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Women’s Cricket World Cup was great, but Matildas home World Cup will be greater

Last Sunday’s T20 Women’s World Cup final between Australia and India was a fantastic sporting spectacle.

The crowd of over 86,000 at the MCG, the highest attendance for a standalone women’s sporting event in Australia, saw the Aussie side win their fifth T20 World Cup.

The local TV ratings were also impressive, with an average audience of 1.231 million Australians tuning into the match.

While the tournament final was a huge success, it is up for debate whether the previous stages lived up to expectations.

Crowds were small for most of the other games throughout the competition, including only 6,161 showing up to the SCG for a rain affected Australia vs South Africa semi-final.

Australia’s opening match of the tournament against India had 13,432 fans in attendance at the Sydney Showground Stadium, the biggest outside of the final.

In comparison, The Matildas drew a crowd of 14,014 in Newcastle last Friday for an Olympic qualifier against Vietnam.

If Australia and New Zealand do win the right to host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, it’s safe to say crowd figures will be much more impressive than the T20 Women’s World Cup.

Initial projections in Australia and New Zealand’s joint bid book, claim that over 1.5 million will attend the 2023 tournament with an average crowd of 24,000 per match.

Australia will host 24 games throughout the group stages of the tournament and 11 in the knockout stage, with the final to be held at Stadium Australia in Sydney.

The other stadiums that will be used for the tournament in Australia are: the Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Brisbane Stadium, Newcastle Stadium, York Park, Perth Oval, the re-developed Sydney Football Stadium and Hindmarsh Stadium.

If the tournament is priced correctly, it’s hard to see Australia’s bid not being extremely successful for women’s sport.

Crowds for Matildas games in a home World Cup will be huge, but there will also be significant interest in other teams competing in the tournament due to our diverse population.

TV ratings will be big in Australia and around the world, although Australia’s time-zone is not exactly favourable for a major event.

Speaking to SBS TWG, Off The Pitch reporter and experienced FIFA and UEFA watcher James Corbett, believes Australia is the favourite.

“If we look at it as a rational open tender process, you’d like to think [that Australia are in front],” Corbett said.

“The Matildas are arguably Australia’s most popular national team and in a competitive domestic sporting culture have brilliantly carved out a place for ’soccer’ in Australia and the country has, in Sam Kerr, one of the best players on the planet.

“The country has the infrastructure to host it; it’s an event that’s far less dependent on TV revenues as a measure of success, so its distance is less of a factor. It is politically and economically stable.”

Corbett believes FFA’s appointment of James Johnson as new CEO will change the perception of Australia’s governing body and their previous administration faults.

“If you look at the political side, where Australia has faltered in the past is a distance between its administrators from the ‘heart and soul’ of the game.

“Previous FFA CEOs and other leading executives have come from other sports and have been considered aloof from their peers in the global game, who ultimately decide these matters.

“The men’s 2022 World Cup bid – which was arrogant and sulphurous – was a case study in how not to bid for a major competition.

“There’s been a realignment with the true values of football in recent years, and the FFA’s new CEO, James Johnston, has worked for both FIFA and the AFC and knows which buttons to push, as well as being tremendously engaging and good at his job.

“Former Matilda, Moya Dodd, is arguably one of the most powerful people in women’s football worldwide and will know how to navigate the committee rooms.”

This past week the FFA announced that there was an 11% increase in participation in 2019 for women and girls playing the sport of Football in Australia.

These are important figures to show FIFA there is an appetite for women’s football in Australia and a World Cup on home soil will reap huge long-term benefits.

The overall total of close to 2 million people playing football in Australia is also a good indicator that there is a considerable market who will attend a world class footballing event in our backyard.

The Matildas qualified for the Olympics in Japan on Wednesday, a country who is expected to be Australia and New Zealand’s number one rival to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

The ball is now in FIFA’s court, with a host announcement to be made in June.

Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

Why 2021 was a groundbreaking year for Australian football

Olympics

As 2021 draws to a close, it has proved to be another fantastic year of growth for the game.

With the 2023 Women’s World Cup on home soil edging closer, the tournament is one of the main driving forces behind facility funding and infrastructure in particular that will play a key role for the Matildas and visiting teams.

