I was hoping this would be about how I’ve successfully failed to correctly predict a single W-League match result this season—no really, not a single one; if you want to jinx a team, have me tip them.
Instead, I’m having to write about the FFA’s W-League grand final fail.
For those of you unaware, fourth-placed Brisbane on Saturday defeated first-placed Canberra to book a grand final berth. Third-placed Melbourne continued the upset effort, defeating second-placed Sydney to earn themselves both a grand final berth and a home final (in case you’re wondering, I’d tipped Canberra and Sydney—I am officially the worst tipperer ever). Also, those results are a complete reversal of Round 1’s. How bizarre.
This is a great result not just for Melbourne fans as they hope to see their team go one better than last year’s runners-up trophy, but also for Brisbane fans, with all three Roar teams playing in Melbourne this coming weekend—the National Youth League team plays on Saturday, and Roar Women and Roar Men play on Sunday.
So far so good.
Until you realise the FFA scheduled the W-League final at 3pm AEDT at Lakeside Stadium.
The A-League kicks off at 5pm AEDT at AAMI Park.
I’m bad at math, but even I know there’s sh%tf^&k of a chance you can get between venues to catch both a game that’s due to finish at five—and that’s assuming no extra time or penalties, which are likely in a grand final—and one that starts at five.
This is an enormous fail on the FFA’s part and a huge cross-promotional opportunity missed.
This weekend’s grand final will be the first time Roar Women have played in Melbourne this season due to the W-League's incomplete full home-and -away draw. That is, it represents the first opportunity for Melbourne-based fans to see these teams face off. In a fiercely contested grand final, no less.
This will also be the last time we’ll have an opportunity to see many of these players in action because the W-League is only 12 weeks long—an interminably long off-season awaits us. Many of these players will head overseas to play in international leagues in an effort to keep their fitness and skills and, if they’re lucky, earn a little cash.
It’s unclear yet if the Matildas’ Cyprus Women’s Cup efforts and Asian Cup defence will be broadcast (based on the FFA’s previous and current efforts, I think we can lean towards a ‘no’), which means this might be a last chance to wish the Matildas players well before they head into an insanely busy training and match schedule.
The FFA will say broadcast schedules can’t be altered, that it’s out of their hands. Sure, they’ve signed contracts and all of this was agreed before the first ball of the season was kicked. But I doubt they’ve investigated whether there are other options.
There are always other options.
The ABC, which holds the broadcast rights, alters broadcast times every season because it has a pre-existing arrangement to show golf. This pre-existing arrangement invariably coincides with the sudden-death semi finals. So, at the time when the games are most exciting and most tense, the season-long 3pm broadcast is shafted in place of golf, with a one-hour highlights package shown at 6pm.
I’m saying the ABC can (and has) rejigged broadcast times. I’m also flagging it has other digital channels. Have these been considered? I’m also asking why wasn’t/isn’t there a clause in the contract that says if the ABC can’t broadcast the match as required, it’s given to another broadcaster?
The FFA and the ABC could—and should—live stream the match regardless of broadcast times (and should have been doing so for every single match throughout the season. It’s unacceptable for fans not to be able to see every single men’s match and live to boot, and yet it’s somehow deemed acceptable for the women’s matches). The FFA has the technology to do so. The ABC has the technology too—it just needs to ensure the team has the Outside Broadcast (OB) van there that has live streaming capabilities.
If the FFA moved the match to even 2pm and live streamed it, with a delayed ABC broadcast of 3pm, that would for the most part work (or least offer better options than there currently are). Or even scheduled the final for 3pm Saturday. Or—wait for it—played the final as a curtain-raiser or curtain-closer for the Melbourne Heart v Brisbane Roar A-League match.
The FFA will say it’s about respect and that the women’s game warrants a standalone event. Yes, it should. But it will result in—as it has over six full seasons now—a poor crowd. Fans won’t travel to multiple venues on the same day. Or even on different days. If I had a dollar for every fan who’s told me they would attend the games if they were played back to back (men’s or women’s first—they really don’t care) in one location at an accessible time and with good public transport and seating. Say, AAMI Park or Suncorp Stadium.
The FFA will say it’s about venue availability. AAMI Park is available. It’s already been booked for the A-League to kick off just two hours later. It would also enable the men’s teams a chance to support their counterparts (There’s precedent for this—you may have spotted Matt Smith, Matt McKay, and co. at Suncorp Stadium early and cheering Brisbane at the recent double header).
The FFA will say hiring venues such as AAMI Park is expensive. Yes, it is. But if you’re not prepared to stump up the cash to extend the hiring time of AAMI Park for the W-League grand final—the biggest match of the too-short season—and on a weekend when there’ll be a bunch of away fans in town who don’t often get the chance to attend away games, when are you? Surely extending the hiring times for AAMI Park would not be all that much more than paying for an entirely separate, from-scratch set-up at Lakeside Stadium?
The FFA will say it can’t be done because there isn’t room or time in AAMI’s media boxes for both the ABC and Foxtel to bump in and bump out for the respective matches they broadcast. I don’t believe it couldn’t be done (with a little planning a little willingness) as a one-off.
Besides, we’ve seen with the two double headers played this season—one in Melbourne and one in Brisbane, coincidentally—that Foxtel can competently cover W-League matches and broadcast them on its network. Could it not show the W-League grand final? Could it not find a way to share the broadcast with the ABC? Or could someone not do that newfangled live streaming thingy?
And if the FFA isn’t able to move the match times or venues, is it organising shuttle buses to take fans from one game to the other? Is it offering free entry to the Heart game for fans who attended the W-League one (assuming they make it over in time for the second half)? Is it in any way encouraging A-League fans to get along to the W-League to support the players (and dare I say be surprised by the high level of football women play)? Bums on seats is how the FFA measures its leagues’ success, yet it’s making it extremely difficult to get bums on seats. Go figure.
As a side note, the timing issues will make it difficult for Brisbane Roar and its fans to adhere to the club’s ‘One Team One Goal’ ethos and will likely stretch the team’s resources. For example (and I’m commenting on the media aspect with which I’m familiar, but this may apply to staff and resources more broadly), Brisbane Roar has one media officer. Her task of covering both the W-League and the A-League (which she has down outstandingly all season), has just been made inordinately tricky—especially if the W-League goes to extra time and penalties. If you’ve ever been in a W-League media box, they’re, er, sparse. There certainly won’t be a TV with access to Foxtel.
Sure, I’ll admit much of this grand final planning should have been done prior to this week and it would be challenging to change things at this late stage. My guess too is that the FFA anticipated a Canberra-based or Sydney-based final (I can empathise—it happens to the best of us). But it should have had all bases comprehensively covered. And I said challenging, not impossible.
But I will say this: If the roles were reversed and such issues were affecting the A-League grand final, the FFA would pull its finger out and find a way to make it work. A 3pm AEDT kick-off abutting a 5pm AEDT kick-off is not in anyone’s interest (and don’t even get me started on how Queensland-based fans, despite having a team in the grand final, will have to wait an excruciating, social media-dodging hour delay to see the match on TV).
So I say this to the FFA about its oversightfulness and afterthoughtness when it comes to the W-League: Try harder.