Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fan Forum

Did I detect a touch of schadenfreude (call it pretend sympathy) for Ben Buckley facing up to what appeared to be mainly Sydney FC fans?

Ben Buckley did well, gaining recognition from the audience that they were being tough on him. They thought he deserved it.

However. On reflection, I think he would have expected the reception, but didn't deserve it. He is doing what he can to satisfy his multiple and often conflicting stakeholders. As Les Murray pointed out, what are the state football organisations doing in there as directors? I need to do a bit of research as I don't understand how this hierarchy works. Surely Football Queensland and Soccer NSW (or whatever it is now called) reports to FFA, not the other way round? But without these state bodies how would the volunteers, that make the game work each weekend, be coordinated? Not by the parents, they are using weekend sport as a child minding service.

Ben Buckley referred to the FFA's 'strategic plan'. A vital document. I assume it maps out all these stakeholder relationships, their needs and their influence? If it does it will be a wicked and complex document.

But for the A-League, its main game must now be commercial success. The governance structure is less than ideal. But is better than trying to imitate the EPL. The EPL clubs do not make money in a sustainable way. The EPL model is about 5 clubs that can win and others that have generations of loyal fans to sustain them. And primarily it is about the massive financial resources of some men who want to make their mark on world football by buying the best coaches and players. If the A-League tries to emulate that, it will be soon gone.

If the A-League tries to rely on a few rich men, it will also soon be gone. Have a listen to, or read, this ABC radio 'Background Briefing', particularly the last 10 minutes.

The mood of the fan forum was 'why have you not done this'. Yet the right answer in sport is not easy. There is a very high probability that whatever you do will not work out how you planned it. The reality is that the A-League arose from the Socceroos world cup qualification in 2005 and some clubs had, by some measures, peaked before the 2006 world cup. There was a lot of free-to-air coverage before the 2006 world cup, it was a mood of 'our time.'

There was limited free-to-air coverage of the qualification rounds for the 2010 cup. Those that don't have Foxtel probably didn't feel part of it. And Australia's coach was a disaster for the game, getting massive airplay for the message that that the local league was of a poor standard. The reality was that because of his coaching ability he needed the best players he could to qualify and he was then found out on the world stage. The perceived poor performance at the world cup came back and hit the A-League further - despite the lack of local participants.

There is a lot of talk about the grass roots. But the reality is that parents choose soccer as a development activity, then then go and watch another code for entertainment. They tried the A-League and some stuck. But their interest in sport as development has a product lifecycle linked to the age of their children. And their interest in it as entertainment is also likely to be linked to their children's interest. Meanwhile, those with a culture of attending sport as entertainment, generation after generation, are likely to revert to their original code passion or the sport that is being promoted on free-to-air TV. The mega dollars being thrown around by a centralised AFL body with an annual net profit of over $150 million and no national or state teams to worry about funding, is hard to compete with if you have no money.

Cricket has found how damaging the brand of a national team playing a high volume of local games is on the domestic league. Managing the local Socceroo exposure is complex - how do you use it to boost the sport if there are only 1 or 2 players from the local league?

On the other hand, allowing free-to-air coverage of A-League games or Socceroo games could totally devalue the coverage contracts.

What is needed is some way to get the next wave of families to watch the A-League, without reducing the net revenue of the sport.

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