Transfer fees and salary cap exempt foreigners in the A-League? Be careful what you wish for

Chief executive of Football Federation Australia James Johnson recently cited a need to re-evaluate the transfer fee system in the domestic game. At the same time, the newly independent A-League owners and the PFA appear determined to implement changes to the rules around marquee and foreign players; allowing clubs to sign up to five whose wages would sit outside the salary cap.

Both are long called for and would have instant and immense ramifications for the A-League.

Johnson’s comments around the transfer system stem from a desire to increase revenue streams for clubs currently bound by regulations that allow no internal A-League transfer fees. In 2019, Australian clubs took in a paltry A$1.9 million; well below the fees gathered by other heavy hitters in the Asian Confederation.

The amount ranks Australia 67th internationally, something that Johnson feels is unacceptable considering the men’s national team sits in 42nd place in the international rankings. Johnson wrote the book on transfer fees and regulations in his role at FIFA and as those changes filter through internationally, his view is that Australia does not have the option to change, but must change, should they wish to keep step with the rest of the globe.

Much of the discussion in the area of transfer fees lies in junior development, with many NPL clubs feeling they remain unrewarded for developing talent. Such talent is often poached by A-League clubs with no reward received for the financial and resource commitment made to the player and their youth structures.

Should the payment of transfer fees in such a situation become a reality, clubs that churn out junior talent will be rewarded with financial compensation. Those funds could be re-invested into the next crop of players and clubs that have traditionally been effective in producing young talent, only for others to swoop and pounce as they reach maturity, could develop a substantial and consistent revenue stream.

Clubs with vast nurseries in major capital cities will surely hold an advantage, however, the process of assigning true value to footballers and ensuring that clubs pay and receive the appropriate sum is a no-brainer when it comes to advancing the Australian game.

Potentially more ground breaking are the discussions between the A-League owners and the PFA in regards to marquee and foreign wages. Currently, each club is permitted two marquee men whose wages fall outside the salary cap.

Of the current eleven clubs, only Perth Glory, Melbourne Victory and Western United have two such marquees. Adelaide United, Brisbane Roar and Newcastle Jets have none whatsoever and the remaining five clubs all have one man on the books whose wages do not impinge on the A$3.2 million salary cap.

The argument for an opening of the purse strings that could see the 12 A-League clubs in 2020/2021 bring up to 60 marquee/foreign men from around the globe into the league is all about quality. The lure is a suggestion that clubs with the financial clout to attract better pedigree from overseas would effectively raise the standard of play across the league.

Moreover, the commercial ramifications of the introduction of big name international players has some salivating at the thought. Many will cite Alessandro Del Piero’s time at Sydney FC as the benchmark and the goal; where the domestic league garnered interest from many fans who had rarely, if ever, attended an A-League match.

Whilst the excitement of each and every A-League club acquiring up to five Del Pierro like players to ignite the competition is an attractive thought, the feasibility of such a boom in spending is questionable. With just 11 of the 22 current A-League marquee spots filled, one wonders how the club’s owners could dare engage in a spending spree that would see their wage bill increase exponentially.

Certainly, ticket sales and corporate interest would generate revenue in the medium term. However, with owners making consistent losses across the league, the chances of wholesale spending with little assurance of return appears low.

More important could be the ramifications of a more open market in terms of marquee and foreign wages, where the spending power of smaller clubs could well see them phased out of competitiveness quite briskly. The Central Coast Mariners function in a region of somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000 people. The club spent just A$2.88 million on wages for the 2019/20 season; the salary floor figure mandated by FFA.

Should Sydney FC, Melbourne City, Melbourne Victory and Perth Glory be afforded the license to acquire up to five foreigners outside the salary cap restrictions, one can only imagine the increased chasm between the playing talent in their squads compared to that of the Mariners.

