Sydney FC CEO Danny Townsend is one of the key central figures tasked with revitalising the A-League and the W-League.
Speaking with Soccerscene, the recently appointed Managing Director of the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) believes the professional game in this country is at a critical juncture, as the representative body looks to secure a new TV deal to underpin the future of the sport.
“It’s a crucial deal for the game,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it’s about being able to provide us with some financial security, but importantly also provide us with the right amount of reach for our game. I think we need to have all of the ‘media pipes’ on into the future, as we sort of re-invent the leagues.”
Townsend admits an agreement is set to be struck within the next 4-6 weeks and whilst a summer season for the A-League looks likely, the former Sydney United midfielder would not commit to it whilst discussions with broadcasters continue.
“We are working through that process at the moment; you’ve got to play when you are most commercially viable,” he said.
“What’s really important for this sport is having a sound financial framework around the game. That will mean we need to play when we are most valuable and the market will determine when that is. Equally, we will need to look at a lot of different factors around what it will do for other revenue streams in the game.
“It’s not just about the TV deal, it’s about attendances, memberships, sponsorships and all of those factors need to be considered when you set your calendar.”
The current on-field product of the A-League this season has been the best it has been for years, with the Sydney FC CEO outlining a few reasons why he believes that is the case.
“It’s been an amazing season so far,” Townsend said.
“The matches have a quality that we probably didn’t expect coming out of COVID.
“I think the 5-sub rule has helped, being able to change potentially a third or more of your team at any given time during a match just throws up a degree of uncertainty in games, which has just been interesting.
“I also believe the youth has been a major factor. The amount of quality young players coming into the competition this year – it’s a by-product of the COVID pandemic, which has influenced the financials of the game and meant that clubs have probably had to have a look to their own development pathways more than they might have done in other years.
“The proof is in the pudding. Players like Alou Kuol, Kusini Yengi, these guys that are being unearthed are phenomenal talents and they are great for our game.”
The attractive product on the park this year doesn’t take away from the issues off the field. The A-League currently doesn’t have a naming rights sponsor since Hyundai exited a 15-year partnership with the league last year. It’s a problem which the APL’s new managing director believes will be addressed in due time.
“I think you’ll see more once we start to roll out the APL strategy, we are seeing a huge amount of corporate interest in what we are doing,” Townsend said.
“I think you’ll see those current vacancies filled pretty quickly.”
Crowds are down this season for a multitude of reasons, one of those being the after effects of a global pandemic, but Townsend realises the game has to do better with engaging fans of the sport.
“I think what we’ve got to do is reconnect and connect,” he said.
“What I mean by that is there are a lot of people who have been involved in football over a long period of time, who don’t support the A-League or W-League. We need to reconnect with those people.
“We need to embrace our multicultural heritage; the sport was built on immigration and those cultures that come together to play the world game. Ultimately, the beautiful thing about our code is that we are the number one sport in the world. We need to be the number one sport in Australia as well. I think that’s going to come with unity, bringing people back into the game and connecting with those already in the game.”
The APL will focus their energy on a digital first strategy to connect the close to 2 million participants in Australia to the game, with Townsend explaining it will allow the representative body to understand who those people are, know their preferences and serve them with appropriate content and information to link them with the sport.
Unique identifiers such as active support will also be prioritised, with the hope being to bring the level of support back to the golden years of the A-League.
“When I bring mates of mine who are Rugby League guys or Rugby Union guys along to a Sydney FC game, they are blown away by the atmosphere that’s created by the active supporters,” Townsend said.
“It’s something we have to embrace. It’s not simple because there are other stakeholders involved that contribute to how they are managed, but we need to reduce the barriers of entry for people who want to be a part of active support.”
Unifying the sport is a key point in the APL’s overall mission for the game and Townsend claims the representative body is supportive of a national second division, as long as there is a sustainable financial framework around it.
“We are about growing football. I’m still yet to really engage with anyone involved in a national second division to understand what their plan is, but where we can we want to help,” he said.
“We are up for working with the NPL and helping them grow the consumption of their content. They’ve got NPL.TV which is a fantastic initiative. How we work with that, with APL and our content, is important in bringing that unity back to the game.”