The time to strike is now.
Not since 2006 does Australian football find itself with the opportunity to further cement itself in the hearts and minds of the Australian public that it does today – an opportunity to help the game take another “Great Leap Forward”, to borrow a phrase.
A decade ago it was the Socceroos who led the way. Our best ever football side in Green and Gold bravely fought its way past Uruguay, Croatia and public indifference to thrust the world game into the national spotlight. Today, football is at Australia’s core, rivalling the cricket side for truly national interest.
Unlike cricket, however, it represents Australia’s diverse multicultural communities that have grown in numbers, strength and assertiveness over the past 50 years, and tours of Australia by overseas clubs as well as the International Champions Cup have captured the public’s imagination, offering a boon to the local game.
It is imperative that the local game taps into this. It has already begun.
The discredited All-Star concept, where local players were forced to play “Washington Generals” to a visiting super team is, hopefully, dead and buried, replaced by underdog A-League sides fighting to upset wealthier football clubs from abroad. It is these types of performances that will convince a sceptical public that the standard of A-League football is high enough and worthy of a second look.
Next, FFA must find ways to include an A-League team in the ICC. The local team would be on a hiding to nothing – losing to the megastars would be no surprise, while beating them in an upset in front of 80,000 will gain credibility money can’t buy.
What money can buy is an all-out media offensive that links touring teams with local clubs and players. It is a worthy investment in the game’s image that will pay dividends.
End photo-ops of the world’s greater footballers kicking Sherrins – these offer the insular AFL the kind of “prestige by association” it craves while cutting the A-League out of the loop. Instead, replace them with Ronaldo, Bale and Hart wearing A-League shirts and promoting the local game.
These messages will reposition football in Australia to take advantage of its global association with the game’s elite.
Of course, to install football at the top of Australia’s sporting and corporate pyramid will require a massive cash influx.
Australia’s participation in Asian competition has already seen doors open for the local game to increase its partnership with big business. This access to Asian markets is a wonderful sell to a still occasionally insular and unimaginative corporate Australia.
But what if this process was expedited at the highest levels?
If the likes of Coca-Cola and Toyota, for instance, were made to see sense – that dropping the local provincial leagues and sponsoring football in this country would give them exposure to a potential 3 billion Asian viewers instead of merely 23 million Australians who are becoming less provincial in their outlook with every passing day?
At that level, it is a conversation that needs to be held in Zurich, leaning on the internationality of football’s corporate partnership to help the local game continue to progress.
The league desperately needs expansion, a longer season and more people on the terraces – all in an environment where clubs are no longer bleeding money.
The influx of cash would also provide free or heavily discounted youth academies all over the country, offset exorbitant youth rep fees and fund marketing campaigns the likes of which the AFL and NRL have never seen before.
All this can happen by tapping into the international power of football.
The time to strike is now.