A-League expansion is not a re-run of Super League wars
Roy Masters equates A-League expansion with the Super League wars. But the two are not the same28 March 2017 | Bonita Mersiades
It’s always interesting to read views on A-League expansion. This from Roy Masters is one that warrants some attention as he argues that “expansion could damage the A-League.”
Masters starts with recounting the pathology of the rugby league Super League wars in which FOXTEL and Masters’ good friend, David Gallop, were protagonists. Masters contends that rugby league has “not recovered” from the stoush, and the rapid expansion by four teams that took place at the time. He writes:
“Basically, for every $100 million granted the AFL for new stadia, rugby league has received $10 million, an indication that government will not fund a warring code, particularly with private owners involved.”
All of this is proferred as a ‘lesson’ for the A-League clubs which, according to Masters, are seeking “to take over FFA’s governance of the game!”
The A-League clubs would like to take over the governance of the A-League, not the game. Governance of the game is indisputably FFA’s responsibility.
A separate entity managing the A-League under license to FFA is in line with the recommendations of the seminal Crawford Report of 2002, and the 2004 NSL report commissioned by Frank Lowy under the chairmanship of his very good mate from Hakoah Sydney City, the late Andrew Kemeny. Both have continued to be ignored.
So, as an interim measure – 14 years later - the A-League clubs are instead advocating for representation within the FFA governance structure – consistent with FIFA statutes that FFA signed-up to in February last year. The A-League clubs, via the Australian Professional Football Clubs Association (APFCA), are seeking five positions in the FFA ‘congress’, with the nine state federations continuing to hold one each, and the PFA two. The new Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC), which represents NPL clubs, is also seeking representation.
Blurring the issues between governance and expansion, Masters says Gallop wants to stall the “expansionary push including a promotion/relegation regime” in the A-League because Gallop saw what went wrong first-hand with expansion as Super League’s in-house lawyer.
But for a start, no-one is seeking to expand the A-League competition overnight by four teams, as rugby league did – and for different reasons than A-League expansion. Masters does not mention that another protagonist in the Super League wars was the late Kerry Packer; Super League’s formation was more about FOXTEL wanting content and Packer not wanting to give it up than expansion of the competition in and of itself.
Football has learned its own lessons about expansion from the experience of North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United. They were both selected as expansion teams because FFA needed the Queensland Government to cough-up money for stadium refurbishment at the time of the World Cup Bid. Unfairly to the players, supporters and local communities, the clubs were always on a slippery slope to oblivion once the bid was over and lost.
Most advocates of a Second Division (such as the AAFC) and promotion/relegation recognise that neither can, nor should, happen overnight. A model being talked about regularly is for the introduction of a Second Division that is based on two ‘conferences’ (not unlike a much earlier model of the former NSL and NYL), with promotion/relegation having a longer timeframe for introduction.
While Masters suggests Gallop’s legal background is a positive for the game, it perhaps reminds us that lawyers are not necessarily the best people to make the most critical decisions about a sport’s long-term future development.
Sport requires professionalism, a measured, evidence-based approach, and a deep knowledge of the environment but also vision, boldness and risk-taking. No-one wants the A-League to fall over, but nor does anyone want it to atrophy; that reduces the value of the ‘product’ for all existing clubs also.
Masters confirms reports (from here, and elsewhere by David Davutovic, Michael Lynch and others) that there is no extra money in the new FOX TV deal once expansion happens; it already assumes expansion to 12 teams over the course of the current deal.
He points out to “the fanatics who want an A-League team in Tasmania or Geelong” that there will be no TV money for them, and nor will the TV money go close to covering the costs of a team which are between $10 million and $12 million a year – which we already knew. Instead, he suggests that one of the regrets of officials involved with Super League was that they didn’t charge license fees to new clubs.
This is an argument that is not relevant to the A-League, as new clubs are charged a license fee. Just ask the Bakries of Brisbane Roar, Nathan Tinkler and the Ledman Group of Newcastle Jets, City Football Group of Melbourne City and more. In fact, the only club not charged a license (or entry) fee in recent years has been Western Sydney Wanderers who received $5 million start-up money from the Gillard Government via transfer of a grant from NSW Football Federation to FFA.
However, the issue is whether the A-League license fees paid by new entrants to the A-League have gone to support the A-League, or disappeared into general FFA revenue, which, of course, returns us to one of the key grievances of the APFCA and why they continue to push for management of the A-League competition in which they have, collectively, lost approximately $260 million over 11 years.
a-league, second division, #prorel, aafc, apfca, a-league expansion