FFA has outlined its vision for Australian football in 2035, which highlights the Socceroos as a consistent top 15 team in the FIFA world rankings and the Matildas as either World Cup or Olympic gold medal winners.
The discussion paper - under the lofty title 'XI Principles' or FFA's 11 point plan - seeks to establish a unifying framework for Australian football's future.
As the paper acknowledges in some detail, it stems from a fresh-faced governing body with the equally hyped and celebrated appointment of James Johnson at its nexus. It also comes in the midst of great fanfare, after Australia were confirmed as joint 2023 World Cup hosts.
It's partly a response to a time of rapid upheaval in Australian football; the game has suffered a financial disaster due to COVID-19 and the cutting of Fox Sports' broadcast deal, however the paper predicts this will provide a catalyst to new levels of cooperation between member federations, football clubs and FFA.
The paper highlights the revenue-draining ramifications of factionalist bodies in Australian football through its financial reporting:
Currently, approximately $164 million in registration fees is collected through FFA’s Play Football payment gateway on an annual basis. Of this total amount:
- Approximately, $108 million (66%) remains with clubs. • Approximately, $23 million (14%) remains with Associations.
- Approximately, $24 million remains with MF’s - which will usually receive approximately $6 million distribution from FFA each year, totalling approximately $30 million (18%).
- Approximately, $9 million is retained by FFA - which usually distributes $6 million of this amount to MF’s annually, leaving FFA with $3 million (3%) from the National Registration Fee to dedicate to National Team programs and other initiatives.
"Transitioning towards a ‘One Football’ model for Australian football could see significant increase in effectiveness resulting in revenue growth (a 10% increase in combined revenue across FFA and Member Federations could yield a $20m in new income), and savings in operational efficiencies in FFA and across all levels the game, currently estimated at in excess of $20 million," the paper claims.
The principles were formed largely through discussions with an all-star collection of former footballers, dubbed the 'Starting XI', who have provided much of the impetus for the paper's contents alongside FFA itself.
In addition to settings its goals over a 15-year timeframe for the Socceroos and Matildas, it also stipulates that the A-League should be consistently ranked in the top three leagues in Asia and the W-League in the top five leagues worldwide.
The paper also sets a target of 3.7 million total football participants across the country.
On the objectives for senior national teams, the paper states:
- The Matildas have just qualified for the Olympic Games having won the Olympics or a Women’s World Cup previously.
- The Socceroos will begin their WC Qualifying campaign later in the year, having regularly been in the top 15 FIFA Rankings. They have been the number one ranked team in Asia for the last 5 years.
- The Socceroos are a regular participant in and have won the AFF Suzuki Cup.
- The success of the senior National Teams is supported by the junior teams which have qualified for every major tournament for the last 10 years.
And on the future of clubs:
- Our second-tier competitions are administered effectively and play a key role in the player pathway.
- A-League clubs are regular participants at the FIFA Club World Cup while W-League clubs are challenging regularly to win the FIFA Women’s Club World Cup.
- The W-League works in tandem with the WNPL to ensure that those female players which do not have an opportunity to play overseas, now have more opportunities to play domestically.
- The A-League has become a supplier of top talent to the world’s biggest leagues with the funds from these transfers fuelling the Australian football economy.
- Clubs now play in football-specific stadiums across the country; stadiums are accessible; and the fan experience has been prioritised and enhanced so supporters are able to express themselves freely but always with respect.
The paper's broad reach scans over the entire football horizon and is available to download directly below, however also of interest is a supposed 'football calendar' which would align the NPL and professional competitions.
It would also allow greater synchronicity with Asia, with the view to both W-League and A-League clubs accomplishing a much greater level of competition in regional tournaments.
This comes in light of FFA's renewed deal with Fox Sports temporarily shifting the competitions to a winter timeframe, although the paper expressly confirms that finals formats should be hosted in November.
