Whenever I visit the UK, I’m sadly reminded that Australia still has such a long way to go with all things football. And what do I mean by all things? I mean the product, the online media coverage, the newspaper coverage, the television product, the commentary, the analysis, the marketing and the fan engagement. 

This became front of mind recently with the World Cup squad announcements. Let’s first take a look at Australia. 

Two words. Cahilltex and Fansies.

Actually, correction. Two made up words!

On the upside, everyone certainly started to know about the Australian World Cup squad. However, within minutes, social media wasn’t dominated with excitement, engagement or positivity about the biggest single sport event in the world that was only 30 days away. Instead, almost immediately, the backlash started.

The conspiracy theories emerged: surely Tim Cahill’s selection had to be driven by commercial gains as the Caltex campaign was conveniently launched on the same day as the team announcement?  Football Federation Australia (FFA) was quickly forced to deny this was the case and confirmed it was a selection purely based on merit.  

Personally, I don’t have a strong opinion on whether Cahill should be in the squad or not, or whether this campaign was fuelled (I couldn’t resist) by commercial gains. However, having worked within football in Australia for over five years, I have a fair understanding of how these ideas are generated and I am therefore quietly confident that the concept would have been discussed some time ago, (let’s face it, Cahill being in the 2018 squad was always a strong possibility). But was there a plan B ready if Cahill wasn’t selected? I doubt it. #Soccerootex doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?

What I find most troubling is that the activation is off the cringeworthy scale and the campaign clearly demonstrates decisions have been made with little to no strategic forethought; anyone with a reasonable level of world football knowledge would surely have foreseen the repercussions that came about with such force.   

So how did this happen? Perhaps it’s due to the lack of world football knowledge within the administrators working in football in Australia. Put simply, if these staff don’t understand their product, poor decisions like this will continue and the laughable themes filling the Australian football landscape I wrote about in December 2017, will remain dominant.    

It was only recently I saw some so called ‘expert’ Nine Network sporting pundits discussing what they thought was wrong with the A-League. One confidently exclaimed, “The one reason no-one is watching the A-League, is because the season is far too long”. I had to press re-wind and play again – surely, I didn’t hear that from an ‘expert’ sporting pundit. Oh, yes I did.  

Time and time again, I see examples that demonstrate that there are too many people discussing the game in Australia that, quite simply, have zero clue about it. To set the record straight, the A-League season is one of the shortest seasons in world football. It runs from October until May. 

What about Jamie Maclaren? 

There’s always the old argument which says you should pick players who are in form and with that theory, you can’t help but feel for Jamie Maclaren who scored an impressive hat-trick in his last game of the season for Hibernian.

Perhaps if the Socceroo’s sponsor was McDonalds, he may have made the cut!  Step aside  #Cahilltex, step in #Maclaren BigMacs.

I feel for all the other players in the squad too. We all know that there is no ‘I’ in team. That’s not denying teams don’t have star players, but how about we try and showcase the Australian Socceroo brand versus the one-player Cahilltex show?  

Or, how about we try and engage with our fans by telling the incredible stories of our A-League players that have realised their childhood dreams by going to Russia? Or, maybe we try and use the World Cup (which by the way is the biggest single sport event in the world) to drum up interest in the A-League which has just experienced one of its toughest seasons ever? 

Perhaps we think about running competitions where A-League fans are invited to buy season memberships with incentives such as going into a draw to win a trip to Russia? Why? So fans can get excited about the opportunity to see their club hero perform for their country at that biggest sport event in the world. Did I mention it’s called the FIFA World Cup? It’s an event that drew a TV audience of 3.2 billion individuals in 2014 - cumulatively, over 64 games, it's way more. 

That list took me a matter of seconds. Maybe they are all too logical. 

Actually, hold off. I know what we do. We find a commercial sponsor for each individual player. Trent Sainsbury and Mat Ryan are sorted .... without any play on words too!     

And if it’s really essential to keep the fuel theme, Dimi Petratos is on the plane too. 

Compare and contrast this to England’s World Cup squad announcement. 

It felt like the country almost stood still. The BBC news was interrupted as soon as the team news broke – straight to a live cross at Wembley where there were expert pundits waiting to offer their insightful analysis just seconds after the announcement.  Not only that, in the lead up for days before, the back pages were full of insightful, detailed speculation. And everyone was talking about who they thought Southgate would pick. Who would be in? who would miss out? What formation would he go for? And how far could England go? 

Without a doubt, the country is beyond excited. It feels like just about everyone knows when England are playing their first game, who they are playing against and of course there is always the dream amongst English fans, (albeit an unrealistic one) that England may even win the World Cup! 

How did I find out about the England squad? 

As I wrote about here, via a personalised tweet from the English FA and a very creative 1 minute 50 second video which showcased a diverse set of England fans from around the country revealing each player in turn. A marketing, fan engagement masterpiece. For the nation, by the nation. No mention of sponsors here. 

So that’s my wrap. A game of spot the difference that showed so many vast variances. 

And yes, I know … the round ball game and it’s embedded in the culture in England, whereas in Australia, there’s cricket, AFL and rugby league before football gets a look in.  I get that. 

But that surely should not prevent the people working within football in Australia from understanding its potential, its beauty and its superior ability to capture a nation. 

It is after all, the beautiful game. 

Categories: Opinion | Football Business | World Cup

socceroos, #russia2018, 2018 world cup, marketing football, #sportsbiz

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