The A-Leagues must make up for lost time in season 2022-23

Melbourne Victory

This upcoming A-Leagues season is without a doubt the most significant in its 18-year history.

It’s been said countless times before, but with the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) now at the helm following an official split from the then-named Football Federation Australia at the tail end of 2020, there will be chances aplenty to confidently stamp the local game’s footing within Australia’s sporting ecosystem.

Contrary to the APL’s expectations, season 2021-22 was stunted by challenges off the pitch such as lengthy COVID-19 enforced delays, turbulent weather conditions, chaotic fixture scheduling, and a Perth Glory side left displaced from Western Australia. On the field though, the competition delivered a closely contested finals push, myriad of exciting youngsters, and a largely entertaining stack of fixtures. The surprise package that was Arthur Papas’ dynamic (albeit vulnerable) Newcastle Jets proved a suitable counter-cultural clash to the tactical pragmatism typically associated with the league, and Melbourne Victory’s committed rebuild reignited the return of the league’s best active support – reaffirming what is undoubtedly the league’s greatest asset.

Perth Glory

Understandably, the APL will be seeking to simultaneously make up for lost time and capitalise on the prospects that will arise from the Socceroos efforts at Qatar 2022 and the Matildas’ conquest to earn a trophy at a home World Cup in mid-2023. This will be no easy feat however.

As a result of what’s largely been identified as yet another rebirth year for the A-Leagues following last season’s perceived restart under new broadcasters Channel 10 and Paramount+, the same priorities of last season remain for the APL – they’ve now just been added to the ever-growing list of responsibilities for them to deliver on.

Worries from fans over the leagues’ broadcaster potentially failing to meet basic expectations ahead of the new season were far from allayed when 10 ViacomCBS’ streaming service Paramount+ confirmed the following through Twitter on Wednesday:

“Dear football fans,

“We want to be upfront with you, and unfortunately live pause and rewind won’t be ready for the start of the 2022/23 A-Leagues Season. We understand your frustration and we’re continuing to work on this feature. As soon as it is ready, we will let you know.”

Undeniably the deficiencies of Paramount+ are proving a much greater hindrance to the APL’s growth strategies and simple desire to make the game accessible for fans and casual supporters than they would’ve no doubt wanted. Alignment across the board requires a broadcaster that treats the A-Leagues with the respect it deserves, and the situation reeks of either a mismanagement of time or a pure disrespect for the competition it has taken under its mantle, or both.

Responsiveness and accountability will need to be well-honed attributes for the APL this season, and the first test of that has come from Paramount+ embodying the phrase ‘teething issues’ for far too long with its lack of refinement as a streaming platform. Whilst the APL would’ve hoped that 10 ViacomCBS would honour their end of the partnership, the onus is on them as a governing body to outline when answers will be provided.

Western United

Despite the issues with Paramount+, the release of ‘Sky Blue: Inside Sydney FC’ – a documentary which mirrors the fly-on-the-wall style made famous by ‘Sunderland ‘Til I Die’ and Amazon’s ‘All Or Nothing’ series – via the streaming service satisfies the exact craving for in-depth content that fans have been begging for here. And it does reaffirm that the broadcasting home of Australian football is looking to match the passion of its fans. It begs the question though of whether the priority for both the APL and 10 ViacomCBS is accumulating streaming viewers or viewing numbers on free-to-air? The move to push the A-League Men from its main channel to Channel 10’s more sports-based sister channel 10 Bold perhaps suggests the former.

Whether such a move is positive or negative is not the dilemma for now, in fact, the A-Leagues now hold in their palms the capacity to produce their own unique content and to dictate their own message. The recently announced A-Leagues All Access series is the first real show of this self-sufficiency as it will take fans into the behind-the-scenes of both the A-League Men and Women week-to-week in order to showcase its depth of characters and to provide casual fans with reasons for investment.

A series which plays out in such a manner will be rife with potential for bite-sized, accessible content that excitedly beckons virality. And that is nothing but a fortuitous result for the A-Leagues, especially in drawing in a younger, more tech-savvy generation of football adherents. The admittedly small pool of dedicated A-Leagues fans will undoubtedly grow if the right manoeuvres continue to be made by the APL who will be looking to translate high participation rates and a common love for the global game outside of Australia to fans attending and watching A-Leagues games.

In addition, re-engaging disenchanted fans who have had their passion for the league tainted by issues such as uncertain club ownership, over policing of active support, high ticket prices, and the seemingly endless disharmony within Australian football will only come from treating the league and these supporters with integrity.