In a recap of 2021 highlights, Soccerscene picks out five contributors towards a groundbreaking year for Australian football.

The APL have officially been given the reigns

The long-awaited hand over of Australia’s professional leagues has provided A-League club owners with greater impetus to invest than ever before. The impact of the unbundling, which was officially confirmed at the last possible minute on December 31, 2020, is yet to be fully realised. But it has to be said that the signs thus far point to a positive future for football.

The Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the entity charged with growing the professional leagues in Australia, have already begun to endear themselves to the passionate domestic football fanbase, simply through making substantial decisions for the benefit of football in the short and long-term.

ViacomCBS

So far, the APL have delivered. A unified A-Leagues which has seen the Men’s and Women’s game united under one banner; the wholehearted support of broadcaster 10 ViacomCBS as the home of Australian football; the launch of the KEEPUP digital platform to serve as the go-to hub for all things domestic and international football; and a $100 million investment into football here from American private equity firm Silver Lake.

There is no denying that those who have sought to take the game in a positive direction are seeking to do as such through their actions, rather than their words.

Investment in National Premier Leagues infrastructure across the country

National Premier Leagues (NPL) sides across Australia placed a significant focus on the growth and investment into their infrastructure in 2021.

As of November, the upgrades to Clennett’s Lightwood Park are underway, ensuring that Kingborough Lions FC’s home ground will be given a significant opportunity to potentially host training basecamps for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023.

The club were recipients of a portion of the Tasmanian Government’s $10 million pledge to upgrade facilities in preparation for hosting World Cup content.

Tasmania

NPL NSW 4 side Parramatta Eagles FC were successful in securing a well-overdue upgrade to the iconic Melita Stadium. The Eagles contributed $20,000 to the upgrade and were successful in obtaining $50,000 from the Community Building Partnerships Program.

Melita Stadium is a historic venue known to all that love the world game and has been given a new lease on life thanks to the funding. Beyond the historic relevance, the arrival of the upgrade to Melita Stadium in 2021 contains with it the symbolic implication of an overriding investment into football facilities across the board.

Edgeworth Eagles’ nearly $1.5 million development has ushered the historic Northern NSW side into a new era. A quarter of a million of the investment went into floodlighting to provide adequate lighting for the club’s many programs and teams, leaving them as the only NPL side with 500 Lux on their ground.

Eagles

In addition, Victorian NPL 2 side North Sunshine Eagles saw a newly redeveloped $8.4 million facility based in Ardeer established to house their entire junior setup out of More Park from 2022.

The facility has two full size rectangular pitches, a 21x12m fully enclosed futsal court, a mini pitch (suitable for MiniRoos), four female-friendly changerooms as well as a fully accessible sports pavilion, community social room and expanded carpark.

The efforts being made by these clubs (and plenty more) must be commended, particularly in light of yet another COVID-19 impacted season that forced competitions across the country to end early.

State federations make strides to advance the game 

Exciting partnership news extended across the country, with notable deals including: Football South Australia announcing a new eight-year partnership with leading LED manufacturer One World LED & Sportal; Football West linking up with Veo Technologies to support West Australian clubs; and Capital Football beginning their new apparel partnership with Australian sports clothing manufacturer ISC.

Football Queensland have taken immense strides as a member federation this year, following the release of Future of Football 2020+. In August, FQ Members voted on 11 resolutions put forward with an overwhelming show of support for the Future of Football 2020+ reforms, the first the game has seen in 20 years.

Football West CEO James Curtis stepped down from his role with the intention of setting a precedent of leadership succession for the West Coast’s representative football federation, and perhaps for Australian football as a whole.

Football West

In a sport where in-fighting and over-politicising has undoubtedly impeded the game in the past, such movements are indicative of the changing approach to how football is governed.

The women’s game is given the focus it deserves

With the excitement of an upcoming Women’s World Cup to be co-hosted with New Zealand in 2023, opportunities have finally been presented to the women’s game to give it the attention and investment it has deserved. Such spotlight is undeniably overdue, especially considering the overwhelming presence and support of the Matildas across the Australian sporting public.

With the women’s game expected to grow in interest and participation over the next decade, female friendly amenities are essential in ensuring a safe and inviting space is facilitated for women to prepare for competition and training.

