Time for Australian football to reassess its direction

On Tuesday morning, the A-League followed in the footsteps of the NRL and AFL and postponed its season.

There were last ditch attempts to bring all teams into New South Wales and play the remaining matches of the season there, but ultimately those plans were impossible to pull off due to the impact of the COVID-19 situation.

The FFA will further assess their decision on April 22, in the hope of completing the season later in the year.

The J-League is one of the first football competitions to announce they will aim to restart their competition on May 9. Fans will be allowed inside the stadium; however, every second seat is to be left empty.

While the health of the community is the biggest priority, like other sporting organisations and businesses as a whole, Australian football will face financial problems and uncertainties.

According to the Australian, if the season was entirely cancelled it would allow Fox Sports to send the FFA a breach letter which gives them 10 days’ notice of the cancellation of their deal, because there was “no seamless continuity of services”.

Under the deal, the FFA must provide Fox Sports with a 27-round season as well as a finals series.

If the season is abandoned, these provisions allow Fox Sports to terminate the current $57 million dollar a year contract or break the deal and re-negotiate a much lower price for the rights.

These will be options that Foxtel will continue to explore as they try to address a loss of sports subscribers due to the suspension of the NRL, AFL and A-League.

Speaking to SBS TWG, head of consultancy at Global Media and Sports, Colin Smith, explained:

“The reality is that this is as tough for Fox Sports as well since they’re about to lose most of their Kayo subscribers because there’s literally no content, both locally and internationally.

“They’ll be looking to make savings and won’t be paying rights fees to any sport (NRL and AFL included) while there’s no content.”

Smith also predicted the end could be near for the A-League on Fox Sports.

“In terms of the A-League, I would suggest firstly they won’t get any new payments and secondly, I understand, Fox Sports have the right to withdraw altogether (from the final three years of the six-year $346 million deal).

“They might not embark on that course right now – but I think they’ll be keeping their options open to say ‘thank you, we won’t continue to broadcast … feel free to go with anybody you want to’.

“I would imagine they have Force Majeure clauses and everybody will be going back to read the fine print.”

Smith claims the A-League clubs would have to expect a lower broadcast fee in the future, whether they are with Fox or a service like Optus Sport.

“It’s clear Fox Sports is in cost-cutting mode – and if they were to walk away from football, in the current circumstances you would fully understand it,” he added.

“I think the A-League will need to plan not only for a life without Fox Sports but for a significantly lower rights fee, whomever they deal with (in the future).”

So, how will the possible loss of the Fox Sports deal affect the A-League?

In its current setup, the A-League would be unviable without the Fox contract.

A smaller rights fee (from wherever it comes from) would mean the current A-League model needs significant re-modelling as it can’t be so reliant on a single revenue source from a broadcaster.

The signs are definitely there, that change is needed.

Australian football needs to adapt to a true global standard and think long term, rather than focusing on short term reactionary fixes.

FFA CEO James Johnson knows this. His stand out line in his opening press conference referred to the need to act local and think global.

Plan for a sustainable whole of football pyramid, embrace those participants, clubs, volunteers who know how to operate within their own means.

Give them the opportunity to play at the highest level in Australia.

The possible collapse of the current A-League model will hurt Australian football right now, but an overdue re-build will be successful if the direction is there.

Of course, it will be difficult, it’s easier said than done.

Money will always be a question mark, but the game will always be there.

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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.

777 Partners seeking completion of Everton deal

American firm 777 Partners are nearing the completion of their takeover at Everton after a long seven-month process is heading towards its conclusion.

As reported by TEAMtalk, 777 sources have confirmed that they have now passed the Premier League’s Owners’ and Directors Test on the basis that they pay back an outstanding loan to MSP Sports Capital.

The firm are not expecting an imminent announcement from the Premier League but as mentioned, are confident that the takeover will be finalised around May time, ready for the all-important summer window.

However, Everton are keeping their options open and are actively looking at backup options in case this deal falters at the last minute. It remains a real interesting story that has mixed reports and an air of  scepticism about it.

MSP and two Liverpool-based businessmen Andy Bell and George Downing loaned Everton £158m ($303m AUD) which was due to be returned on Monday this week.

A short-term extension of the loan – taken out by majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri but which 777 have to pay if their takeover is to proceed – has been agreed in principle.

777 have stakes in many other clubs around Europe and the world including Hertha Berlin, Genoa, Standard Liege and A-League giant Melbourne Victory.

There is little doubt that there are mixed results regarding the clubs they takeover with a few angry protests and controversies shining the light on a potential shaky move that Everton couldn’t afford to go wayward.

