Lowy pens open letter to the community

FFA Chairman Steven Lowy AM has penned the following open letter to the Australian football community in the wake of the release of the Strategic Plan for 2016-2019.

On behalf of the FFA Board and management, I want to share with the Football Family our four-year Strategic Plan.

You’ll recall that the Whole of Football Plan, our 20 year vision for the game, was released in May last year.

This Strategy sets out what we plan to do over the next four years. It represents the first important steps in a journey to take our game to the next level.

It has been developed in consultation with our key stakeholders, the Hyundai A-League Clubs and the State and Territory Member Federations.  I thank them all for their contribution.

I also want to share with you my impressions, after just over 100 days as chairman, of where we are and give you some insight into the workings of the new board. 

Before talking about the Strategy it’s important to set the context to its development. 

The Whole of Football Plan is the long-term vision and framework.  It is unapologetically bold and ambitious – it’s a 20 year plan, so it should be.

The four-year Strategy is more specific and practical. However, whether we are looking four years or 20 years ahead, the future is incredibly exciting.

The grassroots are flourishing. The Hyundai A-League is established on the Australian sporting landscape and we are on course for the most gripping championship race in years.

Melbourne Victory and Sydney FC have made solid starts in the Asian Champions League.

The Socceroos are vying to be part of another World Cup, the fourth in a row, and the Westfield Matildas have secured a coveted place at the Rio Olympics.

And the Futsalroos have recently qualified for the Futsal World Cup.

We’re determined to keep that momentum going.

So much of what we want to achieve in the next four years is dependent on the upcoming renegotiation of our broadcast arrangements.

But some things can’t wait until we wrap up that new deal, and today we will announce some initiatives that will kick off in the immediate future.

The first thing I want to say is that no one should doubt our resolve to take the game forward.

But we also know that we can’t stampede our way to the future.

There is impatience from all levels of the game to do more, and do it quickly.

That’s good. It’s healthy.

It shows our game is brimming with enthusiasm and that there’s a hunger for success.

But the FFA board I lead will approach this with a strategic view, with financial discipline and execute in a sustainable way.

We must plan carefully and spend wisely.  That is why this Strategy is very clear and very targeted. 

So I ask you to see today as a signpost toward the future, signalling our intent, and our priorities, and some concrete steps in that direction.

Two key themes emerge from the Strategy.  These in turn direct where we will increase our focus and efforts. 

First, the A-League is the key to the game’s future growth.  And key to the A-League’s success is its power to entertain; for fans at the game, TV viewers at home and increasingly consumers through digital channels. 

Second, the game’s greatest strength – the sheer numbers of Australians who love and play the game - are the key to unlocking its potential.

We need greater alignment and collaboration, particularly between the three sides of the “football triangle”, the FFA, the Hyundai A-League Clubs and the Member Federations.

In the past, there has been tension and disconnect.  The future depends on all sectors working together and pulling in the same direction.  FFA must lead this. 

The theme of collaboration is a broad one.

The Strategy highlights the need for us to better connect the tiers of our game – the national teams, the A-League clubs, and community football via our State Federations.

We have the potential to create a self-reinforcing relationship between these three that will make each individual aspect of the game stronger and the overall game itself much, much stronger.

We need the millions of Australians involved at the grassroots level of the game to also be involved with an A-League club.

We need the State Federations to develop ways to make those connections, and for the A-League clubs to develop more meaningful relationships with the Member Federations and local communities.

Finally, we will continue to take football the Australian way on to the world stage, epitomised by the Caltex Socceroos and Westfield Matildas.

You will see these key themes emerge in the Strategy;  

•          Connect more fans with the Hyundai A-League and Westfield W-League

•          Improve the experience for all participants

•          Lead towards a unity of purpose

•          Build generations of successful National Teams

Connecting, Participating, Leading, and Winning.  These themes are illustrated in some initiatives we want to highlight today. 

The first initiative reflects the fact that the most important change that will take place over the next four years is a very deliberate shift in focus and resources to the A-League.

This is the shop front and the engine room of Australian football week-in, week-out, and FFA shares a common view with club owners that the A-League is nowhere near reaching its full potential.

FFA will undertake a refresh of the A-League brand and commit more resources to marketing.

The A-League gives us fantastic entertainment – great technical football, wonderful personalities and a competitive balance that makes it so unpredictable.

We are so confident about our game we know we will see audience growth from a renewed focus on marketing and promotion. Bigger audiences will allow us to harness greater commercial revenues.