Natural attrition would almost certainly take place; something that exists across the globe in world football as one team is relegated and another promoted. However, without a current and efficient system of promotion/relegation in the domestic game and a host of clubs with the facilities and finances ready to step into the top tier, the A-League could potentially lose now competitive teams well before the games growth permits an expanded competition of at least 16 teams; something we all hope to see.

Whilst Johnson’s desire to change the Australian transfer fee regulations and the proposed freeing up of the current buying power of the clubs when it comes to marquee/foreign wages sound exciting for the domestic game, there will be casualties.

The question that must be asked and considered carefully is whether the game can afford those causalities right now. The salary cap and the restriction on transfer fees were implemented to protect the A-League in its infancy.

Whether the competition is old enough for such measures to be lifted is, in my opinion, up for debate.

Staff Writer
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Government facilities investment needs to keep up as Women’s Asian Cup looms

In recent times, Football Australia released their ‘Legacy 23 report’ on the Women’s World Cup which was held in Australia and New Zealand last July.

Sarah Walsh – Head of Women’s Football, World Cup Legacy and Inclusion at Football Australia – reflected on the impact of the Matildas after the release of the Legacy report. The Matildas have been at the forefront of transformative societal change, challenging perceptions and gender stereotypes while advocating for sustained evolution within the Australian and international sporting landscape.

“The Legacy ‘23 post-tournament report delves into the success achieved in leveraging the tournament, however, emphasises the need for increased funding to ensure that the legacy of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 isn’t merely a momentary triumph, but evolves into foundations for a thriving, equitable, and dynamic future for football,” Walsh stated.

The numbers revealed in the report were quite staggering. The document stated that the World Cup had generated a $1.32 billion impact on the economy – with over 86,000 visitors to Australia contributing strongly to that figure.

1,288,175 tickets were sold to Australian based matches, with a global television viewership of almost two billion people.

The event itself played a hugely significant role in promoting physical exercise and well-being across the nation with an estimated $324 million reduction in healthcare costs due to this increased activity in the community.

A key part of the ‘Legacy 23’ plan from the FA was to garner increased government investment in facilities – due to the expected boom of popularity in the sport after hosting a World Cup on home shores.

Football Australia unlocked more than $398 million in federal and state government funding for ‘Legacy 23’ related projects. $129 million of the total funds also positively benefitted other sports – due to facility upgrades to stadiums such as Perth Rectangular Stadium, Brisbane Stadium, Melbourne Rectangular Stadium and the La Trobe Sports Precinct in Melbourne.

Due to the Matildas’ success, and FA’s advocacy, the Australian government contributed $200 million to the ‘Play Our Way’ grant program. This is Australia’s biggest comprehensive investment in women’s sports, with funding to address participation barriers through safe, inclusive and sustainable facilities and programs.

While the allocation of the investment between sports for this grant program has not been made public, football must be at the forefront for a large portion of this funding with a home Women’s Asian Cup on the horizon.

According to FA’s ‘Legacy 23’ report, under 20% of the $398 million worth of government funding was invested into community facilities.

“There remains a significant deficiency in facility investment across pivotal states that demands urgent attention,” FA’s report read.

“As participation demands increase, the strain on existing facilities within the 2,400+ clubs nationwide, already at saturation levels, requires immediate attention from all levels of government—federal, state, and local.

“Addressing this gap is essential to meet the expected surge in participation, improve the experience and retention rate for women and girls on our journey to the national 50:50 target, and continue fostering the wide-ranging benefits that football provides to its community of over 2 million people.

“It will therefore be crucial that grassroots football club facility upgrades materially benefit from the Play Our Way grant program.”

The AFC Women’s Football Committee recently recommended Australia as the host country for the 2026 Women’s Asian Cup – essentially earmarking another monumental football tournament to be held in our backyard.

According to Australian Financial Review, Football Australia is expecting up to half a million attendees for the event, with visitor/organisation expenditure of between $115 and $140 million, making it the biggest female edition of all time.

With the tournament just two years away, it is essential that further grassroots facility investment is allocated by government parties as the demand and popularity of the sport will continue to grow at a significant rate.

