believes the 2023 event will produce similar benefits economically.

“Yes, it will deliver amazing football matches but also substantial benefits socially and economically. We know from a tourism perspective 60,000 international visitors are predicted for the tournament equating to 600,000 bed nights and the numbers just keep growing, an estimated 5,000 jobs will also be created, it is a huge opportunity and one that we realise the benefits of,” Rischbieth said recently at a SportsPro APAC Series event.

The organisers of the tournament believe the 2023 competition is on track to sell 1.5 million tickets, which will break records for the women’s game.

“We know in France, over a million fans attended the 52 matches. And we now know that we’re going to have 64 matches in 2023. The ten stadiums that have been confirmed range from boutique to mega size, so we’re definitely on track,” Jane Fernandez, Chief Operating Officer (Australia) for the FIFA WWC 2023 said at the SportsPro event.

Football Australia have heavily focused on the legacy the tournament will have on the game here, including factors such as participation, facilities and improving region relations, but a strong Matildas outfit at the tournament is of vital importance.

With their impressive showings at the Olympic Games, fans of the Matildas should see the further development of players before the World Cup, including highly talented youngsters like Mary Fowler, Ellie Carpenter and Kyra Cooney-Cross.

With a right blend of these youngsters and world class players in their prime, there is no reason why the Matildas can’t seriously challenge to win the World Cup on home soil.

The hype around hosting the World Cup in two years’ time has not yet set in for most Australians, with many not understanding the magnitude of the event.

When the tournament does finally roll around however, the world will be watching, with many millions of Australians hoping to see our golden girls once again give them something to be proud of.

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.

Liberty announced as major sponsor for A-League Women

A-League Women

The A-Leagues have announced non-bank lender Liberty as the first ever naming rights partner of the newly rebranded A-League Women’s competition for the 2021-22 season.

Commencing today, the multi-year deal includes naming rights partnership of the A-League Women’s competition, Final Series, and the Official Lending Partner of the A-Leagues. Liberty will also be an official Partner of the Isuzu UTE A League, A-League Youth and A-League eSports.

With the season beginning on Friday December 3, this partnership signifies a new dawn for elite football in Australia, as men’s and women’s competitions become partners at the top of the A-Leagues game – furthering football’s position as the country’s most inclusive sport to grow the game for everyone.

The investment also marks a milestone in women’s professional football, with interest in the game increasing in the lead up to the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 to be held in Australia and New Zealand.

Announcing the partnership, A-Leagues Managing Director Danny Townsend stated:

“The A-Leagues is proud and excited to welcome Liberty as a new naming rights partner. The team shares our passion for football, for diversity and for empowering women to pursue their dreams.

“We have seen a significantly expanding interest in women’s football – from grassroots through to the Matildas. By investing in women’s professional football through Liberty A-League, we offer more pathways for emerging players, ensuring our world-class competition is truly sustainable”.

Liberty CEO James Boyle was delighted to further the company’s support and involvement in Australian sport.

“Through the Liberty A-League we reaffirm our support for women in professional sport. We are passionate about helping to provide the platform that women’s football deserves.

“As a pioneer of financial inclusion, we support those who forge their own path, both on and off the field. The athletes currently playing in the Liberty A-League embody this spirit – they are the trailblazers at the top of their game.”

In another milestone, from Friday December 3, the A-Leagues will unify its Facebook and Instagram channels, reinforcing its commitment to providing the best football fan experience across all Leagues.

New A-Leagues, work still to be done

Australia’s top-flight A-Leagues is back and whilst much has changed it is clear that there is still a lot of work ahead.

Australia’s top-flight football competition is back and whilst much has changed it is clear that there is still a lot of work ahead.

The clubs are no longer driving from the back seat, and they have wasted no time and spared little expense in committing to a major makeover to Australia’s top-flight competitions, A-Leagues Men and Women.

A glossy new look, an inclusive new name that bundles the premier men’s and women’s competition, sleek new graphics, a bumper free-to-air deal as well as a new streaming service and dedicated football news platforms all represent solid wins for the Australian Professional Leagues ahead of their debut season on the back of a mountain of preparation that has gone into the promotion of the competition.

Whilst only the most naïve will have expected the efforts to deliver an instant return, the sobering numbers from the opening round of the 2021/22 A-Leagues Men season demonstrate just how much work lies ahead.

