Groundhog Day at FFA as Australian football stagnates

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Football Federation Australia is dithering again by switching its focus from A-League expansion to ownership and operating reform


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Can you hear that screeching sound? Steven Lowy and David Gallop have grabbed hold of Football Federation Australia's (FFA) handbrake and ensured change will be delayed yet again.

FFA announced on Tuesday that expansion of the A-League will not occur until the 2018-19 season at the earliest as the governing body begins a consultation process this week with clubs and a corporate advisory firm to determine "a new ownership and operating model" for the A-League and the W-League.

The governing body believes adding two new teams would result in "net losses" for the next six years.

It signals yet another example of FFA choosing to go back to the drawing board rather than press on with meaningful action.

FFA want new A-League model before expansion

Talk to just about anyone involved or interested in the A-League this season and words like 'stagnation', 'slump' and 'boring' inevitably arise.

The 2016-17 campaign is the sixth in a row with 10 teams, while no new club has been added to the competition since Western Sydney Wanderers were formed for the 2012-13 season.

According to ultimatealeague.com, the attendance average across the A-League through 21 rounds is 12,891 per game.

The past four years have seen a peak of 13,479 in 2013-14 and a low of 12,658 in 2012-13, indicating that the A-League has seen no genuine growth this season.

The timing of FFA's announcement just before arguably the A-League's worst-ever night in the AFC Champions League - Brisbane Roar and the Wanderers conceded a combined 11 goals - couldn't have been more poetic.

Instead of making strong, brave decisions to inspire growth in Australian football, FFA has again chosen to delay.

While consulting and planning are hardly sins in the world of sports administration, the timing of FFA's latest round of discussions must be questioned as it feels like we've been here before.

COMMENT: Is FFA missing an A-League expansion opportunity?

On Thursday, the existing A-League joint working group that involves four club chairmen and FFA representatives will meet to discuss how to "attract more investment" to the elite leagues of Australian men's and women's football.

This group was formed in October when FFA CEO David Gallop declared A-League expansion was "a strategic priority" after discussing the competition's commercial model and its "next phase of growth" with the 10 club owners.

David Gallop Australia 23022016

"There is a great momentum and excitement around the game at the moment and it is important that we work together to ensure the game's operating model evolves and takes advantage of the opportunities ahead of it," Gallop said at the time.

"The recent FIFA/AFC visit has seen an in principle agreement to make some [governance] changes and FFA is committed to work collaboratively with all the game's stakeholders to reach a model that meets the game's future needs."

A-League expansion 'a strategic priority'

What has this joint working group achieved if they are yet to make any progress on issues identified almost six months ago?

Overhauling FFA's constitution and governance structure still hasn't been finalised - an extraordinary general meeting is expected at the end of March to expand voting rights in the governing body's congress - while the clubs remain unhappy with how the A-League is run.

This week, Gallop claimed "the decisions we make around the future of the Hyundai A-League/Westfield W-League will have an impact on every aspect of football in Australia".

In May 2015, FFA released its Whole of Football Plan (WOFP) for the next 20 years.

A-League clubs demand more power from FFA

In March 2016, the strategic plan for the first four years of the WOFP was confirmed with FFA chairman Steven Lowy claiming the governing body would "shift" its "emphasis" onto the A-League and target "more capital".

Why does FFA need more time to discuss what to do next?

Steven Lowy FFA 20122016

What is the point of having long-term strategic policies if they don't encompass, foresee or resolve significant issues within two years of their publication?

FFA's board has nine members and five of them - including Lowy - have distinguished careers in business as executives at companies like Westfield, Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank and Caltex.

Fan ownership could spark A-League crowds, revenue

The other three are lawyers.

Why do they need a corporate advisory firm "to assist with developing models for a new structure and to provide advice on the financial aspects of the expansion process"?

Gallop has claimed FFA's new phase of consultation regarding the A-League and W-League's future will take "months rather than weeks" ensuring the status quo will remain next season and possibly in 2018-19 as well.

It makes you wonder if anything will ever change.

 

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