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Victorian A-League clubs can benefit from unique home grounds, this is how.

What makes a sporting venue unique?

Is it A). the respective fanbases that cheer for what seems an eternity in the hope their team will win?

Is it B). the overall quality and look of the venue, on the field and in the stands?

Or, is it C). the location of the venue that gives the team and its fans a sense of identity?

If you answered with C, congratulations. You won the jackpot. Go off and celebrate with Jamal Malik. Or Charles Van Doren, it doesn’t really matter.

Whilst there are cases that can be made for A and B, having a venue located appropriately for both the club and its supporters goes a long way to creating the most unique sporting venues across the planet.

European teams all have their own venues, which they have used for years to great effect, giving their sides genuine home ground advantages.

For example, FC Barcelona, arguably the biggest club in the world, uses the Nou Camp for home fixtures.

Any rival team would be rightly justified in being slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of playing against not only a world class team, but in front of nearly 100,000 Catalans.

There’s no one else, but you and your 10 teammates. If that can’t be classified as daunting, then nothing can.

But when we compare the European leagues to that of our own A-League, the differences are night and day.

For years, we’ve become accustomed to clubs playing at venues which are either shared with another club or simply not suitable for their supporters.

Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City often share AAMI Park for league fixtures. Sydney FC and Western Sydney have sometimes shared ANZ Stadium for larger fixtures.

By doing this, the local and state governments are ignoring the possibilities that come with individual home grounds.

It has worked for European teams and for a long time, it even worked in the Australian Football League. North Melbourne would play at Arden Street, Hawthorn in Waverley, Collingwood at Victoria Park, Carlton at Princes Park and so on.

By having unique venues, clubs would not only give back to the community, but they would attain a unique and distinguishable identity.

Picture this.

We are used to seeing London-based sides playing at their own locations. Crystal Palace have Selhurst Park, Arsenal have the Emirates, Chelsea have Stamford Bridge, Tottenham have their new Tottenham Stadium. The list could go on forever.

Now, take away all those stadiums, Every single one of them. Except for Wembley Stadium.

Now imagine all fixtures for London-based Premier League sides being hosted at Wembley and Wembley only.

It seems an incredibly stupid concept, doesn’t it?

That’s how it feels when both Melbourne sides are forced to share AAMI Park.

Sure, Wembley is a great stadium but soon, teams would slowly start losing their congruity and relationship with their fans. By having grounds in relevant and discernable locations, fans feel like they’re at home.

It’s not a club, it’s a large family.

That’s what having unique stadiums/locations for each side can do. It makes them feel at home, because in a way, they are.

Melbourne Victory could achieve something like this, should they invest in their Epping facilities. It is currently used for their NPL2 West fixtures, but it could be so much more.

Yes, it’s a downgrade from AAMI Park in terms of capacity and probably quality, but over time, fans will associate themselves with the ground and it can become a genuine home ground.

Sydney FC used Jubilee Oval in the city’s south to great effect in recent times, making it a tough ground to win at.

But also, it is located in the suburbs. With the people. With those who are the only reason the club is around today.

Now, Western Sydney will have the Bankwest Stadium as their unique home ground, starting next season. It will work as they are, once again, catering to their fanbase and community.

The Melbourne-based sides should take notes from this.

In Football Victoria’s strategic plan laid out earlier this year, FV said they would be look to be “expanding and improving all facilities and providing infrastructure to increase access, utilisation and sustainability”, by “building strong relationships with Local, State & Federal Governments.”

Creating a A-League quality stadium in Epping could go a long way to achieving this.

Clubs know that the fans are the most important stakeholders and that by adhering to them, they will become an infinitely better club.

History suggests that when clubs have their own distinctive venues, they perform better both on and off the field.

With time and money, more clubs across Australia can turn the A-League into a league on par with the MLS.

And yes, money can be a significant factor when it comes to this issue. Understandably, the governing bodies will not be wanting to make a move on this without money-back guarantees.

No one would agree to any sort of deal without guarantees that in time, their investments would be worthwhile. But the proof is in the pudding. It’s been done elsewhere, it can be done here. If the Sydney-based clubs can make it work, there’s no reason that other states can too.

Should this become a reality, more marquee players will want to play here, more youngsters will want to play the sport and overall, the sport of soccer in this country will thrive.

And who knows? With the right management and oversight, we could dare to dream even bigger…

 

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Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

The future of the professional game in Australia: One-on-one with Sydney FC CEO and APL Managing Director Danny Townsend

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.”