At German side Hertha Berlin, they say that they ‘don’t have as much control as they would like’ and ‘haven’t been able to make the changes they would like there’, hindered by the German rules on ownership.

After the German side’s relegation last season from the Bundesliga and slow start to life in the 2. Bundesliga this season, there were many fan protests and banners attacking 777 owner Josh Wander however the cub have managed to steer the ship this season and sit in 7th place with four games remaining.

777 believe that they have done a good job with Italian club Genoa, however, who were promoted back into the Serie A last season under their stewardship.

They managed to improve finances, particularly through smart transfers like buying Radu Dragusin for £4.3m ($8.25m AUD) and selling him on to Tottenham just a year later for a huge fee of £26.7m ($51.25m AUD).

777 have missed payments on occasion at Standard Liege, but they have since been paid. They claim that they are battling against the financial mismanagement of previous owners and have lifted the carpet at the Belgian side to find many skeletons.

For Everton, after two points deductions that added up to eight points, the key for this move to run smoothly is to remain a top flight club in 2024/25 which they are in a fantastic position to do so after a controversial 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest on the weekend.

Everton will ‘not be a closed shop’ once they take control of the club and they aim to build their income and sustainability in the years.

It also leaves an interesting discussion as to Everton’s transfer strategy following their strict FFP rules that can’t be broken again.

The firm, led by CEO Josh Wander, intend to back the Toffees’ sporting director Kevin Thelwell and are hoping to strengthen the side this summer.

They do concede that the sale of key players such as Amadou Onana, Jarrad Branthwaite and Jordan Pickford may be required to balance the books, however.

777 claim they will do everything they can to avoid a third points deduction which would be placed on the club in 2024/25.

They also say that they will put a big focus on improving the Merseyside club’s academy, insisting that it will be utilised “correctly” and hope to have more homegrown talent break into the first team.

With the new stadium built and ready to go in 2025/26, the revenue streams will improve and there is a tiny light at the end of the tunnel, as long as the Toffees can continue to do their job on the pitch and secure the Premier League broadcasting money that is required to pay off loans and debt.

Despite the very loud outside noise and criticism, 777 remain calm about the debt being paid off before the deadline and the deal will be finalised.

777’s history and mixed results at other clubs leave this one in the air, and despite fans not wanting this move to occur, it could be one that saves Everton from a worst case scenario of administration after years of financial hardship.

A-Leagues secure last minute NEP deal for production partner

The A-Leagues have had an interesting past week, to say the least – as the league’s production partner for live broadcasts, Global Advance, was placed into voluntary administration.

This past weekend, the league managed to secure a last minute deal with international broadcasting and media services group NEP who will cover the remainder of the 2024 season.

The league just got the deal done in time, hours before Central Coast Mariners played Western United in an A-League Women clash and they were able to avoid an embarrassing Easter Thursday blackout.

The A-Leagues currently are understood to pay $12 million to Global Advance for production of all men’s and women’s games, the league is hoping to recuperate close to $1 million from Global Advance but it may be difficult.

Global Advance was established in 2020, its first major partner was the A-Leagues following the competitions’ split from long-term broadcaster Fox Sports.

Until they were placed onto voluntary administration, they had broadcasted every Men’s and Women’s match on Network Ten and its streaming partner Paramount.

The APL released a damning statement last Wednesday night that outlined the lack of communication from Global Advance regarding their financial situation.

“We are disappointed in the manner in which this has come to our attention, and the risk this has placed on our fan, player, club, broadcast and commercial commitments,” the APL said in a statement.

“We have been let down and will be working with the administrators to recoup monies owing to APL.

“Through a lot of hard work by a new production company, Ten-Paramount, and our team, we are close to finalising an agreement and are confident all matches will be broadcast, starting tomorrow.

“There are many challenges that such a short timeframe presents, but we are working through this urgently with all of our stakeholders, and we thank the production company for their co-operation, flexibility and expertise at such short notice.”

However, Said Jahani of Global Advance’s administrators Grant Thornton reiterated that there was immediate contact with the A-Leagues.

“We have immediately commenced a dialogue with the Australian Professional Leagues at the most senior levels to determine whether television coverage for all A-League men’s and women’s games this weekend can continue to be provided. he said in a statement

“At this stage, it remains uncertain as to whether this will be possible.”

It hasn’t quite been all smooth sailing to kick off the NEP era of broadcasting, with the cameraman being the butt of all jokes online after showing his phone notes to direct a message towards his director in the huge game between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory in the Liberty A-League that had title implications for the Sky Blues.

It will be interesting to see how the APL can salvage this streaming mishap and produce some quality broadcasts as the finals approach for both competitions.

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