FA claims the Asian Cup represented “a crucial platform to advance the goals outlined in the ‘Legacy 23’, particularly in addressing the shortfall in football facility investment.”

“Australia is ready, one of the most multicultural societies in the world, with over 300 different ancestries and almost 20% of our nation’s population having ties back to countries that comprise the Asian Football Confederation, meaning every team that visits our shores will have a ‘home away from home’ feeling,” the report said.

“This esteemed Asian football tournament provides an ideal platform for all tiers of government to employ football as a tool for effectively implementing sports diplomacy and tourism strategies within Asia.”

The governing body believes there is an overall $2.9 billion facility gap to bring grassroots facilities in line to an acceptable level.

They won’t get anywhere near that level of investment from government authorities immediately, but considerably more must be invested before Asia’s biggest female sporting event comes to our shores.

How the NPL can learn off the USL’s content deal with Footballco

The United Soccer League (USL) has launched a strategic content partnership with Footballco, a football media company, being designated as an “Official Content Partner of the USL.”

The company will showcase the league, which is the football pyramid separate to the franchised MLS in the US, through existing fan and player-led video content formats, original creatives, features and news.

Goal and Mundial will focus on the men’s divisions, while Indivisa will work on the soon-to-be-launched USL Super League and USL W League with a more lifestyle and community-led approach to its content.

Footballco is strategically aiming to expand in the US, with the next Men’s World Cup and Olympics taking place there, and a bid for the next Women’s World Cup possibly adding that to the mix.

USL Chief Marketing Officer Greg Lalas discussed the importance of fast-tracking the USL’s growth with the sport becoming more popular.

“The USL is the heartbeat of American soccer, and we are thrilled to partner with Footballco to help bring the story of our leagues and our clubs to new fans around the world,” Lalas explained in a USL released statement.

“Brands like Goal, Mundial, and Indivisa are massively influential in the global soccer community, and as we look to extend our reach both domestically and internationally, we were excited about the opportunity Footballco presents.

“Likewise, we look forward to supporting Footballco’s strategic expansion in the U.S. This really is a match made in soccer heaven.”

Jason Wagenheim, Footballco’s CEO, North America discussed the potential this deal has for both companies.

“The USL is among the most exciting soccer leagues in the United States. As we expand our U.S. footprint, we look forward to connecting at an entirely new level with the clubs, players and fans at the heart of the USL,” Wagenheim added in a statement.

“Our reporting goes beyond just news and scores to cover the intersection of soccer and lifestyle, and there’s a huge opportunity to put the USL at the centre of that storytelling – something we know our audience craves.”

There are a lot of similarities between the NPL and USL in terms of its place in the football pyramid of its respective country and attendance numbers, and whilst the funding is different, it begs the question, should the standard of NPL content be higher from the state federations and clubs?

NPL1 matches are currently being streamed on YouTube under the NPL.TV channel, with every game live and with commentary. There have been known issues in recent years with NPL.TV streaming on the now administrated Cluch TV and the absence of live games since had affected the pyramid.

After a return to YouTube in 2024, it’s good to see a healthy audience watching games live on a big platform but fan and club driven content is still so scarce.

Akin to the partnership between USL and Footballco, Australia’s state federations need to do more with website and social media content. Among all of the divisions in each state, there is plenty of opportunity for behind-the-scenes access, stadium news and promotion of big matches including derbies to draw interest to YouTube live streams.

The forward-thinking approach of the USL has provided the NPL with a good blueprint to expand the lower leagues and Australian Football pyramid.

It’s simple, providing the vast array of NPL fans with league-focused social media content on a popular social media channel like the state federation accounts and actively promote any signings, big club news or upcoming matches that fans could attend or watch on NPL.TV.

A lot of these suggestions aren’t particularly out of budget for the NPL, but rather are more of an effort-driven focus that can have a big impact on attendance, viewership and publicity.

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