Call it what you will; the fuel to wake the sleeping giant, the elephant in the room, the opiate for the masses or the impossible dream. Whatever label you want to place on it, it is the key to realise Australia’s enormous potential to become a true player in world football.
Without it we have only nine Australian full time franchises. Minus visa players that’s no more than 180 full time positions for players to ply their trade in this country at senior level. That is a pathetic number in anyone’s language and a clear indicator as to how far behind the pack we are in terms of opportunities for players compared to other developed/developing football countries.
We need to dramatically increase these numbers and provide opportunities for players to develop their careers in this country otherwise we are doing the proverbial into the wind with regards to becoming a force in world football. The only answer to this problem is promotion and relegation, and pretty much the rest of the world has it besides us and North America. Coincidentally, there is a grassroots movement in North America calling for promotion and relegation.
Before anyone starts jumping up and down and claiming “it’s impossible”, “it wont work”, “the country is too big”, “not enough money” or any number of other excuses, I say the attitude of looking at “why something shouldn’t be done” as opposed to “how something can be done” is wrong.
There is now more than ever an acceptance of football in this country, and this support must be nurtured and encouraged to keep developing and growing. The only way to do this is to offer hope and opportunity.
My proposed model for promotion and relegation still comes with restrictions. It should satisfy all parties and is a model that can be adjusted as the landscape develops. To negate massive travel distances I have gone with a North/South Conference which though not original is a model designed to reduce travel costs as well as including the maximum number of clubs initially rather than it being an elite one league model with restrictive numbers.
5 x Sydney
2 x ACT
1 x Newcastle
2 x Brisbane
1 x North Queensland
1 x Sunshine Coast
1 x Gold Coast
NB-Possible inclusion of Northern Territory or NNSW sides if interest there
7 x Victoria
4 x South Australia
2 x Western Australia
1 x Tasmania
The crucial factor for this to work would be total unity from all football stakeholders. Including the FFA, State Federations, Clubs and importantly the PFA.
The PFA is crucial for this to work and they would have to be prepared to negotiate what constitutes minimum wage for a footballer in this country. The proposal would require it to be set in the vicinity of 35K. Without going into too much detail or explanation, it is a figure that is above minimum wage in this country outside football.
Potentially enabling clubs to operate on a minimum budget of 700k with scope to be paying up to one million per year. Leaving the choice up to the clubs rather than forcing them to spend X amount. Clubs would need to fall into the 3000-5000 crowd average range and find $200,000-$300,000 in sponsors per year to make this viable.
League sponsors would have to be found to cover/subsidise accommodation and travel as these are the two big fixed costs besides wages. If Foxtel, SBS or any other media organisation came on board, brilliant, but it is not necessarily dependent on television dollars.
Clubs would pay a license fee in the vicinity of 50k to 100k per year, alone it’d raise between 1.4mill to 2.8 mill. The money could again be utilised for either travel subsidies or marketing/promotion or combination of both as well as wages in Head Office.
But what will happen to Hyundai A-League (HAL) sides in danger of relegation? Nothing. From the inception of the North/South League there would be no relegation from HAL for at least 6 years as every year you’d want to actually increase the size of the HAL to at least to a 16 team league, rewarding the North/South conference Champion.
The North/South League isn’t excluding National Premier Leagues (NPL) clubs, as the bottom two in North and South would play off against their respective State or Territory Champions. For e.g. a Victorian side can only be replaced by Victorian champion and so on. Some NPL Champions may not want to be promoted to North/South for whatever reason.
Imagine the interest around the country, the sharp rise in opportunities for Australian players to increase their chances of landing a pro contract in this country and renewing the supporters interest all around the country.
The top six sides in every conference battle for a possible HAL berth as the end reward until the final round possibly eight to ten sides in are apart of the fight for promotion.
Whereas, the bottom two in each conference go into a possible relegation battle with NPL sides. And there’s a significant possibility that four to six clubs would fall into this equation. The interest would replicate what happens around the world in football.
Compare that to the current 10 team HAL model with a top six finals battle. For the bottom four, on the whole, interest wanes with supporters the moment their side is out of contention or finishes outside top six. Potentially half the country doesn’t care or have an interest in what happens.
The above North/South model is designed with flexibility in mind. It has the two conferences at 28 clubs in total. It could work just as easily with 24 or up to 32 clubs depending on the level of interest.
Going back to the earlier figure of less than 180 full time Australian players currently in the HAL, the above model would add in the vicinity of 500 players to that figure. I haven’t even touched on the benefits of 28 new opportunities for coaches, technical directors and other roles for people who previously couldn’t get their foot in the door.
Could anyone argue that a new reshape wouldn’t benefit football and increase development opportunities for players and coaches in this country?
This restructure could be in place in 12 months, maximum two years. No need to dilly dally around with “where will the next HAL franchise be located?” The system and structure would be in place to answer that question.
Then and only then could we claim #WEAREFOOTBALL.