Thursday, April 16, 2009

Australia’s Football Renaissance Remains Incomplete

From poor television deals to the placebo affects of the salary cap and lingering corruption, Australian football dare not enter into a state of complacency. (Joshua "Jesus" Kennedy Pictured)

The Renaissance was an era that wanted a free culture, a new form of art and to free humans from the bondage of traditions.

The transformation of 'Old Soccer' into 'New Football' has been called a 'Football Renaissance', but the reality is that, although some change has occurred, some of the bad old days don’t want to leave us.
New Football and Old Soccer

New Football promised stability, football that was free from corruption and a hope that qualifying for World Cups was going to bring in lots of money and even a crazy idea that Australia could one day lift the famous trophy.

The salary cap was going to protect clubs from going under, unlike the NSL (National Soccer League), in which players sometimes had to wait months for unpaid wages - some are still waiting.

The clubs were going to be playing in better stadiums and the new football teams would be free of the dreaded ethnic tag that was holding back the game locally.

I am no scary Prophet of Doom or high spirited Pollyanna; I leave the depressive and manic behaviour for the stands.

However, I did feel déjà vu when I heard the news that two A-League clubs, Adelaide United and Queensland Roar, were facing financial difficulties and may be forced to hand their licenses back to Football Federation Australia.

In the Roar’s case, an expensive agreement with the Queensland State Government to rent Suncorp Stadium has had a debilitating affect on major owner Laurence Oudendyk’s finances.

The situation for Adelaide is that owners Bianco Constructions are experiencing difficulties and may be forced to hand in their A-League license.

This is not good news, especially since two new clubs, Gold Coast United and the North Queensland Fury, are about to enter the A-League next season.

While there has been no confirmation by the FFA that the licenses will be handed back, you have to ask the question:
If the salary cap was introduced to save clubs from financial ruin, why are two clubs struggling?

Poor TV Deal and Poor Stadiums

Last week, Central Coast Mariners backer Peter Turnbull let out an astonishing tirade after the Mariners got thumped by Japanese side Kawsaki Frontale in the Asian Champions League.

The Sydney Morning Herlad quoted Turnbull as having said that the A-League would struggle to bridge the gap as long as national team manager Pim Verbeek continued to discourage leading Socceroos from returning from Europe, whilst at the same time as encouraging emerging talent to head in the opposite direction.

I take the view that most players are thinking, "Show me the money,” and that Turnbull’s remark was a case of sour grapes. A-League clubs simply cannot afford the higher wages that cash rich Asian and European clubs can offer.

I believe that Australia’s footballing growth is being held back by State Governments charging high fees for stadium use and a TV deal that is so poor some A-League club owners are being forced to look at option of giving the license back to Football Federation Australia.
The conversation about the TV deal has been mostly muted. However the majority of fans remain disgruntled at the Socceroos and the A-League for not having a presence on free to air television.

While Fox Sports have done a great job with the promotion of the game, the idea of football getting a shot at free to air will not happen because the TV deal is set in stone until 2013.

I don’t see Foxtel giving up a prime asset without financial compensation.

This seems a shame as the popularity of the Socceroos cannot be underestimated at this time. TV ratings for the Australia-Uzbekistan game were at record levels. The biggest ever audience on Australian pay TV was a game the Socceroos played, against opposition most folks in the mainstream population would never have heard of.

You wonder what the figures would have been if the game was on free to air, as only around 25 per cent of the population have pay TV.

FIFA is the organisation that handles the TV rights for the World Cup and, luckily for Australian audiences, the finals will be shown on SBS in 2010 and 2014.

The stadium debate is another hot topic. Most A-League fans were left less than amused at the state of some of the pitches last season.There were stories of Andre Riu and Madonna concerts being scheduled days before A-League games, all night rave parties leaving a trail of glass on the pitch and unexplained grass diseases causing divots players could easily fall into.

It can be frustrating at times to be a football fan in Australia. You have to pay a subscription fee to watch your local or national team, usually on a sub standard pitch.
Depending on where you live, that time honoured traditional of listening to the radio as you drive home from the game is not an option in places like Sydney, because no-one is calling the game.

The financial credit crunch has put a spotlight on the world’s finances and football is no different.
Australian football does not have the benefit of the AFL’s Rugby Union or NRL’s large TV deal to help pay the bills.To steal some finance jargon, the FFA, have to get their revenue streams maximised.

Two new teams and a longer season will help, so will a national FA cup style competition.
Let’s dream and say also national radio coverage would benefit.
Let’s not also forget images that watching the Socceroos at the World Cup is something that could only be likened to an iconic image.

The World Cup is like a great painting, the images stay in the memory forever, and it’s these iconic images that capture the hearts and minds of potential football fans.


A famous line about corruption is that, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

On April 6 the Four Four Two Australia website reported, “Former Sydney FC assistant coach Aytek Genc has revealed a thug culture among a small number of so-called Sydney Olympic fans was behind his resignation from the club.”

Apparently Genc resigned from the New South Wales Premier League club after he was allegedly heavied into making certain team selections.
This type of episode is not new in Australian football.

While Australian football has had a recent polish and looks shiny and new from outside, even with the recent success of the World Cup-bound Socceroos, the implementation of the Crawford Report and the inception of the A League, there are still Old Soccer challenges that New Football must find solutions for.

Then only then, will it be a true Renaissance.

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