A longstanding issue within the A-Leagues has been its meandering search for identity, something which is made all the more difficult by a franchise model that leaves clubs attempting to cultivate a tangible connection to the respective region or city they represent. During the league’s high of 2012-2016 active support was that answer to the question of ‘who are we?’. How well the APL and its 12 A-Leagues clubs have proceeded to reconnect with active support groups (whose relationship with the league’s previous administrator FFA became tarnished by an evident lack of a concrete ally) over the off-season will only be known once the season kicks-off, but what needs to be stressed for the umpteenth time is the fact that a healthy fan culture is everything to the longevity of the A-Leagues. The league’s highest average attendance came during the 2013-14 season with 13,479 and will likely take some time to get back to, and for the A-Leagues to meet Professional Footballers Australia’s achievable target of a 10,000 attendance average there needs to be a revitalising of active support.

Adelaide

Marquee players and coaches in the vein of Nani, Charlie Austin and Dwight Yorke are essential for bringing mainstream eyes towards the A-League Men, but for the even younger A-League Women’s competition there is significant potential to cultivate interest and growth in active support numbers even before the onset of a home Women’s World Cup.

With a men’s World Cup atypically scheduled mid-season as a result of unplayable weather conditions during Qatar’s summer, the opportunity will be ripe to convert rusted on A-League Men’s supporters towards the Liberty A-League. Particularly as the women’s competition will continue to run throughout the duration of Qatar 2022 when the men’s competition breaks for a month.

Furthermore, the move to play games in suitable stadia at family-friendly times and to provide free tickets for registered players under 16 will undoubtedly be conducive to a better atmosphere at Liberty A-League matches, but investment into the women’s competition and subsequent parity with the men’s competition must follow suit as the women’s game grows here.

A-League Women's

For many, 2022-23 will be that catalyst for becoming invested in the local game, such is the magnitude of a World Cup finals berth for the Socceroos and Matildas. To add to this, the men’s 2023 Asian Cup will begin soon after the 2022 World Cup concludes and will surely influence the APL and Football Australia’s thinking when looking further engross fans.

There is an abundance of opportunity awaiting the APL in season 2022-23, particularly with league heavyweights Sydney FC buoyed by a newly built Allianz Stadium and COVID-19 claiming less dominance within the collective Australian sporting fan’s psyche. However, uniting and ultimately satisfying both disenchanted and rusted on fans will go a long way toward making up for a nullified first year in charge and years of disillusionment under FFA. And truthfully, football possesses a greater chance of swaying the APL’s targeted youth demographic over any other sport in the country, its simply a matter of engaging.

Football Australia near $200m TV deal with Network Ten

Football Australia is currently in the final stages of negotiations to secure a record-breaking $200 million TV deal with Network Ten that will extend the current broadcast deal for four more years.

Reported by The Australian, the deal will be worth double the current $100 million agreement.

The deal will include broadcast rights to the 2026 Asian Cup women’s tournament that Australia will host, the 2027 Women’s World Cup in Brazil as well as most Socceroos and Matildas games. Football Australia has also bought the rights to some junior World Cup tournaments in order to package them in the new TV contract.

There is no bigger indication of the lasting impact the Matildas have made since the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup concluded in August of last year.

Channel Seven reported that for the Semi Final against England last year, the broadcast reached staggering 11.15 million people nationally with an average audience of 7.13 million, making it the most watched TV program since the OzTAM measurement started in 2001.

Not to mention the fact that the Matildas have sold out stadiums 14 times in a row, including an incredible 76,798 attendance at Monday’s Olympic send-off friendly against China in the cold weather.

Football Australia Chief executive James Johnson didn’t publicly discuss the numbers in the deal but commented on the TV package itself and how the FA no longer relies on broadcast deals to survive.

“What it does ­strategically is it creates a one-stop shop for Matildas and Socceroos content over the next four-year cycle, and it is a creative way to come up with a new package broadcast deal,” he said via press release.

“If you go back four or five years, we were very dependent on broadcast.

“But today you’ve got strong sponsorship and other revenue streams, like merchandise, the broadcasting for national teams only, and also ticketing revenue.

“We have more broadcast revenue that will pick up in (financial year 2025) and there’s also new sponsorship deals like Milo, Coles and the new Nike deal that we signed at the back end of last year.”

This deal is extremely positive for football fans, normalising free-to-air TV in an era where Australian’s access to free sport is dwindling.

The impact of the Matildas and Socceroos producing good results in their respective World Cup’s has given the FA a platform to surge growth at grassroots level and this record-breaking TV deal is the biggest indicator that the future is heading in the right direction.

