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Perhaps the best thing James Johnson can do for Australian football is leave it alone

Much hope has surrounded Football Federation Australia’s decision to appoint one of our own to its helm. Intelligent, well connected, young and with actual experience in and around the game at the highest level, James Johnson ticks all the boxes when it comes to the type of person many believe should be shuffling the deck chairs and mapping the course for the medium term future.

With no doubt scores of meetings to attend, stakeholders to acquaint and new relationships to be formed, Johnson has been and will continue to be, a very busy man. Having outlined a broad vision of fundamental issues that he sees as at the top of the FFA to-do list, Johnson will now set about forging trusting relationships with those capable of supporting and assisting in the implementation of his plans.

A national second division is potentially the most burning issue and to many the most vital. Some suggest an aggressive approach, brisk establishment and an ironing out of issues on the run, as the competition begins to take shape. Those feeling that approach is the right course are somewhat misguided in their view that an established second tier would automatically provide something of a magic elixir for the domestic game.

More prudent would be Johnson overseeing a measured approach to what could be the most significant change in Australian football for decades. The risk adverse leadership that the game has endured since the A-League was established 15 years ago does need to be energised, yet Johnson’s significant experience will not see him throw the game into the fire without a well thought out plan and a strategical approach that stands a fighting chance of success.

Whatever the final timeline does prove to be, the game is about to experience a significant change when the much awaited second tier is established. It will be a move with the potential to reconnect the fractures that separate those involved and gripped by the A-League model and others embracing Australia’s footballing past in the form of their community clubs and NPL competitions.

That chasm has been a fundamental road block to growth in Australia, with a significant portion of the football loving public remaining sceptical of the franchise model on which the A-League was based. Moreover, younger fans without ties to some of Australia’s oldest, traditional and culturally rich clubs struggle to appreciate that history, nor value its importance in terms of potentially bringing thousands of supporters back to a fully functioning, multi-leagued national competition.

The change that is coming will be welcomed, however, symptomatic of the excessive tinkering and fiddling with the game that has taken place since the inception of the National Soccer League competition in 1977.

1984 saw the adoption of a conference system that lasted just two seasons and resulted in many clubs being demoted back to local competitions. In 1989, the long argued case for summer football came to pass as the competition shifted its season to the warmer months. Around the same time, the rather cringe worthy concept of making football ‘mainstream’ took over the thinking of those at the helm.

After decades of clubs building stable communities, essentially based on migrants supporting each other in the search for a sense of belonging, ethnically based club names and logos were forcibly altered. Ethinic flags became forbidden in a rather flawed attempt by David Hill and his board to cleanse the game of its migrant past. It was an odd move considering the profile of the average NSL fan.

The new approach was parlayed into the creation of a host of clubs such as Parramatta Power, Collingwood and Carlton, all obvious attempts to draw in people from both NRL and AFL markets. It was an unmitigated disaster.

Teams battled financially, broadcasting rights delivered little return and sponsorship dwindled. The NSL was dead by 2004, thanks mainly to rather poor decisions and a failure to appreciate the base from which the Australian game had grown.

Along the way, competition changes were also constant. You name it, Australian football tried it. The traditional first past the post style morphed into grand finals, two-legged grand finals, five team finals’ series, six team finals’ series and even points incentives for matches won by larger margins.

At one point, drawn matches resulted in a penalty shootout to determine the destination of the third point.

At that juncture, reinvention seemed the only way forward and thus the A-League was born. Ironically, the future was to be based on wholesale and sweeping changes, required after years of exactly that.

The game has not been left alone for decades, nor been allowed to find its own unique identity thanks to an array of administrators who thought they knew better.

Whilst everyone acknowledges the need for growth and change as Johnson moves into the top job, it might be prudent to remind ourselves of that fact.

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Melbourne Victory extends partnership with CoachNick Business Coaching

MVFC

Melbourne Victory have announced the continuation of CoachNick Business Coaching as an Associate Partner for the 2021/22 season.

CoachNick Business Coaching has been associated with the Victory brand and Victory in Business over the last 10 years and has supported the Club since its inception.

Melbourne Victory Managing Director Caroline Carnegie was excited to see the Club continue their collaboration with CoachNick Business Coaching.

“CoachNick has been an integral part of the Victory in Business family and we’re excited to further our partnership, elevating CoachNick Business Coaching to an Associate Partner for the upcoming season,” she said.

“The company’s business solutions have helped small to medium organisations in Melbourne and across the country and we’re proud to have CoachNick continuing his ties with the Club and Victory in Business.”

CoachNick Business Coaching Managing Director, Nick Ikonomou – who has been a member of Melbourne Victory since 2005 – is thrilled to broaden his partnership with the Club.

“It’s a proud moment to be involved yet again with Melbourne Victory this season, expanding our partnership and seeing how the next generation of Victory professionals take the next step,” Ikonomou said.

