By Michael Turner
The A-League is independent, and the owners’ ‘revolution’ is underway.
But what does it all mean? Many football fans are uncharacteristically optimistic about what is to come, and what to expect from our new corporate overlords.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t note the irony in the idea that the often ‘anarchist’ football community is positively supporting a collective of corporate millionaires who own our country’s various football franchises. Yet, if anything, it’s a sign of the positive steps our game is making toward trusting the ‘suits’.
Back to the ‘revolution’, the owners’ collective have ‘overthrown’ the FFA ‘tyrants’ (I say that with as much creative license as possible), but they are reloading again, with a high-profile Scudamore missile. A move that highlights the desire to finally efficiently monetise our domestic league.
Cue the sceptics. Many rusted-on football fans bemoan the domestic game’s desire and interest in mimicking the successes of the English Premier League. They may have a point. The English game transformed in 1992 with the formation of the new top tier – but at what cost?
Ask fans of FC United of Manchester, and they’ll tell you how jaded they are about the commercialisation of the Premier League and team owners. Ask fans of Bury and Bolton, and you’ll hear similar distaste for the new commercial realities of English Football.
One could very easily make the argument that the issues brought about by commercialisation can be traced back to the introduction of the Premier League.
Now back to Richard Scudamore. The Australian Professional Football Clubs Association (APFCA) in conjunction with the A-League have appointed Scudamore as a ‘special advisor’, and while his role is not formally defined, it is understood he will assist with strategic decisions and direction for the APFCA and Head of Leagues Greg O’Rourke.
Scudamore is probably best known for his successful negotiation of the Premier League Television Rights deal from 1.2 billion pounds to 5.4 billion pounds during his tenure as the CEO. On the face of it, the appoint makes sense. Our domestic league often struggles to attain the large TV Rights deals of rival codes.
But here is where the risk lies. The nature of the Australian sporting landscape is rather unique, and unequivocally different to that of the English sporting landscape.
“If anything, Australia has more potential to harness the economic and commercial opportunities available to the game,” Scudamore told the Sydney Morning Herald this week. Those familiar with his reign in England may be wary of this statement.
His critics remark that his decisions – including the ill-fated push for the 39th game to be played in foreign cities around the world – were part of the drive away from the game’s ‘working class roots’.
Those expressing concerns may have a valid point. Our domestic game is one built on the backbone of our grassroots. Targeting a more commercial return may in turn drive ticket pricing up and render access to the game unattainable for many everyday Australians.
I’ve always viewed our domestic game as one nestled on a cliff edge. One foul move and we could tumble down the hill and suffer irreparable damage. It may sound dramatic, but history only shows our tendency to be the authors of our own demise.
On the flipside, this move could be a masterstroke. By directing the course of the game through the commercial minefield that is Australian sport, Scudamore could breathe new economic life into our domestic leagues, which can only stand to benefit our clubs, and ideally by extension the fans and players.
Still, directing benefits to the clubs has its pitfalls. In the path toward economic success, the league will face a fork in the road. The direction we take will come down to the owners, the very APFCA who appointed Scudamore in the first place. Poor ownership and greedy management will take us down a dangerous path, where the owners profit solely from the spoils of our new reformed game, to the detriment of the greater footballing public.
In short, Scudamore has his supporters and his critics. While his decisions may be met with criticism, and the path we take may be similar to that of the Premier League and the English game, the outcome is not Scudamore’s choice.
The custodians of our domestic league are the owners. The APFCA. Whether Scudamore’s influence will be a financial windfall for the game at large, or solely beneficial to a wealthy few, is down to their decisions. The owners owe the Australian game as much as we may owe them for funding our passions and hobbies. It is imperative that they are constantly reminded of their responsibilities and obligations to the Australian footballing public, and to simply do the right thing.
Michael Turner is a co-host of Around The Bloc – the supporters podcast of the Western Sydney Wanderers. Catch ATB every Wednesday from 5pm AEDT on FNR, or subscribe on your favourite podcast app.