Danny Townsend and the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) Board sent the Australian footballing world into uproar when they announced that the following three A-League Grand Finals would be sold off to Sydney for a reported $12 million in a deal with the New South Wales Government.
Much of the early rhetoric surrounding the agreement derided the APL’s messaging that explained the deal was struck for the purpose of “building a new tradition” and mimicking the traditions of other football leagues that hold finals at a centralised venue each season.
However, in recent days that conversation has shifted and so has the tone of the APL and its clubs who now maintain that the agreement was integral in ensuring the financial viability of the league moving forward. All football fans would like is honesty.
Fans of the game called out attempts to extol the agreement as the APL seemingly overlooked the financial difficulties involved with fans travelling to Sydney for a Grand Final. In a post-COVID world, airfares are sky high and accommodation is difficult to find.
However, that remains inconsequential to these people who cannot, at the very least, feel genuine empathy towards the fans of the game – the people who make the game what it is. Instead the rhetoric has been orientated around lecturing working class fans on their “emotion” and how they are supposed to feel when decisions of this magnitude are made.
It is out of touch at best and an unfettered disgrace at worst.
What started as disapproval towards the decision to move the Grand Final to Sydney has now morphed into a holistic discussion about the purpose of football’s governing bodies and whether they are meeting their intended purposes.
The decision around the Grand Final itself is now almost immaterial. As some of the A-League’s largest and most powerful active supporter group plan to stage walkouts at this weekend’s matches, this discussion has now turned into one of whether the APL is willing to stand in solidarity with its passionate fans who provide the league with its unique selling point.
With the APL and many of its clubs continuing to double down on the deal, there is no easy end to this saga. Football fans are not going to go down without a fight.
Football fans still bear the callouses of fighting sections of the media who made it their mission to cast them as second class citizens in the glory days of the A-League. This debacle is reopening those old wounds, except this time, it’s far worse because it is ‘football people’ waving around their sword.
The fans feel betrayed. One only need take a quick scroll through Twitter to discover that.
The deal was clearly worked to ensure the interests of the APL and the NSW state government, fans were secondary. In its current form, the deal only suits the APL because it is the club owners who are profiting from it.
One of the key reasons the APL was formed in the first place was to tackle the issue of A-League club owners haemorrhaging money by merely running their clubs. Now, in the form of the APL, club owners work as a private consortium where the chief focus is generating revenue.
Despite being the recipient of $140 million worth of funding from US consortium Silver Lake, the $12 million from the NSW government deal is said to be reserved for securing the financial viability of clubs in the future. In other words, it is money which will go straight into the pockets of the club owners, unlike Silver Lake’s funds which will be re-invested into growing the game.
If you were Silver Lake, you would be worried about how the APL is spending their money. So far, the only material evidence of spending comes in the form of staffing the APL and its digital platform KEEPUP which is said to have cost over $20 million. Despite its hefty price tag, the platform is clunky and seldom used by most.
In the absence of an A-League Youth competition since the National Youth League was cancelled due to COVID, it seems that the APL is less interested in guaranteeing the long-term viability of football development in Australia than they are with lining their own pockets.
It is difficult to feel empathetic towards the club owners who would now have you believe that the A-League is in a dire financial situation despite the APL’s CEO Danny Townsend only last week announcing that the league was in the running to sign Cristiano Ronaldo whose wage is more than $50 million per season.
Football fans are smart enough to see through the waffle and expose the inconsistencies that have emerged in this line of reasoning. At every hurdle, the APL has changed their tune regarding the purpose of the deal.
First, the deal was about benefitting the fans, then it was about creating a tradition and now it’s about understanding the economic logistics of the competition as a whole. They have taken football fans for fools, and that is the most insidious part about this debacle.
If the APL had actually stopped to consider the fans, this deal would not have been made in the first place. A genuine attempt to gauge fan interests and thoughts across the country would have led to this conclusion of outcry and then the deal could have been chucked in the bin. But it wasn’t, and that is because the APL did not consider how the fans would react to this deal.
It is a classic case of football elitism as the consortium in charge of the league’s operation merely sought to solidify their objective of generating revenue.
For many football fans, this is the final straw – their trust in the game’s governing bodies is as thin as ever.
It feels like there has never been a greater divide between fans of the A-League and those running the league. It is already so hard to be a football fan in Australia. Participation costs at a youth level are the through the roof. Watching football is harder than ever as the Premier League, Champions League, Serie A and A-League are scattered across different streaming platforms.
The latter is hidden under new platform Paramount Plus who, in the absence of little other interesting content aside from the A-League, have failed to garner a strong subscriber base and still does not provide the basic functionalities expected of a modern streaming platform, namely a pause and rewind button.
In a sport and league which is already so hard and sometimes jarring to follow, football fans will happily take their support and money elsewhere if this deal isn’t re-investigated at the very least. This sport and league simply cannot function without support from fans across the country.
In a sport which was created by the poor, Australian football is edging precariously closer to being irreparably damaged by the rich.