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Will Swanton’s attempted NBL vs A-League code war was an epic fail

A-League

People like The Australian newspaper’s Will Swanton obviously detest football and apparently enjoy watching the game struggle, for acknowledgement and towards expansion.

The veteran journalist took a pot shot at football on the 17th of November, in an article pumping up the tires of the increasingly well attended National Basketball League. It was poorly timed to say the least. It came just a day after the football community had embraced the now traditional romance of November 16th; the anniversary of the day Australian football returned to World Cup respectability.

On that day in 2005, John Aloisi’s boot and Mark Schwarzer’s hands helped send the Socceroos to their first World Cup in 32 years. Never before had a team of professionals represented the nation on the biggest of football stages, yet the generation of players that emerged around the turn of the century was mature and did so with pride and determination.

Following the record breaking crowd of 17,514 that attended the Sydney Kings vs Illawarra Hawks NBL match a day later at Qudos Bank Arena, Swanton felt the need to do two things.

Firstly, he correctly identified the increase in interest and attendance at NBL matches thus far in 2019. At the time of writing, that attendance increase stood at 6.7% when measured against the 2018/19 season average. A fantastic achievement and one potentially impacted by Australia’s stellar but ultimately disappointing run at the recent World Championships in China.

Swanton captured the NBL success well with his use of the term “slam-dunk” in the headline, yet had many astonished by his decision to suggest that the A-League was kicking an “own-goal” in comparison. The award winning journalist doubled down in his second paragraph by fabricating the existence of a “summer shootout” between the two sports; arguing that basketball was gaining traction whilst football was floundering.

Perhaps confrontational by nature, Swanton felt the need to use divisive and inflammatory language to outline his thesis, when the reality is that many football fans are also embracing the success of the National Basketball League. In short, any attempt to infer that either sport is dragging fans away from the other is merely nonsense.

More alarming is the rather loose use of language and the exclusion of data that actually counters his argument decisively. The reality is that A-League crowds are up 6.9% on 2018/19 season averages, even considering the introduction of Western United and their expected mediocre crowds as they attempt to build a loyal supporter base in Geelong.

Hardly floundering.

Just four days after The Australian published the piece, the FFA would announce an increased operating surplus for 2019 of A$44.04 million and a 13% increase in Australia’s football participation rates. That increase translates to around 1.8 million Australians playing the beautiful game on a regular basis.

A record 125,631 people became members of A-League clubs in 2019 and for the first time in the competition’s history, more than 50% of participants across the country were actively supporting an A-League team.

All potentially important fragments of information to be aware of before writing an article that death knells a competition and lampoons its quality as being “not in the top two” leagues in the world. Such drivel merely enunciates the limited research undertaken for the piece and potentially the lack of knowledge possessed by the writer when it comes to football and its deep seated roots in this country.

Former Socceroo and Fox Sports analyst Mark Bosnich made mere folly of Swanton’s reference to football’s poor television figures by noting that the viewing audience for the Kings vs Hawks fixture was in fact smaller than the crowd inside the arena for the contest.

Bosnich was correct in his assertion that football fans would never raise such a statistic. Co-existence in Australia’s overcrowded sporting landscape is a reality and there is room for both codes to survive and thrive.

Perhaps the writer should be more concerned about the shrinking attendances at international cricket matches, after the Brisbane test Match at the Gabba between Australia and Pakistan drew just 13,561 fans on the opening day of the international season.

Moreover, the 31.7% decrease in Big Bash crowds in just two seasons is surely worth more space than a rather desperate attempt to set up a futile code war between two emerging sports. Framing such a tension does little more than pander to those who salivate at the thought of seeing football punted from television screens and being told to assume its seat, as it has been told many times before.

Sadly for Swanton, the game at grass roots level continues to grow, women’s football soars ahead in leaps and bounds and the A-League is plugging away quite well thank you very much.

The standard is commendable, the fans engaged and with new found independence, the future looks bright. Hopefully, those of us who enjoy watching the NBL and the A-League can savour the growth of both, hold hands, and march into the future with wonderful viewing options over the course of an Australian summer. I’ll do so with or without Will Swanton.

Stuart Thomas is a trusted Journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on macro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions.

AGL extends partnership with Melbourne Victory

AGL has announced it has renewed its partnership with four-time A-League champions Melbourne Victory for another two years.

AGL General Manager Customer Channels Jane Morwick said AGL was proud to be Melbourne Victory’s
Major Partner, extending a relationship that dates back to 2014.

“We had no hesitation in reaffirming our support for the Melbourne Victory, particularly given the success
of the partnership,” Morwick said.

“We are also pleased to be able to continue to support the club during what we know has been a
challenging year, given the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As part of a new two-year deal, AGL will remain the naming rights partner of the club’s Victory in Business
networking functions as well as the Chairman’s Function on match-days.

“Our partnership with Australia’s biggest A-League club has been highly successful and we look forward to
continuing our support of its network and its most passionate fan base,” Morwick said.

“Victory members will also continue to enjoy the benefits of this relationship through special energy offers
for partners.”

