Why the FFA have made the right call on grassroots soccer

The grassroots level is where our stars are born, where we discover our love for the game.

It’s arguably the most important level of the game and without it, the sport of soccer in this country would be next to nothing.

In light of the recent coronavirus outbreak that has been dominating the headlines worldwide, the FFA originally decided to continue games at the community level, without crowds.

From a certain point of view, it made sense.

Local clubs thrive on matchdays and to play fixtures as per usual, just without any supporters.

Only players, coaches, officials, registered ground staff and media were going to be allowed attendance.

But this week, the FFA have overruled this decision, instead opting to postpone all fixtures below the A-League until the virus outbreak reaches a manageable level.

One which would allow fans to go to games without running the risk of contracting COVID-19.

It’s hard to argue that the FFA have made the incorrect decision.

As much as we want to watch our favourite clubs play whilst we sit at home, cheering them on, it’s hard for clubs to warrant fixtures being played without gameday income.

As fans, we can often take our purchases and financial commitments to clubs for granted. It’s easy to do so, especially if you’re a long serving member of the club.

At the start of the year, prior to the outbreak, many fans would’ve felt paid their membership fees, bought their attire and anything else without thinking twice.

Just the beginning of another season.

But now, with all those fees paid and no games to help bring more money in, clubs would struggle.

Clubs rely heavily on food, drinks and ticket purchases to keep them afloat during the season. It’s a reliable source of income that doesn’t need much attention, if any.

People will always buy tickets on the day, buy their own dinners and even a few drinks if they’re in the mood. It’s a given for most clubs and it is an easy way to make profit.

However, with no fans at games, things change drastically.

Players, coaches, ground staff and club media still have paychecks to be met. Referees are in the same boat.

Power bills don’t come cheap and with games being played, you can bet those bills would take their toll, especially night fixtures where lights are required to be on.

Furthermore, by playing these fixtures, you run the risk of people contracting the virus.

Yes, it’s not as risky as having hundreds or thousands of fans enter the stadiums/grounds.

But the chances of it happening, albeit slim, are still higher than we all wish it was.

Clubs will still make significant losses from this outbreak, make no mistake about that.

Some AFL clubs are reporting that they may be in for financial losses of more than $5 million, a staggering amount.

Clubs across the Serie A, Bundesliga, La Liga and the Premier League will also make losses.

Community level clubs are in the same boat. But it’s certainly smarter and above all else, safer to have these games postponed until the time comes when we can all shake hands again.

When we can go outside without having to worry about what might happen.

When we can live our lives as per normal.

Many fans will be staying at home during these bizarre times and limiting how often they leave the house.

As much as they’d love to see their sides play whilst in the comfort and safety of their own homes, it simply isn’t the way.

Fans will simply need to find other ways to entertain themselves as their local clubs will have to join many more around the world, in a period of limbo.

Although the decision would have been one they did not make lightly, FFA CEO James Johnson and his team have certainly done the right thing in postponing.

By running these fixtures, it’s simply running the unnecessary risk of spreading the virus and that’s the last thing needed right now.

Johnson has been thrown out of the frying pan and into the fire as CEO, but he has made a good start in trying circumstances and let’s hope he stays on this trend.

However, he and his team need to continue making these tough calls.

Next up, postponement of the A-League.

Once again, it’s merely common sense.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Let us know and get involved in the conversation on Twitter @Soccersceneau

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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.

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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