Australia holds the 2015 Asian Cup, the Asian Champions League trophy and the runners up gong from the 2014 Women’s Asian Cup – it’s a staggering sentence to utter given where the game was 10 years ago.
On the eve of a dream Grand Final between Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC the sport isn’t stopping there; Football Federation Australia are talking like a mining company about to head into boom having just hit an untapped part of the Pilbara.
“We have a firm conviction that football’s best years are ahead of us” FFA CEO David Gallop tells The New Daily.
“We know that growth will inevitably bring greater revenues and new incomes streams to help us build into the future.”
Gallop and co. have just released a 20 year vision called the Whole of Football Plan (WOFP) boasting figures they suggest says the manifesto’s goal can be reached.
“Football is on a mission to become the largest and most popular sport in Australia” he says.
“The game is already no. 1 for participation with more players than all the other codes combined.
“Given that participation is a key factor of fan engagement, our goal is realistic in the long-term as football continues to grow.”
But in a crowded sporting market where’s that growth going to come from, and how does football convince punters to spend money at A-League and Socceroos games?
The plan: turn “football people” into to paid up people
FFA told The New Daily over the past four seasons television audiences have risen, A-League crowds are up and in that same period club membership has more than doubled.
FFA’s digital following has multiplied by almost a factor of five.
They say the plan’s chief challenge is to convert ‘football people’ in to paid up A-League and national team supporters.
Twenty two per cent of junior football participants follow an A-League club compared to the AFL who’s conversion rate is 70 per cent rate.
Those at FFA head office also say there are large numbers of “football people” or “participants” here who follow overseas leagues like the EPL, La Liga and Seria A, but not the A-League.
“Today we have 1.96 million participants, so in our view the main priority is to convert football people into Socceroos and A-League fans,” said Gallop.
“The Whole of Football Plan seeks to have 15 million Australians as part of the football community and to have 75% of that number as fans of our Top Tier clubs.”
Another aspect FFA see as integral to creating paid up A-League fans is through off season exhibition tours from European teams.
This off season Liverpool, Tottenham, Roma, Manchester City and Real Madrid will come and play in Australia however only the first two sides will play Australian teams (Adelaide United and Perth Glory).
While the FFA are thrilled to have the last three playing each other round robin style at the MCG, they feel it is less than ideal to have no Australian team involved and thus no exposure to the large parts of the crowd who don’t have an A-League club.
Marquee’s a priority for climb to the top
Central to the conversion of “football people” into paid up A-League fans are marquee player signings like Alessandro Del Piero, Shinji Ono and Emile Heskey.
“Alessandro Del Piero certainly moved the dial across the competition in TV, crowds and membership,” said Gallop. “Sydney FC’s investment paid dividends for every club and the league as a whole.
“Big name players have the drawing power to bring new fans and new viewers to the A-League.”
The FFA say football’s expansion into Western Sydney through the Wanderers has been a great move, while the AFL are battling to get the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney Giants to pay off.
What could hinder a WOFP fairytale?
While the FFA say crowds have risen from Season 7 to 10, they’re actually down this season on figures from season 2, 3 and 9.
The league has suffered financial instability with the failure of New Zealand Knights, North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United.
As it stands, unlike other sports in Australia the FFA directly control the A-League instead of it being independent of a commission or governing body.
The significant funding by club owners is seeing them want more influence over the league’s day to day running.
Earlier this year there where whispers Melbourne City’s rich Middle Eastern owners wanted to galvanise club leadership to rally against their lack of power.
There’s also a throng of angry and disenfranchised “old soccer” followers in Australia who don’t engage with A-League football.