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.

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Is the time finally right for Australia to host the FIFA World Cup?

In a story that caught the eyes of the Australian football community last week, sport and government officials are said to be planning a bid to host the 2030 or 2034 FIFA World Cup down under.

The idea to host the world’s biggest sporting event in Australia is a key part of a strategy that looks to bring a selection of major events to the country, on the back of Brisbane securing the 2032 Olympic Games.

FA CEO James Johnson explained that the governing body has not yet decided to bid for the World Cup, but suggested it is a part of the vision they have for the game.

“It’s an aspiration (hosting the World Cup), that’s part of our vision,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“The next time I think we could realistically host it is 2034 because 2026 is in North America, 2022 is in Asia, 2030 – I think – will go to Europe or South America. There’s an opportunity to bring the World Cup back to Asia, the Asia-Pacific area, in 2034.”

A factor which should strengthen Australia’s case to be the home of a future World Cup is the hosting of the upcoming Women’s World Cup in 2023.

In a pattern which Australia is hoping to follow, Canada hosted the Women’s World Cup in 2015 and used it as a stepping stone to eventually win the right to host part of the 2026 World Cup, alongside Mexico and USA.

Australia, alongside co-hosts New Zealand, are set to sell a record number of tickets for the 2023 tournament.

FIFA have opened an office in Australia to assist with the dealings in the build-up to the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which gives FA access and the opportunity to open dialogue with FIFA administrators and pursue their future ambitions.

The FA CEO knows however, it is imperative that Australia delivers a world class tournament to stand any chance of winning the right to host a future World Cup.

“What I can say is we’ve got an opportunity with the 2023 Women’s World Cup – I think we will deliver an outstanding tournament. If we can deliver the best ever Women’s World Cup tournament, it does put you in a good position to take on more FIFA competitions,” Johnson said.

Australia was awarded the 2023 Women’s World Cup under a new FIFA voting process, which is also set to give the country more of a chance to win a further vote this time around in 2030 or more likely 2034.

Under Australia’s previous World Cup bid in 2010, they secured a singular vote from FIFA’s council.

However, the new voting method gives all 211 national member associations a chance to vote, rather than the previous secretive process which was conducted by FIFA council members.

Australia may have further success with this system due to the transparent nature of it and minimization of influence from FIFA’s top dogs.

One of those head honchos is Gianni Infantino, president of FIFA, who has steered the ship in the organisation after replacing Sepp Blatter in 2016.

Johnson believes Infantino’s approach to competitions would mean Australia is going to have to find a partnering country for any future bid for a World Cup.

“If you look at the way Gianni is wanting to run his competition strategies, he wants cross-nation competitions. I don’t see any future World Cups being run by one country,” said Johnson.

“It is something that would need to be done with other countries in the region, both in the Asia and probably Oceania region.”

FA have previously held discussions with Indonesia about hosting a World Cup and they, alongside New Zealand, are the most likely candidates to partner with Australia if they bid.

Sharing the bid with another country like Indonesia will have its benefits, such as improving relations between both countries and also halving the costs of an expensive exercise.

There will be difficulties that need to be worked out, but this may be Australia’s best chance to host a World Cup in the foreseeable future.

Channel 10 and Paramount+ have hit the ground running

Channel 10 and Paramount have hit the ground running by promoting the A-League to both casual fans and bolted-on supporters, and Australian football will only continue to benefit from their commitment towards promoting the beautiful game.

Fans are already relishing the increased accessibility created by a new broadcast deal. To watch all the A-League games previously, it would cost $25 a month for a Kayo Sports basic subscription, compared to the $9 a month a fan will pay next season for a Paramount+ subscription.

Paramount+ has created an ingenious way to win over A-League members through collaboration with their clubs. The offer – with assistance from Australian Professional Leagues (APL) – subsidises and reduces the cost of a subscription to Paramount+ for A-League members and is a winner with nothing but positive feedback from supporters. Currently, the best was an early bird offer from Melbourne Victory for $60 a year (which has now expired), however most clubs are offering a yearly subscription for around $75.

This has helped alleviate fears that there are too many platforms to watch football, and that costs could become too high. This move by ViacomCBS will certainly garner goodwill and positivity from the people who make up the backbone of A-League support.

While Foxtel was a great partner to the A-League for many years, which allowed an Australian top-flight league to stay relatively stable during its tenure as a broadcaster, in recent years football in Australia has stagnated. The ability to introduce the A-League to not just sports fans, but also casual fans is the biggest strength of the partnership between the league and Channel 10.

Studio 10 featured an interview with Adelaide players Stefan Mauk and Kusini Yengi, and we are surely going to see more of these exclusives featured as we approach the beginning of the A-League regular season. We are already seeing cross-promotion of the A-League through their other shows and news programs. Melbourne Victory’s former talismanic striker Archie Thompson is appearing on Celebrity Masterchef, in a crossover attempt to win over casual viewers. When the A-League season begins, you can only imagine how this coverage will expand and feature in the channel’s line-up.

The coverage of football in Channel 10’s news bulletins and programs has changed recently. The A-League has never seen transfers and news being prioritised in the way they are now on a free-to-air commercial station, and this can only be good for the game. Each night the network makes up around 17% of all TV viewership Australia-wide, and the possibilities for cross-promotional activity have only just scratched the surface. 10 News First regularly draws over 500,000 people for their nightly show, and introducing A-League stars with the league itself to these viewers can produce growth and exposure like Australian football has never seen before.

The new broadcast deal for next season is an opportunity for the A-League to refresh itself, and ViacomCBS are certainly giving it their all to ensure this happens. Channel 10 appears to be going all-in on ensuring the opportunity to market Australian football to a new audience is not being wasted. A challenge for the A-League and Channel 10 will be finding a way to reach the large number of lapsed fans who have stopped following the A-League for various reasons.

The next step for Paramount+ and 10 is ensuring they have the right broadcast team in place for games.  Fox Sport’s A-League commentators have been maligned in recent years, however there are passionate and skilled play-by-play announcers who are waiting to be picked up. Simon Hill is currently freelancing for Optus Sport and would be a shrewd pickup as lead announcer for A-League games. Rumours of his acquisition by 10 circulated earlier this year, and he is proven quality who is dedicated and knowledgeable about Australian football.

Australian football could see a change in fortune if ViacomCBS can continue to expand upon this level of promotion for the A-League. By engaging new fans, ensuring lapsed fans are reached, and continuing to offer value to the committed and faithful, Channel 10 and Paramount+ can build upon the strong foundations that they have already laid before the season has even kicked off.

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