AIA Australia CEO Damien Mu on Tottenham’s visit to Melbourne and Ange Postecoglou impact

Before Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United’s pre-season friendly match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, football codes came together on the day to test their skills in a first-ever junior clinic.

Hosted at Collingwood Football Club’s training facility of AIA Vitality Centre, the Aussie Rules AFL team was joined by the visiting Spurs.

Across two sporting codes, a common denominator is that AIA proudly supports both and through the affiliation, combined for a once in a lifetime coaching clinic.

Tottenham and Collingwood players were in attendance, along with AIA Ambassador and former Hawthorn premiership player Shane Crawford.

Junior soccer and AFL club players were treated to a memorable day of fun and skills training, aimed at promoting AIA’s vision of communities living happier and healthier lives. This included specialised drills, authentic coaching and a Q&A session for all kids to learn and benefit from.

AIA is a long-time partner of Tottenham, while their recent front-of-shirt deal with Melbourne Victory further emphasised their support for Australian football.

A day of fun at Collingwood FC’s AIA Centre.

Speaking to Soccerscene, AIA Australia CEO Damien Mu reflected on a hugely successful day for participants.

“The AIA junior clinic was fantastic, it was all about giving an opportunity for kids to get active and participate in training with Tottenham and Collingwood coaches,” he said.

“We thought it was a rare opportunity and fantastic way to really promote active participation in sport.

“At AIA, we encourage people to live happier, longer, and better lives and being active is one of those – with other important choices such as what you eat and looking after your mental wellbeing.

“We’ve sponsored Tottenham since 2013 and the fact they’re out here with Ange taking over was an opportunity we couldn’t miss.”

“We also sponsor Collingwood and most recently Melbourne Victory, so we thought what a great way to get the three clubs together and Collingwood were fantastic in hosting at the AIA Vitality Centre and getting behind it, with all three teams giving back to the community.”

It was a momentous occasion for Victorian fans, as Ange Postecoglou has completed his first full season at the Spurs.

Mu shared what the excitement was like on the day.

“Undoubtably, having Ange had a huge impact,” he said.

“We’ve been fortunate to have Tottenham come out a few times – in Sydney and then Perth last year – it’s always a massive buzz and gives such a good lift to football.

“With Ange now there, it’s given that a super boost and the energy that’s around him, along with having two EPL teams in town, which is why just over 78,000 people went to the MCG on a weeknight.

“All of this is a great way to get kids attached to the game and have active participation post-World Cup, rather than being stuck on smart devices.”

Crawford (far right) chatting with Tottenham representatives.

Melbourne Victory, who were preparing for the A-League Men’s Grand Final against Central Coast Mariners, were backed by AIA as a Finals Series sponsor.

Mu described what he and AIA saw in Victory leading up to the deal being struck.

“Melbourne Victory have had a great season, been long-standing as one of the original clubs in the A-League and a cornerstone of the league from the start,” he said.

“It was a great opportunity that arose given our affiliation with football globally through Tottenham.

“We had ongoing conversations with Victory about how we can partner up, and it seemed like a great way to support them at a time when they were seeking that support going into the finals.

“They’re a great club – it really is about family, community and business coming together. Even Ange touched on the community feel, all the way back in his South Melbourne days.

“We definitely love the community aspect of what Victory are trying to do and how they like to get out there and promote the game as well.”

Reflecting on the community theme, Mu added what he sees in collaborating with sporting organisations.

“When we think partnerships, we want them to be purposeful,” he said.

“It’s great to be on the shirt, but it’s more about what we do with clubs in relation to health and wellbeing.

“Our sporting clubs are great because it provides genuine role models to cheer on within family and friends.

“It allows us to get really meaningful health and wellbeing content from the players and coaches that we know fans and members absolutely love, rather than a company with three letters on it telling you what we do.”

Collingwood FC’s Will Hoskin-Elliott (left) with Tottenham goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario.

From a long-term perspective, AIA are hoping to maintain their presence in Asia and Oceania.

Mu shared the overall success of the junior clinic where we can expect more to come.

“We’re really lucky with the partnership through Tottenham where there’s coaching clinics right across the markets we operate in Australia and New Zealand,” he said.

“The clinics are really important as they get out to schools and the clubs, especially at grassroots level.

“When the whole team comes into town, you get a boost, but this is something we’ve been doing for a while and part of the collaboration with Tottenham where we are proud to do these clinics in Australia and New Zealand.”

Most Popular Topics

Editor Picks

Send this to a friend