The responses of three major stakeholders to the New League Working Group (NLWG) report and recommendations, delivered to the FFA last Sunday, indicates that consensus is still some way off on the alternative model for the professional leagues: A-League, W-League and Y-League.
Whilst all agree that a new model is required, a final form has yet to be agreed to and as a result, the NLWG has extended the time frame for formalising the model to 31 June, 2019.
The FFA released the NLWG report last Tuesday and it contained the following five key principles:
* That a new and separate professional leagues entity must have in regard to the best interests of Australian football as a whole;
* The new League’s entity would be responsible for the professional football leagues including, but not limited to, the A-League, W-League and Y-League;
* The new entity would be autonomous and separate from Football Federation Australia (FFA);
* The League’s entity would offer the clubs greater responsibility and encouragement to invest in order to commercialise and to grow the professional game as a part of and for the benefit of Australian football; and
* The new League’s entity should foster the development of the leagues and, through the leagues, football in Australia by providing the pathway for Australian footballers to an elite level and, ultimately, Australian national teams.
The NLWG acknowledged that more time was needed for the various stakeholders to negotiate and work out the detail of “legal, commercial and regulatory arrangements needed to put these principles into effect.”
The positions of the various stakeholders around some of these issues have come to light in response to the FFA’s release of the NLWG report on Tuesday. In response, the Member State Federations released a nine page document outlining their Professional League Principles under the over-arching vision which it calls “the Good of the Australian Game.”
The Member Federations go on to “acknowledge the benefits of an entity dedicated solely to the governance, operation and commercialisation of the professional leagues, so long as that entity is wholly integrated, duty-bound and equally committed with all stakeholders to developing Australian football as its core purpose and objective.”
However, even though there is support for the new entity, which they name League Co, as an independent and self governing organisation, they tellingly advocate the inclusion of FFA as a majority membership stakeholder with an entitlement to proceeds from sale or commercial gain arising from League Co assets. They also advocate that FFA is to have representation on the governing board of the League Co and its committees and working groups.
In contrast, the A-League clubs responded to the NLWG report with another forceful warning about the precarious state of the professional game and the need to establish an independent Professional League structure, although he was short on detail as to what this looks like other than to imply that those who invest the most (club owners) should be the ones who manage the entity.
“The message from the broadcaster and sponsors is clear,” Lederer said.
“Our league needs to be immediately turned around and put on a growth trajectory, together with the W and Y Leagues. They must be invested in now.
“The message from the A-League clubs also needs to be clearly understood. The professional game must be transformed now in order to make it something that can be invested in.
“The clubs are the only investors ready to provide the capital required to see our domestic elite professional game flourish.
“Combined, the clubs will lose more than $25m this year and we and the game will have little to show for it.
“If we are to turn the professional game around and fulfil its potential, the clubs will need to invest more than $120m over the next four years. Only in that way can the value of the league’s broadcast rights be maintained or grown at the end of the current cycle.
“We cannot be expected to continue to financially prop up something that we do not own and that is managed by a third party that is failing to perform.
“The FFA and the stakeholders of the Australian game need to decide, and do so quickly. Do you want a domestic professional competition that maintains us as an advancing football nation? Or in four years’ time do you want to go back to the days when our elite player pathway was based entirely overseas?
“That is the decision to be made in the coming weeks. The game is at a critical decision point and the clock is ticking.”
Finally, the PFA ( Professional Footballers Association) CEO, John Didulica has urged the various stakeholders to work towards a compromise to avoid gridlock, urging them to consider an independent model similar to the AFL Commission, governed by a diverse board whose members provide diverse skill sets, ethnic and gender backgrounds.
“The challenge is to find the right checks and balances to make sure the clubs can’t run a league in an unadulterated way working outside the interests of the broader game,” Didulica said. “That can be achieved through a number of means. If you look at an independent commission running the competition making sure that what they’re imposing on the clubs in terms of licensing, in terms of management, in terms of finding that harmony between national teams and clubs is always achieving the right balance. That’s where an independent commission.”