A singular focus on building the value of the game is the key to Australian football realising its sporting and commercial potential, Professional Footballers Association (PFA) Chief Executive Brendan Schwab said today.

Schwab was speaking in response to concerns that limited funds will be available for the next round of Australian soccer’s broadcast rights, after the Australian Football League (AFL) announced a record $1.253 billion 5 year deal with Channel 7, Foxtel and Telstra.  Football Federation Australia (FFA) is a party to an exclusive broadcast deal with the Premier Media Group, which is valued at $120 million over 7 years.  It expires in mid 2013.

“The AFL is to be congratulated for its achievement,” Schwab said.  “It is just reward for an organisation that has led Australian sport for 25 years after committing itself to turning a financially struggling but traditionally strong State league into the nation’s premier national competition.

“The key to the AFL’s growth has been a constant focus on building the value of the game for all key stakeholders: broadcast and commercial partners, clubs, players, the fans and participants.  That singular focus is also required for our game.  If achieved, it will ensure we provide an attractive return on investment for our broadcast and commercial partners,” Schwab added.

The PFA remains optimistic about the next round of broadcast rights negotiations for Australian football, but the game has to move quickly to leverage its clear advantages.  Australian football can and should be among the most valuable sporting properties in Australia.

According to the respected sports and entertainment consultancy, Gemba, 45% of Australians are fans of AFL football, with 40% being fans of football, ahead of rugby league (37%) and rugby union (29%).

Yet, unlike the AFL and rugby league, where nearly all fans support a local club, the strategic opportunity and challenge for football is to ensure its fans are also fans of the A-League and its clubs.

The PFA believes this requires Australian football to commit to 4 goals as part of a comprehensive yet clear strategy for the game:

Goal#1:  Convert the Huge Interest in Football to the A-League

Whilst considerable progress has been made in some markets, the conversion of the huge national interest in football into support for A-League clubs is essential.  As a starting point, 4 pressing reforms are required:

  • first, the geographic location of the teams must reflect the deep interest in the game particularly among those who regularly watch on television and are involved at grass roots level.  A fan driven philosophy is required;
  • second, be completely focussed on building the relationship between Australia’s football fans and their local A-League brand;
  • third, ensure all teams play out of boutique stadia which generate a brilliant atmosphere with average crowds of 10,000 and a fair financial return to the clubs; and
  • fourth, build the relationship between the A-League clubs and the local football communities they are designed to serve.  This requires the complete alignment of the game’s development efforts around the involvement of the A-League club in their local communities.

The market for the A-League can be built equally effectively from the ground up, just as it can from the top down.

Goal #2:  Be Number 1 or 2 in Each Market

Football must leverage the strong national interest in the game by securing our place at not less than the number 2 sport in each key market measured in television audiences, average crowds and participation.  This can arguably deliver sport’s strongest national footprint, certainly among the football codes.

Goal #3:  The Socceroos

Without question, the Socceroos are well placed to become Australia’s “national team”, with interest in the international success of the Socceroos in key matches such as FIFA World Cup qualifiers being premier media content.  Together with atmosphere, football’s status as the world game and the Socceroos role in that are football’s unique points of difference.  National television audiences for key internationals can be expected to rate as well as key AFL Finals Series matches including the Grand Final, but with a national audience without the AFL bias to key southern markets, especially Melbourne.  The strategic packaging of the Socceroos with the A-League can be compelling media content.

Goal #4:  Accessibility

Perhaps the most significant impact of the AFL broadcast deal will be the competitive advantage the additional revenues deliver to the AFL, not only to increase already significant investments in expansion, players, stadia and game development, but to keep the game at affordable levels.  The AFL will be well placed to compete with any sport on price when it comes to match tickets, memberships and junior registration fees.  Australian football needs to be vigilant in these respects.  Globally, football has become the biggest of sports because of its simplicity and accessibility.  This must also be true for Australia.

“FFA’s stated vision – to become Australia’s sport of choice for players and fans – is well put.” Schwab said.

“However, that vision can only be achieved if the game focuses its limited but still significant resources on building its value for all those that really count: broadcast and commercial partners, clubs, players, the grass roots and, ultimately, those that count the most, the fans.”