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Australian football's future: how best to maintain the greater interest achieved in recent decades

By Chris Lewis - posted Thursday, 8 April 2021

Hence, a larger A-League, say of 16 teams, should look to base new teams in other reasonably large cities such as Canberra where a reasonable average crowd is feasible.

As of 2021, the proposal for a national second division by 2023, aimed at eventual promotion to the A-League perhaps by 2028, suggested an annual cost of between $2.5 million and $3.3 million for a 12-team league with much of the budget going to centralised travel costs, far below the millions invested every season by leading A-League teams.

With regard to television coverage, it remains to be seen whether Optus or Stan (or free-to-air broadcasters) bid for football television given the Foxtel network will end its deal with football after July 2021.


While nearly 200,000 people watched the Sky Blues' extra-time win in the 2019-2020 A-League grand final on Foxtel's multiple media sources (including Kayo), the reopening round of the A-League on the weekend of 17-19 July 2020 only attracted an average audience of 22,000, thus confirming why Foxtel was no longer was no longer prepared to support a deal worth $57 million a year in an agreement that was to run until 2023.

There is no doubt that the A-League may be living beyond its means given that a future broadcasting deal is likely to be far less lucrative.

As noted by a lobby group in May 2020, headed by former Socceroos stars including former captains Mark Viduka, Craig Moore and Lucas Neill, it may be more viable for the football federation to take control of broadcasting at a time when player salaries have made the professional game in Australia too costly for the revenues it creates.

While the proposal suggested that a newly-independent A-League could choose whether to be part of the venture or pursue its own broadcast deal, they suggested the possibility of a Netflix-style streaming service to cover national games, cup competition, national youth championships, state leagues and a future national second division.

The proposal suggests that a football federation run broadcaster could be funded through $25 of player registrations from the 600,000 juniors, amateur and semi-professional players, thus raising $13.6 million (2019 calculations) while further fees from the other 1.4 million Australians interested in football had the potential to achieve an annual total of $49 million.

It remains to be seen how prosperous Australian football will be in coming years, and what changes will be implemented at a time when the high cost of entry into the junior development system has meant that football club registration fees are easily the most expensive of the four major football codes (including rugby union), with some clubs in Melbourne and Sydney charging more than $2,000 per year.


By the end of 2020, after years of negotiation to bring Australia in line with major competitions around the world, Football Australia finally relinquished control of the A-League which would allow each club (and any wealthy owner) a lot more independence to choose its own path in terms of financial and marketing, albeit the safety net provided by the newly formed Football Australia was gone.

However, Football Australia will still be the competition regulator and will retain the final say over A-League expansion and access to the Asian Champions League, while still overseeing disciplinary and integrity issues, registration of clubs, players and officials, the transfer system and the draw.

Nevertheless, I, for one, believe that the A-league, and Australian football in general, will long prosper given the considerable gains made by Australian football in recent decades as it rightfully became one of Australia's mainstream sports.

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About the Author

Chris Lewis, who completed a First Class Honours degree and PhD (Commonwealth scholarship) at Monash University, has an interest in all economic, social and environmental issues, but believes that the struggle for the ‘right’ policy mix remains an elusive goal in such a complex and competitive world.

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