Thanks for your reaction to my recent piece on how the A-League could expand, and introduce promotion and relegation over a five-year period. It’s been great to receive your feedback via FootballToday as well as Northern Fury’s Facebook page.

I just thought I’d follow-up on a few of the issues raised.

It goes without saying that there should be negotiation and refinement around the edges. What I put out there about a 16-team A-League, one-team-on, one-team off as we phase-in promotion and relegation and so forth is really just the start of a conversation.

More important, are the questions raised about the criteria for promotion.

You may recall I said that if the top teams (or team) from the Second Division don’t wish to advance, then they shouldn’t while a new system is bedding-down. Likewise, if they don’t meet certain criteria, they shouldn’t be eligible to do so either.

At the outset, we need to do away with the license fee. Let’s face it. This is a revenue earner for FFA and it significantly inhibits new entrants to the A-League competition.

There is no doubt that an A-League club needs a guaranteed level of capital behind them, but to pile a license fee on top of it makes it difficult for anyone for anyone without very deep pockets such as the Bakries, the Ledman Group and the City Football Group.

Here’s a stab at what I think the criteria for advancement from the Second Division to the A-League should be.

1.         A guaranteed level of capital. One of the things we found at North Queensland Fury when FFA was pretending they still wanted us in the A-League was that the goalposts kept moving. In 2011, they told us we needed to raise $2 million in order to stay in the competition. We did so through a combination of community foundation memberships of about half of the amount and sponsorship, including a major sponsor of Queensland Rail (QR), with the other half. However, after we informed them we had commitments for the money, they wanted even more – the money in the bank. Anyone who’s dealt with sponsorships knows that sponsors never give the full amount up-front.

The point is this: a club can’t plan if they don’t know what it is that is required of them; and there is no excuse, 12 years after the A-League’s inception, for there not being a good understanding of the costs of running an A-League club. Excluding the salary cap contribution from FFA, I think clubs need a minimum of $7 million to be ready. At least $1 million capital would be needed to participate in the Second Division.

2.         A major sponsor. As part of a guaranteed level of capital, there should be at least one committed major sponsor for a new entrant. That shows corporate support and helps attract more.

3.         Track record of junior development. One of the things we have invested in over the past four years under the direction of Ian Ferguson is junior development. It’s not only good for our kids and the community, but it’s good for football. This year, we had our first ever national team participant – India Kubin in the mini-Matildas; and our junior squads supplied a significant number of Queensland state team for the national championships as well as Queensland Schoolboys and Schoolgirls teams.

When you’re from a regional city that doesn’t have an A-League club, that’s a remarkable achievement: just ask the likes of Frank Farina, Steve Corica, Michael Thwaite, Kasey Wehrman, Wayne Srhoj, Kim Carroll, Matt Acton and others. They did it the hard way: clubs like ours are trying to make it easier for talented kids of today.

When you also look at our past national teams, including those that were successful internationally, there is so much to thank the ‘traditional’ (read: ethic community) clubs that helped build football in Australia. They were great nurseries of talent and still are.

4.         W-League too! If you want to be part of the A-League, then you must also want to be part of the W-League. If we believe in development of the game for all young people, then we can’t ignore 50% of the population, the competition for women’s sporting hearts and minds and a sport that offers talented women players terrific opportunities for international representation as well as experience working overseas in other women’s leagues.

At Fury, we would enter the W-League tomorrow if we were allowed such is the popularity of women’s football. However, so backward is the administration of football that, despite the rhetoric about women’s football being the ‘next big thing’ in sport, we can’t even get Football Queensland to commit to having Fury in the Women’s NPL competition – despite providing so many Queensland state players!

5.         Minimum standard of physical facilities. By this I mean, an entrant to the A-League should have a good home ground that is comfortable for fans and spectators, has appropriate lux lighting, adequate dressing rooms and suitable media facilities including WiFi; good training facilities; and access to good off-field staff such as medical and other personnel.

6.         5-year business plan based on national benchmarks. By now, FFA really ought to be able to provide guidance to clubs on ‘key metrics’. Having national benchmarks allows clubs to measure themselves and to aspire to improved performance. A five-year business plan should incorporate operations, player development, membership, fan engagement and development, merchandise development, media, promotion and marketing, sponsorship engagement, financial plan and an analysis of the impact of promotion and relegation. We want to build clubs that are capable of sustaining themselves in Second Division as well as in the A-League, and in the Third Division, that is, the state NPL competitions.

7.         Community support. I don’t agree that a club has to have a population base “in the millions”. Of course we want local community support and ‘bums on seats’ at games, but clubs have got to be given an opportunity to build that support, develop it and nurture it as a way of building a community, as well as be part of the narrative of the A-League and a Second Division that excites the imagination.

That narrative not only includes loving a team, but disliking one also. And, as young Yoshi showed, you don’t have to live in a city to pledge support for one of its teams.

However, there has to be an evidence-based minimum to community support and I suggest this be, say, 4,000 paid memberships. This is actually more than the current lowest membership base of an existing A-League club. I also think it’s valuable to have celebrity ambassadors drawn from the local community. It helps to have a non-football spokesperson, it helps to engage people at a different level and it broadens the appeal. For example, as Melbourne Victory has in George Calombaras and Melbourne City has in George Donikian.

8.         ‘Fit and proper person’ test. Where a club has private ownership, there needs to be a ‘fit and proper person’ test as a means of ensuring proper corporate governance and financial stability. This isn’t rocket science; it’s done regularly in other areas of governance.

The NPL has criteria for the granting of license, and FFA should also. Players and fans should know what is required to be a registered owner of a club to give confidence in the financial stability of the club. In simple terms, does the license holder have a financial track record that meets everyday Australian standards? Do they pay their existing staff members on time? Do they pay superannuation? Do they owe anything to the Tax Office? Neither playing nor non-playing staff should have to work under conditions where they are worried about whether they can pay their rent or their mortgage from week-to-week.

There are many examples I can give of where this simple, but practical, rule of thumb just hasn’t happened in respect of A-League clubs or potential license holders. 

What about NQ Fury?

In compiling these criteria, and putting forward the conversation starter on expansion, promotion and relegation, I should make it clear that this isn’t about self-interest.

Even if this was implemented next year and Fury won the Second Division, we would not be ready to advance to the A-League at this point. At our current level of operation, we would not meet criteria 1 or 7.

However, if we were participating in a Second Division competition and the greater national stage that brought, with the chance of promotion, I have no doubt we would meet these criteria within the next five years.

I hope this gives all of you more food for thought. I should stress that in some years, promotion might not happen because no club is capable of meeting the criteria for advancement but at least if we have some criteria and set ourselves a timeline, we know what we’re working towards.

If nothing else, these are open and transparent discussions FFA should be having with all of us, so we build on what is already a great network and infrastructure of clubs, supporters and fans around the country.

Categories: Opinion | A-League | Local

#prorel, a-league, second division

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