Don’t Believe the Hype

Don’t Believe the Hype 

by Carlos Alberto Diego

Last week I met up with a mate of mine who holds a high profile managerial role at the AFL (Australian Football League) and I put to him a hypothetical scenario.

Australian Rules Football suddenly has a World Cup the size and magnitude of a FIFA World Cup (that’s why this is very fact it’s ridiculous but hear me out) and the AFL has decided to bid to host it in 2022.

The AFL also has a national team that will be competing in a World Cup the size and magnitude of the FIFA World Cup in the same year. In this scenario the AFL also has a national women’s team competing in the Asian Cup, two professional domestic national competitions to run and the implementation of associated expansion plans, numerous international youth teams (male and female) qualifying for Youth World and Asian Cups on top of the day-to-day running of a sport that has the highest participation base by double of any sport in this country. I then asked him given this scenario how would the AFL cope. His response couldn’t.

Now this is a code that has just secured a $1.253 billion TV Rights deal over the next five years. It is a code that is the best run in Australia and probably the best run in the world on a per capita basis. It has the cash, resources, networks and the intellectual wherewithal to figuratively move mountains on a national basis with media, sponsors, government and the marketplace and according to my mate they would struggle to do what the FFA attempted to do in 2010.

Since the embarrassing World Cup bid failure I have watched and read with great interest the lynch mobs going after Frank Lowy, Ben Buckley and the FFA.

Blogs and media articles have been written denouncing the FFA and decrying its incompetence. Social media, especially twitter, led by the self styled oracles of world football has fuelled fans anger and a chronic lack of faith in the governing body of our sport. It has all reminded me of another dark age – a primitive time devoid of technology – where fax and letter writing campaigns were launched against the old Soccer Australia.

Adrian Musolino’s blog on - Can the FFA Win You Back? is a piece, on the back of a 2011 Fans Census that perfectly illustrates a core sentiment at the moment.

I understand the passion of Adrian, and many others with an emotional investment in the game.

I love that we, in the absence of the media saturation that the AFL and the NRL enjoy, have an opportunity to vent our collective football spleens using the alternative social media outlets available. I love that we can force change through fan power and above all I love the fact that the masses are talking football. The problem is, in my opinion, the time is not yet right for frenzied destructive hype and baying for FFA blood.

Many of the game’s issues today, I believe, can be traced back to the huge (financial, human and emotional) investment the FFA made in its 2022 World Cup bid – a bid that we all, including the self styled oracles, universally celebrated but, as we are rapidly learning, involved a process that was so corrupt that there was no chance any other than bidders, other than Russia and Qatar, winning it.

Adrian wrote about FFA failures regarding North Queensland Fury, Western Sydney, decreasing A-League crowds and fears about the next TV deal. For another perspective let me address each issue.

North Queensland Fury was a stuff-up from the start.

I was never quite sure why a team was needed in North Queensland before Western Sydney or a second team in Melbourne. I suspect that the reason that they were given a licence was to tick off the ‘Indigenous box’ in our World Cup bid book.

If we had won the bid there would’ve been the resources available to fund the shortfall in attendances and revenue. Losing the bid however made the Fury an unviable proposition that, despite the passion of a few and I stress only a few, would’ve continued to haemorrhage indefinitely into the future.

Fury’s axing generated furious outrage within the football family and enormous backlash against the FFA. I say the outrage should’ve occurred when the licence was granted in the first place and not when it was clearly a dead duck.

It was a risk the FFA was willing to take to bring home the World Cup ‘Holy Grail’ and by not initially questioning the club’s entry we all, either voluntarily or involuntarily, agreed with it.

Frank Lowy and Ben Buckley have conceded that they took their eye off the A-League in 2010.

The marketing of the league was non-existent as an enormous amount of resources and time were diverted towards the bid. 

Club owners didn’t complain at the time because they supported Frank Lowy’s vision to ‘turbo charge’ the game.

12 years lead up to a World Cup and a chance to permanently change the landscape of Australian sport – the thought was alluring and it was a risk we were all prepared to take. I did not hear the lynch mobs baying for FFA blood back then. They stayed silent and by not initially questioning Frank’s vision we all, either voluntarily or involuntarily, agreed with it.

Whilst marketing the A-league is important it should not be the reason why we as fans don’t turn up to games. Adrian and others blame the FFA for declining crowds but what responsibility do we as fans have in supporting our teams’ week in week out.

If you are not turning up to games because you feel the FFA is not running the game competently, I contend that you are not really a fan. You are a passerby, a theatre goer not really invested in the game.

We say we are passionate, we are unique and want the FFA to listen to us yet our attendances are dropping because of apathy and indifference. It doesn’t make for a compelling argument.

Which brings me to the fears expressed by Adrian and others about the possibility of a reduced TV Rights deal in 2013. 

The answer is simple and the fans can play a huge part. The level of TV Rights money is directly reliant on whether TV broadcasters think they can sell the product to sponsors. Sponsors gravitate to sports that can attract big numbers in attendances and TV ratings. Guess who can drive these figures? We, the fans can. In essence the FFA plays a minor role. We, in big numbers, can drive the future of the game in this respect.

Finally let’s take a look at Adrian’s point about the still-born Sydney Rovers.

We all agree that this was also a big stuff up and the FFA can’t deny it.

Lucas Neill’s consortium had the money and the plan but lost out to Ian Rowden’s consortium who had no money and a plan that eventually didn’t stack up.

No one except the FFA knows why they chose a consortium of former players who had gone on to become successful businessmen over other proposals.  Perhaps the cries from the media and others to have more football people running the game motivated them to make the decision. Perhaps the lack of due diligence on FFA’s part was again due to the all consuming World Cup bid.

My point to all this is that we need to separate the hype from the reality. Its important because we need a unified approach.

The reality is that the failed World Cup bid – a bid that we all backed, has temporarily derailed our game. It was a risk we needed to take but it was a risk that backfired spectacularly on us.

The FFA and its leaders need to take responsibility for the fallout. We will soon find out through their policy, leadership and direction whether they have.

For the next four years there are no distractions. We fans, media, administrators and the FFA, as a sport, have a fantastic opportunity to get the game fulfilling its potential for the first time.

Whether the incumbents at the FFA are the right people for the job remains to be seen. I will make my judgements but for now though I won’t be listening to the hype. 

Copyright Four Diegos Media 1993