“This is not just a commercial partnership. My ties to the Club run from the first game as a supporter and as a Victory In Business member to now, as an Associate Partner and right throughout the history of the Club.”

CoachNick’s variety of services range from business owner and senior management training in sales and marketing, customer service, goal setting, time management, systemisation, financial management, recruitment, leadership, negotiation, conflict resolution, franchising and succession planning.

CoachNick Business Coaching has provided top class business support and training to over 400 small to medium businesses in all industries in Australia for 22 years. You can find out more here.

10 ViacomCBS Executive Producer Geoff Bullock: Bringing a fan-first approach

Fans

10 ViacomCBS’ concerted efforts to aid in the revitalisation of Australian football over the last few months has stirred a largely positive response from the passionate Australian fanbase. The extensive coverage seen across Channel 10’s news networks and various social media channels speaks volumes of the broadcaster’s dedication to help football reach its lofty potential.

The clarity provided by a primary broadcaster who is aligned in its passion for the game, coupled with the governing bodies, is undeniably promising for football going forward.

Geoff Bullock has been a vital part of our collective matchday experience of Australian football since his beginnings at Fox Sports as a Producer for for football in 2006. Bullock has certainly ridden all of the highs and lows that have come with being an adherent of the game like the rest of us.

In a wide-ranging chat with Soccerscene, the current Executive Producer for football at ViacomCBS gave us insight into the strategic direction, plans and thinking behind the new broadcasting home.

Football home

What has it been like taking on this project of 10 ViacomCBS being the home of all things Australian football? Have you always had an interest in football?

Geoff Bullock: I’ve been involved in football since I was about four, playing for the Gosford City Dragons with my dad as the coach. So, it’s always been my number one sport for the past 15 years as I’ve been lucky enough to be working on the broadcast of Australian football. And now to get to do it at Channel 10 for a new era is really exciting.

It’s just good to be involved when there’s a fresh start for football on the horizon. And I’m just excited about the role that we can play to hopefully energise football in Australia.

How is the 10 ViacomCBS production team looking to differentiate how football will be presented in comparison to any previous broadcaster’s time in charge of Australian football?

Geoff Bullock: What we want to do is provide a fan-first approach to broadcasting football here. And with the two platforms in Channel 10 and Paramount+ it gives us – in addition to the live broadcast – the opportunity to offer replays on-demand, mini matches and highlights for A-League Men and Women’s. That includes the Socceroos and Matildas internationals, which we’ve been broadcasting on 10 and 10 Bold and putting mini-matches on 10 Play.

I think it allows viewers to digest football in different ways to what they maybe traditionally have. We’ll also preview and review all of the games with our team as well. Each game will have a preview and review show attached, which allows our experts to dive in and give viewers a deeper look. And we’ll do some magazine shows and podcasts through the week as well to provide extra content.

The other thing I’m excited about is that we’re looking to do a deeper stats dive than we’ve done before. So, there’ll be greater insights on potential players and matches that we’ll be able to get from the deeper stats dive.

Traditionally, for the domestic game whilst they have been comprehensive in terms of milestones and players, we’ve never really taken the leap to include expected goals, pass mapping and possession mapping. That’s the territory I’m hoping we can get into for the A-League which will take it to a new level.

AL

Within the envisioned coverage, what areas of football are being focused on as its key points of difference in comparison to other sporting codes? How valuable do you believe embracing active support is?

Geoff Bullock: I think COVID-19 has shown how important it is to have fans at the game. Whether we’re in the stands or watching on TV, we know what we’re missing when the atmosphere isn’t there. It’s just a massive game-changer at the venue and on TV to have that buzz of the crowd at the games. I can’t wait to have that back.

And I think it’s even more important with football than other sports because of the unique nature of active support. It provides a soundtrack for the game that we’ve missed. The interesting contrast is probably the Euros where we finally got some crowds back at games and it was a massive lift.

That’s so important for us to take advantage of, that active support. We’re trying to provide a fan-friendly experience as well. We’ve worked hard with the APL to provide two fan-friendly Saturday 7:45pm timeslots, so that fans are able to get to more games that are on at a better time.

We’re looking forward to covering active support in the broadcast as well when we can. It’s no doubt been a while since we’ve seen a massive Wanderers march to the stadium which was always huge in the broadcast. Seeing that amount of people marching to the ground definitely provides a sense of occasion and anticipation before the game. It makes people want to stick around and watch.

March to stadium

We’ve seen football over the last few months covered extensively on Channel 10’s news and socials. What are some examples of the strategies being taken to entice younger social media savvy modern audiences?

Geoff Bullock: Quite a few strategies are in place, like our Saturday night coverage is going to be built around a multi-screen experience with those two simultaneous matches that I mentioned on Channel 10 and Paramount+. This is being done with the younger fans in mind.

