Friday, August 10, 2007

Book Review: It's Only A Game by John O'Neill - Charter 19 The A-League

It is only a game. I say this to parents when they tell me that their child can't come because they have a wedding to go to. I know that will make them feel OK. But I don't mean it the way they mean it. I mean it's only a game the way mathematics is only a school subject. Or urgent brain surgery is still only surgery.

Anyway. I went straight to charter 19: The A-League. And while a former CEO, well at least a reputable one, isn't going to rat on his old organisation, I did learn a lot from the 14 pages. And more from the 100 pages he devotes to our football code. But I'll write about those later. Charter 19 is largely about the end of the old soccer administration and the beginning of the new one.

For instance, the recruitment of John Ribot was a significant factor in the Roar getting the Brisbane license. He brought professional sport experience and helped demonstrate an up-to-date approach.

O'Neill on the Foxtel deal interested me the most. I hadn't read the logic of the Foxtel deal before. It isn't really understood by fans. Which is a shame because I know it hurts many, and hides the progress or otherwise of the Socceroos from many, many kids. People need to know why it was done. O'Neill is adamant. Foxtel was critical. It facilitated getting other sponsors. And without the Socceroos in the broadcasting deal and, probably, without the qualification for the 2006 World Cup, the A-League would not have had enough money.

O'Neill records that the Australian Sports Commission was prepared for state based competitions without a set of national teams. Yep, they were interested in the mass participation and the national teams. The National Soccer League had been blamed for weakening football as a game in Australia. Therefore, the A-League was no certainty in 2004.

The last season of the NSL had cost $121 million to run. Around $52 million was unfunded. Ouch. Plus hardly anyone watched.

The free to air stations wanted the FFA to pay for the TV production costs and to be provide d with the first year to the A-League for free. That is, they were prepared to take no risk.

Only Foxtel, keen for new content, and for a reason for people like me to start paying for TV access, were prepared to pay. Foxtel would pay for production and $500,000 for the first year's rights. Foxtel's success in the A-League's first year led to the offer of $130 million for seven years including the Socceroos. Given the financial pressures the clubs have felt, this deal saved the A-League.

It's Only A Game: A Life in Sport by John O'Neill is published by Random House Australia in 2007 . Recommended retail is $49.95 but I picked it up for $34.95.

I understand that Foxtel was profitable for the first time in 2006-2007.

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