Head of the Hyundai A-League Damien de Bohun sat down with FFA Managing Editor of Digital Aidan Ormond to discuss some of the pressing issues around Australia’s domestic competition.
In part 1 today, he reflects on...
- · Hosting a Sydney Derby at ANZ Stadium
- · This season’s Hyundai A-League grand final if held in Melbourne
- · Potential of Brisbane as an expansion city
- · A Melbourne Derby at the MCG
- · The future of Wellington Phoenix
- · Nathan Tinkler’s ownership of Newcastle Jets
- · Central Coast’s crowds
The Sydney Derby: how do you feel about having one derby at each club’s home ground and a third at a neutral venue such as ANZ, as has been mooted?
It’s about the fans. The Sydney derby has become the marquee fixture in the Hyundai A-League in a short period of time.
The Melbourne derby is a wonderful fixture as well, but it’s fair to say the atmosphere at the Sydney derby and everything that comes with it has just gone past that marginally.
From our perspective one of the challenges is making sure enough fans and also new people will get to experience it [the Sydney derby].
It’s something we need to explore very seriously. And we need to work with both clubs to do that.
And because there are three derbies each year, it can be a feast or famine with either just one or two home games. So to level that out over a two-year period might be a more effective way to balance it out for clubs.
But certainly from our perspective it’s what’s best for football and what’s best for the fans. And if that means playing a game at a neutral venue which is bigger once a year to give access to people who wouldn’t otherwise experience football, then we need to look at that seriously.
We’d like to think 83,000 could attend. There’s no reason from our perspective why you wouldn’t focus on selling it out.
We’re not there yet, there’s work to be done but it’s certainly something we’re exploring.
How would a Sydney derby at ANZ work? Split revenues for both clubs?
You’d have to work out the model. The one thing that’s become clear to me in this role, is working with the clubs to help manage their financials is important. What that means practically is that it [the derby revenue] would be balanced.
What about a Brisbane derby? Is the expansion of the league likely to include the Queensland capital?
Our first response is to make sure the existing ten clubs are successful. We’ve still got work to do but they’re getting better.
Expansion, well, we’re on the public record in saying at the right time we need to look at that seriously.
And the success of the derbies means there’s no doubt you’d need to contemplate Brisbane as an option.
We’re really focussed on markets where there are millions of people in terms of expansion.
And if you look at Sydney, the derby has created a competition and relevance for both clubs that wouldn’t have been there otherwise in a one-team city.
There’s a lot to play out, but there are options and there are a lot of interested parties who talk to us and approach us regularly about what it would look like to secure an A-League licence.
It’s obviously too early for us to entertain that but it gives us a sense that there’s bone fide interest out there. In the end the market will dictate where any expansion teams end up.
But the success of the derbies suggest Brisbane is a market you’d need to look at seriously.
Every market is quite unique so we need to be mindful of that. But we will work with all ten clubs to make sure we respect and understand the investments they’ve made and that we don’t diminish that through the decisions we’ll make.
But there is clearly an argument that says competition in Melbourne and Sydney markets has proven to be one of the strongest parts of the league.
Creating more of that is something we need to look at seriously.
Potentially, where would Brisbane’s second club be based?
Population and participation is very important. And elite pathways is very important. And stadia is a big part of that conversation.
We need the surfaces to be impeccable. Sharing stadia as we do is one our challenges. So growth corridors like Logan [in Brisbane] or the west of Melbourne or the south of Sydney or wherever that may be, part of that conversation is appropriate facilities.
Brisbane is one place, but additional teams in Melbourne and Sydney shouldn’t be discounted but a lot of other locations are being mooted.
A Melbourne Hyundai A-League grand final? I hear there’s work going on behind the scenes should that scenario play out this season.
There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes.
But let me say, the Hyundai A-League grand final has become a landmark event on the Australian sporting calendar.
The last five grand finals have sold out very quickly at large stadiums. They are big events.
For example last season’s grand final was shown in around 250 million homes around the world. It’s a major international event.
On the back of that, all major stadia around Australia have reserved May 17 [this year] for the grand final in the hope they hold it.
And in Melbourne we did hold Etihad and the MCG on May 17, but because of the contractual obligations of those stadia we understand it’s a challenge.
It would be really disappointing if we couldn’t hold a Melbourne grand final at a suitable venue. And that’s what it’s been about from day one.
It comes back to the fans. We don’t want the fans to miss out. The sports fans in Victoria... it’d be incredibly disappointing for a city like Melbourne that holds itself up as the sporting capital of the world to not find a suitable venue for one day in the year.
So it’s a work in progress but our preference is to hold it at Etihad if Victory or City are in the grand final.
We’ve made that very clear, there’s work to be done to get to that point but we are working on it actively.
But if we can’t find a suitable venue [in Melbourne] we’ve made it very clear that we’ll have to hold it elsewhere.
So that’s the pitch to government and stadia, that if they can’t find a way to resolve this, they will deprive their own state’s fans of a huge event?
It would be amazing for any government to not want to have probably 500 million this year watching a marquee event like that beamed around the world, promoting that city.
But more importantly it’s about the fans and voters – you don’t want fans to miss out in their home state. And for us it’s a longer-term issue.
Football’s muscle is growing in these types of situations?
Look it’s not even about our muscle; it’s more a case that Australians are really getting into football. There’ll be close to two million fans going through the turnstiles by finals time and football matters – football matters in a way it didn’t even three, four, five years ago.
No doubt the landscape is changing and we’re serious about making fans the centre of our decision-making. That’s what we’ve communicated clearly to governments and stadia.
Hopefully we get to the point of resolution [in Melbourne] that’s the right answer for everyone.
What about the Melbourne Derby?