Melbourne Victory CEO Trent Jacobs added that the club was thrilled to continue its relationship with AGL.

“To recommit to the club in the current environment speaks volumes of the leadership at AGL, and behalf
of the entire football club we thank CEO Brett Redman and his staff for their ongoing loyalty and support,”
Jacobs said.

“AGL has been a wonderful supporter of our strategic vision, both on and off the pitch, and have also
provided our members and fans with genuine value through their products and services.”

3G pitches to help clubs in a post-COVID world

As football clubs around the world deal with the COVID-19 health crisis, the future use of more artificial pitches could help organisations navigate around these financially distressing times.

That is at least the view of former FA technical director Dan Ashworth, stating that the FIFA-approved football turf provides opportunities for clubs to host various events and pursue the development of their own academies.

In the UK, Maidstone United were the first ever English club to build a brand-new stadium using the highest quality 3G artificial surface.

That was in 2012, and since then, other notable clubs in the non-league divisions including Sutton United, Harrogate Town and Bromley have all made the move (in the National League) and installed 3G pitches.

The English Football League have considered allowing 3G fields in League 1 and 2, however, a vote in 2014 on the matter was tied.

This means that any club playing on an artificial pitch has to remove the surface if they want to be promoted into the EFL, even though 3G fields are allowed for the Women’s World Cup, Champions League and many other professional leagues in Europe.

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Joint-owner of Maidstone United Oliver Ash believes Dan Ashwoth is right in saying 3G pitches should be a prominent option for EFL clubs impacted financially by COVID-19.

He told fcbusiness: “With this terrible Covid-19 crisis affecting so many people and damaging so many football clubs, which are vital to their communities, we have to think outside the box if we are to avoid financial meltdown.

“Going forward it will all be about sustainability. Clubs will have to find ways of making their businesses sustainable in the interests of their supporters and their actual survival. One obvious way of achieving this is by installing a 3G pitch.

“We have now had five years’ experience of 3G pitches in the National League. We have seen supporters and players embrace the change in playing surface; we have seen that the highest quality 3G pitches encourage good football but also allow physical players to get stuck in; we have seen no particular injury problems, a welcome absence of postponements, and local people coming in their droves to watch and play football at our clubs seven days a week. It’s been life-changing in a totally positive way.”

Ash estimates that those clubs who decide to use 3G fields can generate a further £400,000 worth of income a year. This is the case because of direct pitch-hire revenue as well as indirect earnings from supporters coming into the club. Savings are also made on maintenance and postponements.

Using his own club as an example, Ash explained Maidstone United have registered a profit every season since the pitch was installed eight years ago.

“We know and respect the fact that some people still prefer to play on natural surfaces, even down in League 2, where pitch quality is inconsistent,” he said.

“However, the benefits of 3G pitches are so massive and the problems facing football so huge, it would be irrational not to give League 2 clubs the option to install them without delay and take advantage of the opportunity to transform their clubs into sustainable businesses capable of surviving this crisis and thriving thereafter,” he concluded.

Maidstone United, Sutton United, Bromley and Harrogate Town are the leaders in advocating for change in the EFL.

With leading experts in the game looking to restructure football in some capacity, what is generally the norm may be no more.

One day in the near future, these clubs could have access to the EFL without having to give up their 3G pitches.

On a local front, are 3G pitches a suitable idea for NPL and A-League clubs? Get in touch with us via email or our social channels.

Katholos and Spanoudakis – Players who know best

In this age of uncertainty, Australian football faces great challenges to maintain prosperity in the professional sporting environment.

The decision makers would assure the football fraternity,  the right decisions are being made by the  people who are responsible for the governance of the game.

However, the history of the game is highlighted by the failure to provide former players the opportunity to contribute  in their life after football.

Many of these players have succeeded in the business world but have never been sighted by the hierarchy.

In 1992, the former Socceroo great, Marshall Soper, commented the game was all about administrators, not players.

Two former players who have succeeded in the business world are former Sydney Olympic team-mates, Peter Katholos and Manny Spanoudakis.

Katholos commenced a business in the manufacture and supply of football equipment while still playing professionally, has applied his electronics background in telecommunications and pursued extensive property and development interests.

Spanoudakis’s specialty was in electronic engineering with Unisys and is now General Manager of Sales for global technology company, Cisco Systems, in the Asia Pacific region.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Katholos and Spanoudakis provide their insights into Australian football.

 

ROGER SLEEMAN

With the restart of the A- League, what are your views on the current state of the game?

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

Like all fans, I’ve missed the game and it wasn’t before time that the League was recommenced.

Ironically, the pandemic is an inflexion point for the stakeholders to reassess the existing status of the key areas of operational, technical and administrative procedures, and to implement necessary change.

PETER KATHOLOS

The restart was critical because if the League wasn’t to be completed, it could’ve potentially led to its premature demise.

Some players and coaches haven’t returned and without a competition, there was no publicity and the League became a distant memory.

However, the game probably required a reset so it could come out stronger at the other end.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What was your opinion of the playing standard before the halt?

