FFA in great position, says Gallop

New CEO David Gallop sits down with Michael Cockerill to discuss the state of the game, the upcoming media deal and many more topical issues.

New Football Federation Australia chief executive David Gallop speaks with associate editor Michael Cockerill in his first one-on-one interview.

Q. If I could ask you first, before you came into this job what were your impressions of football when you were on the outside looking in?

A. When we got into the World Cup in 2005, there was the realisation that the sleeping giant had got a big prod. From where I was previously, there was always a recognition that with the massive participation numbers, the move to the A-League, that football was getting its act together, and we should be concerned about it. The first six weeks of the season, that has been well and truly be vindicated.

Q. Before we talk about your new job, from the point of view of your old job, should rugby league see football as a genuine competitor at the commercial end?

A. I'm sure they do. We always did when I was there because there's that grassroots support, the ability to build on the A-League and the Socceroos. Uniquely we've got the women's league, which the other sports can't match.

Q. The game itself. What do you actually like about it?

A. I guess it's the ebb and flow, the possession for the ball, the small opportunities you get to put the ball into the back of the net. That's the thing which makes football exciting, and it's why it's so popular world-wide.

Q. The flip side. Is there anything you don't like about the game? Diving is an obvious one.

A. I guess it's too early for me to be too critical of things, but like a lot of sports there's frustrating elements. You think about balls which have gone over the line, and not been declared a goal. That kind of thing is something all sports are grappling with - how to use video technology. If you're a fan of a team that's seen that happen, obviously you're going to be frustrated.

Q. You've had a long time to consider this job, your appointment was announced some time ago (August). Everyone's quick to give you advice, but what are your personal priorities?

A. To listen, basically. My initial few weeks, even months, in the job is to be getting around and giving an opportunity for people to tell me what they think. There's a lot to learn, but the good news is there's a massive opportunity for everyone.

Q. To achieve what I'm sure you want to achieve requires money. How are the FFA's finances, generally-speaking?

A. A lot healthier than they've been previously. Although I'm not in a position to announce the media deal, it's pretty close to completion and that's going to have a significant uplift in value which is going to be terrific for the game, not only at the elite level, because we've got to make sure a share goes into the grassroots. That puts the game on a lot better financial footing than it's been for some time.

Q. Would you describe the media deal as a good one, then?

A. I don't want to pre-empt the announcement, because that's going to be exciting when it's made. But it's certainly a good one, and one the game can be pleased about.

Q. I'm sure you're not surprised the players union has already started talking about their share of the new media deal. With the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations coming up, what's your view on what the players deserve?

A. I can only give a general answer, which is our elite players deserve to be renumerated at the most which the game can afford. That is taking into account that there's always plenty of mouths to feed, so too much can't go at the elite end. That will be the challenge in the CBA negotiations.

Q. Can we turn to the Hyundai A-League, it's been a wonderful start to the new season. How do you maintain that momentum, that enthusiasm?

A. There's a great drive for wanting to be in that top six because it's tough, an unpredictable competition, which it needs to be. That's going to bring through the skill level, great goals and tight games. None more so than we saw on Saturday night (Sydney FC's 3-2 loss to Melbourne Victory), which was a cracking game, with great goals, and a young guy (Andrew Nabbout) comes on and scores two of them. That's fairytale stuff.

Q. What about the economics of the A-League. Melbourne Victory have a turnover of around $14million at the top end, and the likes of Central Coast Mariners have a turnover of about $7million at the bottom end. Then you stack this up against the likes of Collingwood ($75million) and Essendon ($51million) in the AFL, and the Broncos ($28million) and Canberra ($24million) in the NRL. That's a big gap in terms of the economics of our major sports. How does the A-League bridge that gap?

A. Through sustained growth. We've got to be in a position that the next time we do a media deal, that there's another substantial increase across sponsorship, membership. All the economic drivers need to have growth in them. In terms of the disparity between the top and the bottom (A-League), that's something we also experienced in rugby league - particularly those clubs that have a whole city to themselves. They're able to make income that the clubs battling it out in Sydney can't make to the same level. That's a challenge, and not one I can say today how we can solve it.

Q. Is it pie-in-the-sky to think A-League clubs can aspire to be equal to some of the AFL and NRL clubs in terms of turnover?

A. Not at all. In many respects you're seeing now A-League clubs producing the kind of numbers which are on a par with rugby league clubs. If that growth continues, there's all upside.

Q. In a way you're an owner of one of the A-League clubs, Western Sydney Wanderers. What's your view on how they've started life, and how quickly are you looking to transition the club into another form of ownership?

A. Too early for me to give a view on the second part of the question. Transferring the ownership has to be on the agenda at some point. The good news is, and I always said this in rugby league, that when we expand let's make sure we're fishing where the fish are. That's what football has done in going out to western Sydney, where there are literally millions of people who can be drawn on. Everyone would be pretty delighted how things are going both on and off the field with the Wanderers.

Q. Of course the Wanderers have come in at the same time we've lost a couple of clubs, North Queensland Fury and Gold Coast United. It's a 10-team competition at the moment. Do you have a view on what your ideal number of teams would be?

A. Not at this stage. I've got no doubt the competition will expand at some point, but it's not immediately on the agenda. All sports in Australia have learnt some harsh lessons around expansion in the last couple of decades. My personal philosophy is you need to be very cautious before you do it. You not only need a sustainable business model for the district you're putting the team into, but you also need to add something for the whole competition, and the whole game, so the whole pie grows. It's not easy to come up with that model unless you're careful, and your existing teams are on a good financial footing.

Q. Some of the clubs are owned by rich, powerful, businessmen, people with a lot of profile. How will you approach your relationship with these owners?

A. For a start, we should be grateful to people who are injecting capital into our game. In many respects, without their money we wouldn't have teams, so we need to show gratitude for that. We need to manage the balance between the privately-owned clubs, and those that are not. Again, that's something I experienced in my previous role, those disparate ownership structures. There are plusses and minuses that come from it.

Q. Speaking of powerful business people, what is your relationship like with (chairman) Frank Lowy, and how do you see his contribution over the years?

A. It's hard to over-estimate what he's done for football in this country. The chairman and I are getting to know each other, but at this stage he's been terrific to me. I'm looking forward to working with him.

Q. One of the big issues confronting the FFA is the 2015 Asian Cup. How big can this tournament be?

A. It's a big opportunity generally. Football in Asia is getting stronger and stronger, there's opportunities for certain rivalries to continue to be profiled leading up to it, and it's all good for the Socceroos. Australians love to see the Socceroos performing on the world stage.

Q. Does that connect with Asia give football a strategic advantage over other sports?

A. Absolutely, and that mushrooms out to the global opportunities. But the stronger the game is in Asia, the better it is for us.

Q. Finally, you are the third CEO to come from another sport into the FFA. How relevant is it that the CEO has a football DNA?

A. I think there will always be a mixture of people. My job is to lead a team of people where some are steeped in football, and some aren't. That's appropriate. We want a range of people with a range of skills. Some can look at a distance at the game, and some can bring their great love to it. I'm certainly an admirer of the game, and I think my love of the game will develop as I get into this job.