It’s selling out consistently... but one of the great sporting cathedrals is the MCG and that’s something we should contemplate with both Melbourne clubs when the time is right. So it’s about giving fans access and letting them see this fantastic spectacle with the derbies, the passion.
Moving onto other clubs, Central Coast’s crowds? Any concerns there? And what is the current situation with ownership at Newcastle Jets?
Central Coast is a club that’s punched above its weight on and off the field. We do work with the club actively regarding memberships and in fact our head of sponsorships is with the club today helping them.
So the short answer is yes, we’re there to help wherever we can. We obviously can’t do everything for them but we’re really serious about providing the relevant support.
There’s no question the crowds aren’t where we, or the club, would like them to be. And it has to be a call to arms for the local community.
They played a game on the North Shore [of Sydney] and had another game planned but that didn’t happen.
So what’s good is the club is becoming really clear on its strategy going forward about its engagement with the community. At the end of the day it’s the people on the Central Coast who really need to get behind the club.
The club is a very important part of the community. You really get a sense of that when you go up there. No doubt the Central Coast Mariners is the one consistent show in town.
It’s a work in progress, it’s not where it needs to be but everyone’s working hard to get it in the right direction.
Results I guess haven’t helped over recent times at the Mariners…
Well it’s interesting because we deliberately set up our league for competitive balance and in the nine seasons there have been five different champions. And every single club has played in the finals. So you’re not going to win every year.
With that in mind - and its one thing we’ve been working on with all club - is building a sporting business. So while results matter, it’s [the business] not reliant on results.
And it’s been great to see membership numbers grow to around 112,000 this year. It means the club are starting to do that better.
But you’re right, results do matter but they need to understand it’s unique in Australia and important in our market that every team goes into each season genuinely believing they can win the Championship.
And Newcastle Jets?
Newcastle is a very important market for football. And they’ve had some big challenges this year. We’re working very closely with the club making sure the primary and fundamental requirements are being met.
In terms of Nathan Tinkler, he’s made clear public statements he wants to continue in his role [as Chairman] and build the club. They’ve started to deal with some of the financial issues – which is good.
It’s a start but by no means the finish. Everyone would acknowledge that there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Newcastle had sell-out crowds for most of their games in the Asian Cup so there’s clearly a market there for football. And considering they’ve struggled so much on and off the pitch this season, their crowds have still been quite good. Not where you want them to be, but clearly there’s an opportunity to build that.
Lots of work to be done and we’re still not there by any stretch of the imagination but at least there’ve been some signs – including a new CEO – they are taking the steps they need to get the club back to their former glory when they won the championship not that long ago.
If Nathan takes the steps you want him to what’s the likelihood of him owning the club after this season and into the future?
He’s made it clear that’s what he wants to do. And the reality is, if he continues to meet the obligations of the club then that’s how it’ll be.
From our perspective we work with all the owners, chairpersons, CEOs, to get the best results.
If he continues to deliver on his requirements then that’s his right. Absolutely.
Would FFA like to see him own the club long term?
The one thing I’ve really come to understand in football is that continuity and stability in football are critical. You’d argue that stability hasn’t been in place at Newcastle.
But if you can build a business over time, and get the fundamentals right, then that’s important.
If there’s a clear sense that things are being delivered on and there’s continuity and stability then I think that’s a good thing for the club.
Wellington Phoenix? What’s their future? Their licence is up in 2016?
We had a meeting in New Zealand last week with the club – and it was very productive. We are working towards finding the right outcome.
It’s an unusual circumstance as we need both FIFA and AFC approval – given they are in not just a different country, but a different confederation [Oceania].
It’s a unique situation that we need to work through.
Clearly the Wellington Chairman, staff and board are very committed. And they want to continue. We just have to find the right way to get the right outcome for everyone.
It’s a work in progress and the clock’s ticking. But we’re very focused in getting the right outcome for the competition. The team is doing very well on the field and some good crowds at their temporary venue.
And the right crowds and broadcast numbers are one of the challenges for us.
But they understand that and we’re working with them on a range of fronts to help increase their broader contribution of value through broadcast rights and sponsorship in New Zealand.
I hear the broadcast deal value is pretty low over there.
Yes, but that landscape’s changing and similar to Australia, New Zealand is starting to grasp that football is on the move and it’s a good time to get involved.
What’s your sense about Lower Hutt as a potential home ground for the club?
Look, the local council and government would need to commit to make it a permanent venue, which is the bottom line.
It’s been a community space almost that’s been turned into a stadium. And the guys in Wellington have worked their backsides off to get it up.
Obviously there was an issue with the lighting… as the size of a venue we’ve learnt a lot about the Wanderers in terms of the right size venue and building demand for your product is a very, very good plan. And no doubt something like that [Lower Hutt]] would work well in Wellington but it would need to be a permanent stadium.
There’s plenty of work done to make that happen.
If that work was undertaken local council and government would require assurances the club was going to be in the league long-term, though…
No question. And the conversation the club has had with us about tenure is exactly that sort of thing and in investing longer term.
Plenty of things to work through and it is a unique situation – and because of that unique situation it takes a bit longer to get to where we need to.
So Phoenix’s future, when would that be resolved?
We’re working on it actively. It’s probably, realistically the next few months.
You get into the last season of a licence and that creates a bit of uncertainty. I think both parties want it resolved and we’re working openly to get to the right position. I’m sure we’ll get to where we need to.
In part 2 tomorrow, Damien de Bohun discusses...
· Merits of professional referees and allowing refs to explain decisions publicly
· TV innovations for A-League broadcasts
· Integrating Westfield W-League
· Leveraging Asian Cup for the league’s benefit
· A-League in another ten years