Football fans, as we know, are accustomed to basically consuming their content on multiple devices. I believe a lot of people in that under-30 age bracket very rarely watch any kind of TV or stream without their phone in their hand.

So, we’re going to build the Saturday night around that multi-screen experience where you’ll be able to watch a game on 10 and on your device with Paramount+. It’ll be a chance for those fans to be across all the highlights and talking points from two games live as it happens.

We’re also exploring a few solutions that might allow us to scale up a separate coverage on a Saturday night that will deliver alternate commentary across the split-screen experience of those two games. That’s something that we’re going to work towards as the season unfolds, and also potentially a social media or influencer-driven commentary stream which we’ll look to do.

With the deep-dive stats that I mentioned earlier they’ll be going out on our social media platforms as well. That’s something that will allow those younger fans to engage in more analytical discussions around football. When you talk to young football fans, you find that there’s not much about the game that they aren’t across, and I think this will give them more of an opportunity to talk more in-depth about Australian football rather than the default of European football.

I think that’s one of our big challenges, to try and engage football fans in Australian football in the same way that they’re engaging with European football. And I’m hoping that if we can bring our level of detail up to the same sort of standards that fans are seeing overseas, then hopefully that will help them to switch on to the local game.

MVC

In terms of coverage beyond matchdays, are there plans to produce content that dives deeper into Australian football and its various stakeholders (clubs, fans, players)?

Geoff Bullock: Definitely. I think part of the strategy that we’ve been talking about is not taking Australian football fans for granted. Basically, bringing our coverage up to the standard that they’d expect. We want to give them the experience that they deserve based off their level of intellectual buy-in to the game.

Young fans here in Australia commit very heavily. You just look at the hours they have to stay up at night to watch these teams overseas. They’re committed to learning about these teams that aren’t even on their doorstep.

I think we need to match that in our level of commitment to them to be able to deliver that. With the APL we’ll be delivering features and exclusive content across broadcast, digital and social media platforms that will give them that detail of the local game – both the A-League Men’s and Women’s – that will allow them to basically have that same sort of intellectual connection that they should have. Because these are the clubs that are actually here and that means they can support them in the stands week-in week-out.

Fans here in Australia can get so much closer to the stars of these teams, like they’re far more accessible than they are in any other league. The access for these fans is so much different to what it is for some stars overseas and that’s what we want to encourage. We want fans to know that they’re amongst their heroes at these clubs.

World Cup qualifiers

Australian football has undoubtedly seen some rollercoaster times in recent years. Why do you believe now is a critical time for 10 Viacom CBS to get involved in football?

Geoff Bullock: It’s ridden a few waves that’s for sure. We all know it’s had its ups and downs based on national team performance and marquee players in the league, but it’s never really had a long-term sustained period of growth. Particularly over the last couple of years the popularity of the competitions has dropped off.

So, I think the timing of a longer-term broadcast deal with free-to-air exposure really couldn’t have come at a better time. And the fact that that deal has come along at the same time as the unbundling of the A-League from Football Australia (FA), it should provide clubs with a bit of confidence to invest further in the game and hopefully that’ll provide a better, more marketable product. Not only whistle-to-whistle but off the pitch as well.

I think there’s now an opportunity, like there never really has before, for the clubs to back themselves and have a crack. And maybe we’re starting to see that with Perth Glory getting Daniel Sturridge on board, which is a huge boost.

There’s always a bit of a knock-on effect when you’ve got these big stars signing for a club and suddenly there’s clubs looking over their shoulder not wanting to be left behind. The building blocks are there for a really exciting season, and with a number of clubs with spots to fill hopefully they follow the lead that the Glory have taken and they have a go.

Daniel Sturridge

How can 10 Viacom CBS help to capitalise on interest and grow women’s football leading into and following the 2023 Women’s World Cup?

Geoff Bullock: It’s exceptionally exciting. The World Cup is going to be massive here in Australia. But the one thing we always know in Australia about having a tournament on home soil is that people get behind it. We saw how Australia embraced the Asian Cup back in 2015. Particularly with a lot of Asian teams we don’t traditionally get behind. So with a World Cup it’s going to be even bigger.

The women’s game is really important to us. I think everybody is aware in Australia it is the fastest growing asset within football. And we’re going to treat A-League Women’s exactly the same as we treat the Men’s. The same sort of program will be structured around each game. Our best commentators and experts will work across both competitions, so you’ll hear Simon Hill calling A-League Women’s matches as well as A-League Men’s.

We’re massively excited about the Matildas returning to play some games on home soil in October. But we’ll also be tracking it because we’ve got the Women’s Asian Cup starting in January early next year. And we’ll have programming around those games and that competition which will be hosted in India, so the kick-off times will be pretty decent for an Australian audience. So, it might really work well with the A-League still going on here. In that period, it will be a frenzy of football which is pretty exciting.

WWC 2023

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