Not even the gloss of all the stellar exertion put into revamping the look and feel of the A-Leagues and the fantastic efforts that went into broadcasting the competition to Australia’s audience could completely deflect from the real issues that football continues to face in Australia.

Put simply, they are the same issues that have plagued the sport in Australia for decades, including infrastructure and failing to connect with every part of the Australian football fraternity.

The embarrassing relocation of Macarthur FC’s opening round clash with Wellington Phoenix due to the dire state of the pitch at Campbelltown Stadium will have resonated with hundreds, if not thousands of football administrators all over the country who rely on third parties to maintain their playing surfaces.

It’s one thing for a third-tier state league team to have to relocate a game due to a bad pitch.

It’s another thing for it to happen in the top-flight. Put bluntly, it’s completely unacceptable.

The issue serves as an urgent reminder for the needs of football owned and operated infrastructure.

The sub-10,000 attendance figures at four out of six games highlight the top-flight’s ongoing struggles to get bums in seats and build genuine support for expansion sides.

Off the back of a championship-winning season, Melbourne City would have to be disappointed with a crowd of 7,213, whilst the 8,210 who turned out for Western United’s home game against Melbourne Victory were largely supporters of the away team.

The relocated 1-1 draw between Macarthur and Wellington attracted a touch over 1,000 people, with a contingent of the people in the ground having stuck around following the earlier F3 Derby between Central Coast Mariners and Newcastle Jets – a fixture which was attended by less than 7,000 people.

They are numbers that must concern the clubs involved, regardless of the various mitigating circumstances that have been offered as explanations.

Macarthur’s relocation to Newcastle for the weekend was undoubtedly a major issue. However, excuses in Melbourne that with lockdown over, people have other priorities will not hold up in the long run.

The reality is that the pool of ‘new fans’ without attachment to an A-Leagues team or another club is dwindling in an extremely competitive market and this is not something that the APL will be able to expand its way out of.

For football and economic reasons, there is no denying that the A-Leagues needs more teams – as Adelaide United coach Carl Veart passionately advocated for last week. The methods for adding those teams is a critical component of the discussion moving forward.

There are clubs that exist today all over Australia that bring comparable, if not larger, crowds to Macarthur FC, Western United and at times Melbourne City.

Surely, at some point, these clubs deserve an opportunity. One of the biggest obstacles to making this happen is undoubtedly football’s first big problem – infrastructure.

Encouraging further investment in existing football infrastructure through the carrot of opportunities to access the top-flight could be a turnkey solution that will help solve both of football’s biggest issues.

The main short-term issue that was highlighted in round one was the varying quality of stream quality on Paramount+.

Personally, this was not something I experienced watching at least parts of every game via the Apple TV app on my television.

I did notice what seemed like a slightly reduced quality when simulcasting the Western United v Melbourne Victory game on my phone whilst watching the Sydney Derby on TV, but the second half seemed to be an improvement on the first.

Of course, it’s not all bad.

Technical streaming issues are nothing new when it comes to new services launching their live products.

We all remember the hugely frustrating buffering issues many users experienced when the Premier League first arrived on Optus Sport and the issues faced with the 2018 World Cup in times of peak demand.

Optus Sport rose to the challenges remarkably well and at this point, there’s no reason to doubt Paramount’s ability to do the same.

Elsewhere, a sell-out crowd packed into HBF Park to watch Perth Glory’s entertaining 1-1 draw against Adelaide United.

No doubt many of the 17,198 who attended the fixture were attracted to the game for the chance to get a glimpse of former Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool star Daniel Sturridge, highlighting the power of genuine marquees in attracting a crowd in Australia.

A healthy 23,118 at the Sydney derby at Commonwealth Bank stadium bodes well for two of the competition’s big teams in a crucial market, too.

The derby also attracted a free-to-air audience of 146,000. On face value alone, that’s not a hugely impressive number, but it is a number that bodes well for the competition according to industry experts, with well-known sports industry commentator @footyindustryAU suggesting that the number was “almost certainly” the highest-rated non-final A-League game in the last five years.

Like most things in life, the marketing gloss will never hide every flaw and the flaws don’t necessarily mean the world is coming to an end.

Round one 2021/22 represents progress and steps forward for Australian football.

The steps forward, however, are on a journey that still has miles to be walked.

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