The in-house ownership of digital and streaming assets has also become an official line to some extent, with FFA hoping to reverse its current funding position, which relies on grassroots fees to fund the upper echelons of the game.
- Align all professional competitions with the Australian grassroots season.
- Increase its conversion rate of its now approx. 3.7M participants into fans.
- Create a special place in the sporting calendar for the football finals to be played in November each year.
- Align the professional competitions with the ACL calendar.
- The FFA Cup (men & women) has given clubs across the entire ecosystem an opportunity to compete on the national and international stage.
- The future of the game has been secured via the creation of an entity which has enhanced commercial opportunities for the game via innovative solutions such as a ‘digital football hub’ and the production of its own content.
Part of this shakeup in FFA's finances will come with an independent A-League and W-League, with the paper citing increased transfer fee revenue as a key factor in ensuring the solvency of Australian professional clubs.
However on the question of independent leagues, again this paper remains deliberately vague. Perhaps the most telling of its points on the so-called 'independence' principle is the statement that:
COVID-19 has however, had a significant impact on the financial health of the game. Given the current circumstances and financial realities confronting Australian football, it is prudent to consider a new model to operate the professional leagues that builds on the work of, and has regard to the pros and cons of the current model, .
Any new model should empower FFA to act as the regulator of the professional leagues.
The importance of transfers is massive to FFA's plan.
FFA is aiming for a top-10 league worldwide in transfer revenue, as listed below:
- In FIFA’s 2034, International Transfer Market Report, Australia appeared in the top 10 ranked countries for value of transfer receipts having received more than US$85 million in transfer fees for the 5th year in a row.
- The steady flow of transfer fees into Australia continues to incentivise and reward Australian clubs to invest in the training and development of players and stimulate the domestic transfer system which underwent significant transformation in 2021.
- The establishment of the FFA Clearing House helps ensure that training rewards are being distributed to Australian clubs and FFA can regulate the domestic transfer system effectively.
- Align the domestic transfer windows with the new national football calendar so that they align strategically with international transfer windows and the professional competitions across Australia.
The FFA Clearing House will essentially be a financial reporting organisation that aims to allocate financial rewards to A-League and NPL clubs for producing talented players.
It will also aim to keep a level of financial transparency over Australian football and work in-line with an accreditation program for player agents, to avoid dodgy backroom deals.
It's hard to quantify exactly where Australia currently stands within transfer revenue rankings due to the complicated allocation of revenue to incoming expenditure so counts can be misleading.
However, essentially, in 2019's report, we sat in eighth place in Asia. We recorded gross revenue of $1.9 million, a 62% decrease on the previous year. This revenue puts us in 58th spot worldwide.
In order to reach the top 10 by 2035 according to current revenue generation, which in real terms will predictably rise, the A-League would need to increase the value of its outgoing transfers by close to $100 million per season.
This is far higher than the already extremely optimistic $85 million noted by FFA.
It's also of note that we currently sit sixth in the total number of outgoing transfers within Asia, behind Thailand and China, and well outside the top 30 worldwide.
In addition to the great financial weight placed on potential transfer revenues, the paper also took a timely shot at football infrastructure spending by the federal government:
"Despite strong participation rates and the most internationally competitive environment, football has not been able to convert this into a commensurate investment from Federal Government. For FY 19/20 it was allocated $3,447,750 under Sport Australia’s investment allocation, compared to: Swimming ($14,109,352); Hockey ($8,763,490); Basketball ($8,468,783); Sailing ($9,074,272) and Cycling ($11,540,825)."
It also noted the high number of ageing players in the A-League, paying service to the oft-repeated claim that the A-League offers greater opportunity to 'recycled' veterans than young Australians.
An analysis of the Hyundai A-League over the last 5 seasons reveals that that players who turned 32 years old during the season played the most match minutes. Meaning, the A-League can be profiled as a league with an identity of playing older players.
