The outlook for football in Australia is less certain. In May 2015 national governing body Football Federation Australia (FFA) published a document, the ‘Whole of Football Plan,’ in which it predicted a bright future for the game down under.
Based on the view that the football community in Australia will double in size from 7.5 million to 15 million over the next 20 years, it is aiming to make football “the largest and most popular sport in Australia,” according to FFA chief executive David Gallop.
Domestic football remains a long way behind its rival sporting codes
However, right now there are a number of challenges that the FFA will need to overcome to achieve its goal. First and foremost is the fact that the sport’s domestic league, the A-League, is in a slump in terms of attendances and TV ratings on Fox Sports and public-service broadcaster SBS. This downturn comes at a bad time, because the FFA is hoping to secure a big increase in the value of its live broadcast rights. Currently valued at Aus$40m per season, the FFA wants to achieve around Aus$80m per season in the next cycle, from 2016-17. Achieving a big increase in rights fees is seen as key to the A-League’s success, allowing the competition to attract more marquee players from abroad.
The FFA is also experiencing some issues in taking certain stakeholders with the federation on its journey. In late 2015, the FFA was embroiled in a row with the country’s Professional Footballers’ Association over the commercial responsibilities of national team players. The FFA has also been at loggerheads with fans over tough new rules regarding fan behaviour – which critics regard as over the top.
If there is a positive for the FFA, it is that telco Singtel-Optus recently snatched live English Premier League rights from Foxtel. Analysts believe that this will make Foxtel more anxious to hold on to A-League rights. However, domestic football remains a long way behind its rival codes. The NRL and AFL Grand Finals attract about four million viewers, compared to the 650,000 who watched the 2014-15 A-League final between Melbourne and Sydney.
Another challenge is facing women’s sport in Australia. In April 2015 a report entitled ‘Towards a Level Playing Field: Sport and Gender in Australian Media’, compiled for the Australian Sports Commission, found that women’s sport only attracted about 7.5 per cent of television sports coverage, despite strong participation levels of women in sport. “To put this in context,” the report said, “horse racing received more air time than women’s sport in Australian TV news.”
This figure is part of a long-term decline in Australia, with coverage of women’s sports down from 11 per cent a decade ago. Recent setbacks include cash-strapped public-service broadcaster the ABC scrapping live coverage of basketball’s WNBL and soccer’s W-League.
However, there are bright spots. The launch of the Women’s Big Bash League cricket has been generating good ratings on Ten, with the broadcaster’s free-to-air digital channel One also showing netball’s national ANZ Championship.
The ASC report suggests that the way forward for female sports codes is online streaming. However, advocates of women’s sports in Australia argue that in a sports-mad country, free-to-air exposure is vital to drive mainstream interest.
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