Sydney FC CEO and APL Managing Director Danny Townsend

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.”

 

 

APL appoints three new executives for commercial and marketing

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) have appointed three new senior executives who will develop a commercial and marketing function.

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) have appointed three new senior executives who will develop a commercial and marketing function to be part of the APL’s ambitious growth strategy.

All three personnel have had extensive experience in marketing related to sport and global organisations, bringing across new ideas to promote the game.

Ryan Sandilands is set to be the APL’s first Commercial Director, tasked with supercharging the commercial and operational capabilities of the APL and club commercial teams. Sandilands is a sports and entertainment industry veteran of 20 years, having led commercial growth and strategic planning for companies such as Cirque du Soleil, Women’s Tennis Association, City Football Group and AEG.

Rob Nolan will lead the marketing and data operations function, as APL focusses on a new future about how it engages with football fans on a one-to-one basis. Nolan brings over 20-years of global marketing experience from six countries, including Kayo Sports, News Corp and iflix, one of south-east Asia’s biggest entertainment subscription VOD services. Nolan has also spent time building data capability to fuel growth with data agency Digital Alchemy and various telcos including Virgin Mobile, Vodafone and O2 in the UK.

Stacey Knox joins the APL marketing team to overhaul their operational capability to prepare the execution of the APL’s ambitious direct-to-consumer strategy. Knox has more than two decades of experience in global marketing organisations and agencies, including the Coca-Cola Company, News Limited and Inchcape. She’s also a coach and mentor to industry bodies and not-for-profit organisations.

“This team is here to innovate and supercharge the commercial and marketing capabilities of the APL as we realise our reinvention as a leading football entertainment company,” APL Chief Commercial Officer Ant Hearne said.

“We’re seeing the most entertaining football on the pitch and it’s our job to take that directly to fans with a world class fan experience and content offering.”

These new appointments add to the recently announced Managing Director Danny Townsend, Leagues Commissioner Greg O’Rourke, Chief Commercial Officer Ant Hearne, Strategy and Digital Director Michael Tange, and Deputy Commissioner Tracey Scott in the APL leadership group.

FIFA appoints Chief Operating Officers for Women’s World Cup 2023

FIFA has appointed two Chief Operating Officers (COOs) for the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 in Australia and New Zealand.

FIFA has appointed two Chief Operating Officers (COOs) for the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

Jane Fernandez and Jane Patterson have been named as COOs for Australia and New Zealand respectively, after their initial appointments last year to lead the FIFA Women’s World Cup office for their host countries.

Fernandez led Football Australia’s successful bid to host the tournament and subsequently led to her appointment as Head of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 Office (Australia). She’s was also the Head of Sport for the Australian Olympic Committee and Tournament Director of the AFC Asian Cup 2015.

Patterson worked on sports events across Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia and the UK, featuring a a wide range of world championships in netball, BMX, para-swimming and taekwondo and major events including the Ironman Triathlon and the New Zealand Open golf tournament.

She was recognised for her achievements in service to sport with a New Zealand Order of Merit in 2016. She also worked for NZ Football as Project Director for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

Jane Patterson (right) receiving the New Zealand Order of Merit from Lt Gen The Rt Hon Sir Jerry Mateparae, GNZM, QSO (left) during the Investiture Ceremony at Government House Auckland in 2016. (Credit: The Office of the Governor-General)

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura:

“Today’s announcement adds to the excitement around the ninth edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

“We are delighted to welcome Jane Patterson and Jane Fernandez on board as Chief Operating Officers for the competition.

Their skill, experience in leading multi-talented teams and passion for football will be key to ensuring the delivery of the FIFA Women’s World Cup at the highest level.”

Football Australia Chief Executive Officer James Johnson:

“We are delighted that Jane Fernandez has been appointed to this prestigious and important position, and that her vast knowledge and skillset will continue to be utilised by FIFA for the biggest sporting event to be held on Australian soil since Sydney 2000.”

CEO of New Zealand Football, Andrew Pragnell:

“New Zealand Football are thrilled to see Jane Patterson confirmed as Chief Operating Officer (New Zealand) for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

“Jane has done a stellar job to date as Project Director for the Initial Operating Phase and we are delighted to see her continue to bring her wealth of knowledge and experience to the tournament.”

The newly-appointed COOs will oversee the operational aspects for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 in Australia and New Zealand. It’s the first time this tournament will be co-hosted in FIFA’s history, that will feature 32 teams – an increase from 24 in France 2019.

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