Why a National Second Division is an absolute must

Expansion to a second division has been a huge talking point for Australian soccer fans with the question being posed as to when it might happen.

The A-League is now independent – now is the chance to bring together those teams with National Premier League sides to increase interest in the game.

While two new A-League teams Western United and Macarthur FC will change up the structure of the A-League, fans are still craving a second division that will ultimately give more teams a shot at the highest level.

It’s now a matter of when, not if, as the white paper has been developed as a plan for the National Second Division in Australia.

The National Second Division Working Group has prepared a proposal to drive the future of the game under FFA control. It’s been a staple for other countries around the world, but a promotion and relegation system doesn’t exist in Australia yet.

With the A-League currently consisting of 10 (soon to be 12) teams, there is little room for players to remain at a top flight level. Clubs have often gone for the ‘recycling’ of players, looking for a tried and true A-League player instead of scouting a NPL level talent.

The main consideration from the white paper is building depth in roster spots for players looking to make their mark.

In its current climate, there isn’t a proper pathway to progress from NPL to A-League. Without getting used to the tempo and higher standard, NPL players may find it tough to break into and sustain themselves in a professional environment.

There’s no doubt that a second division will create more awareness for clubs looking to make a new signing and players will have greater incentive to advance in their career.

Building a greater talent pool will lead to more opportunities to grow and potentially make an impact at the international level. Particularly for younger players, a second division is a great stepping stone to gain experience before mixing it with the A-League’s best and beyond if overseas.

It means there’ll be more full-time professionals, not only in a playing sense but for coaches and officials as well. Having that desire to improve is important as Asian countries are quickly bolstering their leagues with quality.

There are some former National Soccer League (NSL) clubs already boasting adequate facilities to meet any minimum requirement, and with government funding other clubs can ensure their resources are up to speed.

Revamping the A-League into a promotion and relegation system has clear benefits to give the competition a complete refresh. Imagine the tense drama of adding a relegation battle to a title race and finals series? What about a smaller club going for a road to glory? It’s what we want to see.

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Liam Watson is the Co-Founder & Publisher of Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy, industry matters and technology.

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.

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.

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