Former FFA technical director Rob Sherman echoed these claims in a recent interview with FTBL yet expanded the issue to realise that characterising the A-League as an older league is an over-simplification.
“I think the biggest [misconception] is that the A-League provides a lack of opportunity, and that’s just not the case,” explained Sherman.
“Firstly, we give opportunity earlier than most leagues; the typical age of debutants in the more traditional European leagues is around 19-21, our kids are debuting at 16-19 – so they’re debuting younger.
"Secondly, there are more of them. The highest number of participants in our league, or the modal age, is 20 – there are more 20-year-olds than playing in the A-League than any other age.
“In terms of the minutes for players who are under the age of 21, the cumulative minutes, we’re right up there as one of the top five leagues in terms of the minutes we provide for players who are under the age of 21.
“The biggest challenge we have is that the minutes per player, because we have such a high volume of players, is low. We don’t give all of the players a lot of minutes, but we do provide a lot of opportunity for different players."
In the 18/19 season, Australia only had 3 (U23) players (out of 93) who played 2250 (approximately 25 games) or more 1st Division minutes – Japan had 25; Belgium 13; and Holland 22 (which has reported approximately €300 million in transfers in the past 18 months). The A-League has 317,901 match minutes available – lower compared to countries like Japan (832,016) Thailand, Wales, and UAE.
The report listed many more generic objectives, alongside these more tangible solutions:
- Develop measures to address short term player development ‘gaps’ e.g. in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics, increase the age limit for A-League teams playing in NPL competitions from U20 to U23 to ensure that all identified players have increased opportunities for valuable match minutes in the lead up to the tournament.
- Increase the number of domestic matches played at a ‘National’ level through new dynamic competition structures, such as the establishment of a national second tier competition, which would have a focus on ‘home grown’ and young players and reconnects the A-League to the other tiers of Australian football
- Develop partnerships with top European clubs to facilitate the transfer of players. - For example, FFA would utilise the current exception (following the Midtjylland case) allowing the movement of players internationally where one of FIFA’s Member Association enters into an agreement with a club for the transfer of players under 18, under conditions that improve opportunities for the player on and off the pitch.
Ultimately, we have read and listened to many of these aspirational plans for Australian football before. They've stemmed from all facets of the football community and have largely fallen by the wayside due to the lack of a consistent, unified approach at the highest levels of the game.
This report, on paper, has all the same trademarks. It talks about 'outsiders' trying to bring the game down, the need for a unique Australian identity and playing style, and the obligatory 'bold new narrative' for FFA.
Even the nicely-wrapped XI Principles from a Starting XI is a little cute. Overall, it's heavy on heartwarming, spirit-tickling objectives and symbolic gestures:
- Establish a home for football in Australia. FFA to consider relocating to premises which are befitting of its football focus and allows it to create a museum which celebrates the history of football in Australia – a National Home of Football.
- Build a strong and diverse FFA team to support the delivery of football across Australia to ensure that FFA has the best football administrators from across the country.
- A new name • Realign FFA with its roots as ‘Association’ football and bring consistency to the naming of football entities across the game.
- Consider renaming and rebranding the A-League and W-League. • Consider renaming and rebranding the National Premier Leagues.
- Rename “Football Federation Australian” to “Football Australia” to realign the game with its roots as ‘association’ football and bring consistency to the naming of football entities across the game.
While other, key considerations like a second-tier are still only paid lip-service. It's an homage to the stereotypical boardroom agreement, where so much is talked about and yet so little detail is decided on.
In many ways, it's a reminder that the only factors that can potentially make this report different are the people it's coming from, and the situation it's entering in to. If COVID has taught the game anything, it's that it will likely continue to be shaped far more by external factors than internal.
However, it is obviously difficult to release a preliminary report tackling each issue with detailed solutions and FFA clearly realises this is just the beginning.
Tellingly the floor now opens to a series of online surveys starting July 6.