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

Watching overseas football with no crowds over the last few months has given me the opportunity to reflect and compare against the standard of the A League. Whilst the tempo, skill and intensity overseas is more advanced than the A League, turnover of possession and defensive frailties even at the most elite level are still there to be seen. That said, the standard of the A League still has significant scope for improvement in order to be compared with most European leagues.

PETER KATHOLOS

There are a couple of good teams in the League but it’s far from exciting as there is an absence of creative players.

I watched Leeds United v Stoke City a few weeks ago in the English Championship and it was breathtaking.

It highlighted the speed, technique and intensity which is lacking in our game and the bottom line is broadcasters woudn’t be pulling out of A-League coverage ,and subscriptions wouldn’t have been declining so consistently in the last few seasons if the product was better.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What is your view on the XI Principles for the future of Australian football, recently released?

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

The document is voluminous so it’s better to consider the main points.

Point number 1 refers to the requirement for a strong brand and identity. I believe the Socceroos and Matildas already have a strong affinity with even the most casual sports fan across Australia. However, at the domestic level, promotion and marketing of the A League is almost non existant.

The awarding of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup will certainly increase awareness of our sport across all demographics and we should look to leverage this great event to amplify the A League at every opportunity.

PETER KATHOLOS

To improve the identity of the game, there has to be consistent marketing for the benefit of the sporting public.

People are aware we qualified for the last four World Cups which we should continually market to the masses.

Personally, I was pretty disturbed by the total lack of coverage when the A-League and NPL competitions ceased at the start of the Pandemic.

ROGER SLEEMAN

On that note, what are your thoughts about the viewing audience last Saturday for Central Coast v Perth of 9,000 compared to NRL of 804,000 and AFL 978,000.

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

Before their seasons recommenced, the other codes launched their publicity machines and people knew what was happening.

Honestly,  I wasn’t aware that Sydney FC played Wellington in the first match of A- league until I saw the score the day after.

Also, I didn’t know about the Central Coast match so the message is, there has to be some money spent on promotion because I didn’t see any advertising for the A-League.

PETER KATHOLOS

The figures don’t lie which suggests the A-League isn’t exactly capturing the imagination of the sporting public.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Point 3 of the Principles highlights payments in the transfer system.

Your thoughts about player transfer payments.

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

In order to stimulate the football economy, the most immediate focus should be for the establishment of a transfer system across all levels of football in Australia.

For example, I remember in 1989, Zlatko Arambasic was an up and coming striker playing for Canterbury Marrickville Olympic in the NSW Super League. Blacktown City was in the NSL and paid a $50,000 transfer fee to secure his services.

If NPL clubs can generate revenue from developing players, they can reinvest in better facilities and coaching which sustains the football economy.

PETER KATHOLOS

We need a vibrant and sustainable development system so the NPL clubs can be rewarded via a transfer system which provides the resources for them to continue to churn out quality players for the A- League and the national teams.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Point 5 in the Principles refers to creating a world class environment for youth development.

Your take on this.

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

The whole youth development system needs to be revamped and a funding structure established.

In order to improve the end product, we need a 5-10 year plan which entails developing better youth coaches and investing more in player education.

Parent education also has a key role to play in assisting youth development because up to 80% of the player’s available time during the week is at home.

Consequently, nutrition, fitness levels and private practice of technique and drills have to be of the highest order.

PETER KATHOLOS

Our major objective should be to develop better players who can boost attendances and bring more money into the game with the help of companies and the government.

In the 80’s, when I played at Sydney Olympic, our star local players attracted crowds of 10-15,000 without much promotion.

If you raise standards, more money will naturally flow into the game and also players can be sold overseas providing another substantial revenue stream.

ROGER SLEEMAN

There is a severe absence of past players involved in the game.

How can this change?

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

As a corporate manager, I believe you need football people in the key positions of financial,  operations and marketing.

Historically, the CEO role was awarded to a non-football industry candidate but times have changed and James Johnson’s appointment was a positive one and quite timely.

The previous CEO’S had a lack of emotional connection to the game so at least giant strides have been made here.

PETER KATHOLOS

There are enough football people and former players available to be involved in all areas of the game like in Europe.

When the FFA started, their executives didn’t know who we were.

The skill set of former players should be utilized in coaching, mentoring, marketing and administration.

I applaud the selection of the first eleven but the key issue is, some of these current and former players may have little business experience.

Undoubtedly, there are many former players who have succeeded in business and willing to make a contribution to the progress of the game.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Is the administration hanging its hat on the success of the Women’s World Cup bid?

MANNY SPANOUDAKIS

This is a fantastic victory for the sport as it promotes gender equality and it should be an amazing tournament.

During the difficult times, a better good news story couldn’t have happened to the sport.

PETER KATHOLOS

This was a real success after the failure of the Men’s World Cup bid and hopefully it will encourage a large commitment to building better infrastructure for the sport.

Frankly, I didn’t follow the women’s game closely until the Stajic saga prompted me to take interest.

However, I believe the players like our men, have to improve the technical side of their game if they’re going to be a threat in the tournament.

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