The lack of female friendly football facilities has been slowly rectified in 2021, with the likes of Nepean Football Association side, St Marys Band Rangers FC, recently seeing an upgrade to the facility at their home ground, Kevin Dwyer Fields. Fresh paint, new bench seating and most importantly lockable showers and toilets for females has been added to the existing change rooms.

The Nest

Football Australia’s announcement in August of a High Performance Coaching Initiative will look to help women’s football move beyond the well documented barriers. In an Australian football first, over 150 women coaches at various levels will partake in a comprehensive study to better understand their coaching landscape in the first phase of the Initiative.

By taking on an evidence-based approach, women coaches in football will be supported, engaged with, developed, and retained to increase the numbers in high performance.

For regional football, a NSW Government funded talent identification and youth development program was announced in January to take place over the next three years to help young girls who aspire to play for the Matildas.

The $750,000 initiative is designed for girls aged 12 to 18 years old, with funding to support the establishment of training hubs across the state and identifying talented young players will be further supported through the provision of training camps and player support scholarships.

Australian football finally has the ‘new dawn’ it’s been waiting for

Starting anew, with expansive scope available to Football Australia, the APL and the member federations to lead Australian football out of its tumultuous, and often chaotic, adolescent years, the opportunity is now here to ensure that Australian football reaches its lofty potential.

There is plenty to be excited for, particularly with a National Second Division touted for 2023 that will arguably stamp Football Australia and the APL’s commitment to uniting the game between the professional, semi-professional and grassroots tiers.

Ultimately however, Australian football needs to work to win back many fans who have become disenchanted with how the game has been run. In an interview with Soccerscene ahead of the A-Leagues season, 10 ViacomCBS Executive Producer Geoff Bullock acknowledged that the broadcasters were looking to bring a “fan-first approach to broadcasting football” in Australia. If one thing is clear about the future, Australian football must reignite the passion of the fans in this country.

References to a ‘new dawn’ for Australian football will understandably be taken with a grain of salt from the footballing public. But even the most tentative Australian football adherent would feel a greater hope and optimism for the future. It’s simply a matter of patience.

Fans

Australian Professional Leagues announce minority investment from Silver Lake

ALM

Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the entity responsible for the operation, commercialisation and marketing of professional football in Australia, have today announced that Silver Lake, a global leader in technology investing, has made a significant minority investment in the organisation.

The investment will drive technology enhancements and innovation aimed at improving the fan experience and driving further development of the game in Australia. The transaction values APL at approximately USD$300m / AUD $425M.

Silver Lake’s investment aimed at supporting APL’s sustained, long-term growth strategy for the leagues, with a measured deployment of capital over the coming years. Funds will be used to drive enhancements widely across many aspects of the professional game.

APL’s digital first strategy will continue to evolve with a focus on marketing, product development and strengthening its direct-to-consumer execution.

Funds will also be allocated to support the on-field enhancement of the A-Leagues including increased investment in all competitions with a specific focus on extended growth in the Liberty A-League Women and A-League Youth competitions. Additional investment is planned to be deployed for development of unique community engagement propositions to further connect the game.

Silver Lake Managing Director Stephen Evans will become a Member of the APL Board.

Commenting on the announcement, A-Leagues Chair Paul Lederer said:

“Silver Lake is a world-class leader in technology and media investing and this partnership is a testament to the compelling opportunities for growth and even better, deeper fan engagement that our leagues are cultivating. This valuation recognises the latent potential that has long existed in the professional game in Australia, and the ability of our board and executive team to realise that potential.

“We welcome the opportunity to work closely with Silver Lake to harness the team’s experience, including around new technology adoption and other growth strategies critical to realising the potential of Australian football.”

Silver Lake Managing Director Stephen Evans added:

“The Australian Professional Leagues has a large, growing and passionate fan base across its 13 teams and the organisation has made great strides as it focuses on leveraging technology to strengthen Australian football and enrich the fan experience.

“We are excited to partner with the Board, Danny Townsend, and the entire executive team to help further accelerate APL’s digital transformation and support its continued momentum and ambitious vision for long-term sustainable and inclusive growth.”

The Silver Lake transaction has been approved by the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) and Football Australia.

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