Sensational finish to A-League's inaugural season

Football Federation Australia has truly had a sensational 12 months since it replaced the moribund Soccer Australia in 2005. Qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, entry into the Asian Football Confederation and a first-up win in the 2007 Asian Cup and now, the successful conclusion to the inaugural A-League season this Sunday. With the local derby between Sydney FC and the Central Coast Mariners guaranteeing a capacity Grand Final crowd at Aussie Stadium in Sydney, the season's total attendance has topped 1.1 million.

Such is the interest in the play-off that cable station, Fox Sports, is showing the game live on a big screen at the Mariner’s home ground to cater for thousands of fans who could not get tickets to the game. “Our partnership with Football Federation Australia has delivered spectacular results as far as game attendances, interest in the competition, and television audiences and we are looking forward to an exciting decider on Sunday,” Fox Sports chief executive David Malone said.

Australia is a difficult market in that four football codes are represented by professional competitions: Australian rules (Australian Football League), rugby league (National Rugby League), rugby union (Super 14s) and soccer's A-League. But while soccer is in the top two codes for amateur football registrations in every state, on the national level it has been plagued by lack of professionalism. Until now.

At the Confederation of Australian Sports' Australian Sports Awards held in February, FFA's national team, the Socceroos won the Australian Sporting Moment of the Year, a new Award decided by the Australian public, for their World Cup Qualifier over Uruguay, then won gold for International Team of the Year. Importantly the FFA and A-League director of operations, Matt Carroll, was one of the three finalists in the Sports Executive of the year award.

While some of the A-League franchises may take all of their guaranteed five years exclusivity to enter into the black, national team successes in the qualifying rounds of the World Cup and Asian Cup could reap enormous benefits at club level for the competition’s seven Australian clubs. However the New Zealand based club, recording only two wins and attracting average home game crowds of less than 4,000 (dragging the competition average down to 11,290) will have to look to other inspiration for its improvement.

Louis White of The Australian noted that Sydney FC, the most highly publicised team in the competition, is a prime example of the financial battles that lie ahead. Despite more than 30,000 people coming through the gates for the second leg of the semi-final against Adelaide and an average crowd this season of 17,811, the club is forecasting to lose between A$3-4 million. This is at least A$1 million more than the original budget forecast.

"What has surprised us is the slow uptake on corporate sponsorship," Sydney Football Club CEO Tim Parker told White. "There has been a wait and see approach by the corporate sector and I think a lot of businesses have not understood the opportunity. It is fundamental to our success that we receive corporate backing."

FFA's Matt Carroll (pictured left) said that while all clubs budgeted for a loss in their first year, there were some areas the competition needed to work on. "I would give ourselves six out of 10 for what we have achieved," he said. "Certainly, we have exceeded expectations regarding attendances and the broadcast ratings have been tremendous, but one area we do need to work on is corporate sponsorship. We have to find and generate more revenue for the clubs. While the FFA will make a small profit from the competition, which will be reinvested into the A-League, the aim is for all clubs to break even by year three. We weren't helped by the weather this year with 40 percent of matches affected by rain. Crowd attendances are vital."

Carroll told White that the plan for the A-League is to build the foundation so that all teams are financially stable and then increase the number of clubs. "When we get to that situation we will add another two clubs, taking the tally to 10, which will automatically increase the amount of rounds played," Carroll said. "Research shows three rounds is enough and that we need to concentrate on the product that we have and build that up. New Zealand is a concern, though"

Two clubs, Melbourne Victory (the sole franchise in Australia's second biggest city) and Grand Finalist Central Coast Mariners have yet to complete their minimum capital financing as required by the A-League and the short-fall is currently held by the FFA. Information on equity opportunities in both clubs is available from Football Dynamics Asia.

See also: Australia's year of 'destiny' not just for World Cup (23 Dec)