Our strategic focus on the A-League and its power to entertain underpins a related initiative we’re announcing today -- one objective that can’t wait is to attract marquee players to the A-League.

It is the task of clubs to recruit those players. But FFA can help.

So today we are announcing a new approach to Marquee Player Recruitment.

Under this approach, FFA will work with A-League clubs in targeting marquee players and providing support, including financial backing.

The idea is to launch the new approach within our current means, but with an objective to give it a substantial boost post the new broadcast deal.

The next initiative we’re announcing today highlights the two million Australians who love and participate in the game.

This initiative signals FFA’s intention to be aggressively open to new thinking and new technologies.

We will always welcome new players with open arms, but the Strategy identifies the need to focus on the participant experience.

We want players, coaches, referees and volunteers to keep coming back.

From the moment a player logs on to the online registration portal MyFootballClub, we need to make the experience easy and rewarding and into a connected network.

When an administrator goes on to the competition management system, it must be efficient and reliable.

When we serve up content to any participants – whether they be players, coaches, referees, club officials or volunteers – it must be timely, relevant and engaging.

The entire world is switched on to this and FFA needs to get switched on too.

This area needs sound policy and new investment – we have a clear vision of what’s required and a firm timetable to step up our digital capabilities.

This initiative is also related to the A-League. Our huge body of grass roots participants and our growing fan base are a resource that we haven’t even begun to tap into to the extent that we can.

We aim to connect more participants to A-League clubs, as viewers, members, ticket buyers and consumers of digital content.

Technology can help us make connections, launch promotions, turbocharge sponsors’ investment in the game and open up countless new ways of engaging with fans.

The next initiative puts the focus on FFA’s role in leading the game, while ensuring that we nurture collaboration across all tiers of the sport’s administration.

We will take the lead in clearly defining the roles and responsibilities between FFA, A-League clubs and Member Federations.

Elite player pathways, community engagement and fan development are some of the areas in which we aim to reduce overlap and maximise efforts.

The first step will be to examine systems, structures and relationships to ensure stakeholders work together in helping achieve football’s long term ambitions.

The final theme is about building generations of successful national teams.

We are committed to ensuring both the Socceroos and Matildas remain world class in their preparation and professionalism.

We don’t shy away from ambitious goals. We plan to see the Socceroos progressing beyond group stage at both the 2017 Confederations Cup & the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

The Westfield Matildas have the goals of reaching the semi-finals of the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup and challenging for a medal at the Rio Olympics.

Our focus will be on providing a pipeline of players for our national teams by placing clubs at the centre of player development with governing bodies supporting and guiding their endeavours.

The development of talent is the cornerstone of this strategy. We will have A-League club academies up and running, and participating in the local NPL competition at the appropriate level, this year.

As Chairman and on behalf of the Board, we’re very excited at the clarity and direction of the Strategy. 

I’d like now to give you my impressions of where we are and the philosophy I hope to bring to my role as chairman.

When I was elected in November I said I planned to approach the role by getting out and listening to people across all facets of the game.  And that I planned to lead a board that would be open, transparent and consultative, and would take advantage of the skills and experience of each of the directors. 

I have been in the chair for just over 100 days.

I have to admit it’s been an incredibly busy time and that has enabled me to be totally immersed in every aspect of FFA’s activities, both domestically and internationally.

At one end of the spectrum I’ve been at the grassroots on the sidelines with other parents right through to attending the FIFA Congress in Zurich two weeks ago.

Since November last year I have chaired three board meetings; attended the AFC Annual Awards in India; hosted the ASEAN Council here in Sydney; attended the W-League final; the FFA Cup final; and a number of A-League matches.

I’ve had meetings with A-League club owners and spoken at the NSW State Federation conference; participated in an AFC Member Associations gathering in Kuala Lumpur and, as I said, attended the FIFA Congress.  In a fortnight, along with most of the FFA Directors I will be meeting with the Presidents of the Member Federations in Adelaide. 

I’ve also obviously spent a lot of time with David and his team, and with our national coach Ange Postecoglou.

The board, which effectively has six new directors, is well advanced in its thinking about how it will function and I’ll say more about that shortly.

What is my impression of the state of the game?  It’s fair to say that the foundation phase of the revival of football has been a resounding success.

The A-League is a hugely popular and entertaining competition. Over the past few weeks fans have demonstrated overwhelmingly that we can promote the unique atmosphere that only football can provide.

