The $3 million marquee player allowance and expanded coverage of the women’s game has boosted football but the uncertainty over the proposed expansion of the A-League still hangs over the sport.
The Melbourne derby between Victory and City is one of the top clashes of the opening weekend. The W-League kicks off a week later with the coverage of the competition this year including a match broadcast on Thursday nights by Fox Sports.
FFA’s CEO David Gallop said : “There is a nice buzz about the A-League and W-League this year.”
“One of the factors is the marquee player allowance, ” he said.
Japanese star Keisuke Honda is Melbourne Victory’s marquee signing and Mr Gallop said he was the sort of player the fund was designed to attract.
“The fund is there to get world-class players at the top of their game. They could be playing in high profile leagues elsewhere but have decided to come and play in the A-League. That’s what we wanted to do,” he said.
An indication of the status of women’s sport and women’s football is the other marquee player is Perth Glory’s Sam Kerr. Mr Gallop said it was exciting to be working with someone like Kerr, who the FFA believe can drive opportunities for the sport.
Women’s sports has been the focus in many codes in recent years but Mr Gallop said football “had been ahead of the curve”.
“This is the 11th year we have had the W-League. The skill levels are very high and many of the Matildas will be playing this year, ” referring to the national team players.
Valuations of some A-League clubs are in the realm of $12 million to 40 million, making them a very valuable asset for owners. There are currently 10 A-League clubs but there are plans to make that 12 in the next few years.
How that would impact on the overall worth of the competition and the existing clubs is one of the more hotly debated topics in the sport.
Football is now generating about $120 million a year in revenue. But the challenge with more than 1 million participants is how to fund the grass roots, including having satisfactory facilities.
Strong onfield success and growing commercial strength has made Sydney FC one of the powerhouse clubs. Membership has reached 15,000 with aims to grow it this year.
Sydney FC CEO Danny Townsend said the club supported expansion as soon as it was feasible, but it should be in areas which helped the sport grow.
“We want sensible expansion,” he said.
Sydney’s FC traditional home ground of Allianz Stadium is unavailable this year, so the club will be taking its matches to three different venues, the Sydney Cricket Ground for the bigger games, Jubilee Stadium (also known as Kogarah Oval) and Leichhardt Oval.
“Game day experience is very important to us. The smaller grounds will enable us to really connect with our fans. Family friendly kickoff times this year should help us as well.”
Sydney FC sees its heartland area as a ring from Palm Beach in the north to Cronulla in the south and taking in the inner west. Mr Townsend said the club had poured a lot of its own resources into developing those areas.
The Australian Professional Football Clubs Association represents the 10 teams in the A-League. The ASPCA says expansion must be based on an understanding of which markets are most viable.
Potential entrants must be carefully vetted with a focus on financial sustainability, commercial potential, proposed infrastructure and ability to build a sustainable football organisation that contributes optimally to Australian football, according to the ASPCA.
It also argues that it is imperative for the league that the value of existing licences are protected and enhanced by any expansion.
On this year’s A-League, the FFA’s Mr Gallop said starting after the NRL and AFL seasons should help football.
“That gives us some clean air. We know the clubs exist in a very competitive environment, not just among themselves but from all the other professional sporting franchises competing for hearts, minds and dollars.
“But there is a sense of excitement this year.”