The derby matches in Sydney and Melbourne are major events in their own right and showcase everything that’s great about the A-League.

Turning to the international stage, our Socceroos and Matildas continue to represent Australia with spirit and style.  In Zurich, the English FA Chair and CEO said how excited Roy Hodgson was to play Australia, particularly because of our style of play.

Under Ange, we are on a journey of developing a national identity in terms of style of play that resonates with our nation. Our recent success has been built on the aspirations of developing an Australian way of playing football. We want to continue down this road with a defined purpose of success combined with identity.

Our curriculum forms the basis of our development pathway. It is still young in terms of measuring its impact, but we expect by 2018 we will see the first seeds of this initiative come to fruition. We will then be able to assess the impact it has made and we expect it to give all our under age national teams a boost in the quality of talent coming through. 

With respect to our national youth teams we will ensure that the methods and philosophies go through all our teams and that the quest for success and identity is not compromised. Our success as a football nation will be determined by our ability to make our under age national teams and development systems one seamless pathway for every aspiring young player. 

I would add in relation to development that we need to continue to work with clubs, starting with A-League clubs, but also Member Federations, Sony PS4 National Premier Leagues clubs and community clubs, to continue to strengthen the pathway.

It’s important to recognise that clubs will play just as much a role in building successful senior national teams as our national youth teams do.

On the commercial side, I’m pleased to see that our corporate partners share our optimism about the enormous growth potential of football.

Caltex was recently announced as the major sponsor of the Socceroos and NAB and Qantas have re-committed as sponsors of the game.

We also have some wonderful opportunities to promote the game and attract big attendances and TV audiences with some stand-out games in the next few months, with the Hyundai A-League Finals Series fast approaching, the Socceroos playing their two upcoming World Cup qualifiers and their matches against Greece following what will be an iconic match against England at Sunderland on 27 May.

By far the most important commercial task ahead will be the negotiation of the new broadcast arrangements.

This will be a complex negotiation, especially given the new and multiple platforms for delivering first-class sports content and the need for FFA to generate additional income to underpin the consolidation of the game, especially the A-League.

All of these issues – sponsorship, premium matches, Socceroos and Matildas success, the broadcast negotiations and more – are all aimed at improving the commercial viability of the game at all levels.

Ideally we should increase the number of A-League clubs. But that is a task for another day.

For now, we must stabilise what we have and do longer-term planning about the future growth of the A-League, with detailed studies on demographics and economic viability to ensure any future clubs are located in places that give them every chance of succeeding over the long-term and brings additional value to the A-League.

Our aim is growth – but that growth must be off a sustainable base.

The agreement we reached with Wellington Phoenix, together with an increased emphasis on supporting all A-League clubs, will stabilise the league and put us in a good position to achieve our medium and long-term objectives.

On a global level, FIFA is now entering a new era and we want to play a positive role in restoring its credibility.

We have already developed an excellent relationship with the new President Gianni Infantino and we’re confident that FIFA will begin to take its first steps forward in many years.

We are already heavily engaged with Asia through a whole range of programs and intend to be an even more involved and positive player in the future.

The future of football in Asia is incredibly exciting and we want to be leading and pro-active football citizens in this region which is so crucial to our future success.

Collaboration extends to my philosophy of how the FFA board should operate.  I said when elected that the new board brings together experience and talent that any major public company would be pleased to have and it reflects great credit on our game.

Each director brings a unique blend of knowledge, perspective and networks and our task will be to make the best use of these that we can.  We’ve acted on this already by establishing a number of Board Committees.  In addition to the Committees that are common best practice in business there are three that truly reflect our strategic priorities -

Football Development chaired by Joseph Healy; Women chaired by Moya Dodd; and, Broadcast chaired by me. These Board committees will be crucial in helping the board make the right choices about the big strategic issues facing our game, and provide a structured way to benefit from the store of wisdom outside of the boardroom.

But I am the first to recognise that not all wisdom and knowledge resides with FFA directors.

FFA intends to reach out to the football community, and where relevant beyond the football world, to harness the knowledge and resources of the many people who can add value to the board’s deliberations.  We intend to bolster the Board committees with external expertise.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am incredibly positive and enthusiastic about the future.

We have an exciting few months coming up, with the A-League finals, two World Cup qualifiers on home soil, the massive Socceroos matches against Greece and England, and the joy of seeing the Matildas in the Olympic Games.

We now have a plan to guide us on the journey, and I look forward to sharing that journey with you.