Hyundai A-League... the beautiful game is back!

Welcome back to the greatest show on turf in this coming Australian summer – the Hyundai A-League.

Take a look at the ingredients - 10 great clubs, 135 regular season games, a sudden death finals series, fabulous football entertainment, an array of stars and the best atmosphere in Australian sport.

It all adds up to goosebumps – I hope that’s what you will feel throughout the opening weekend.

Earlier this week we staged a high-tech launch at a Telstra hub. That’s fitting. We say football has the most tech savvy and connected fans.

Whether you have accessed this content in the Weekly Warm Up, on the A-League website or in our social media channels, thanks for being connected.

Season 11 is all about the “hidden gems” who reveal themselves. I’m talking about the players who arrive in the A-League on a foreign visa; little known upon arrival, but often fan favorites in no time.

They are hugely important to lifting the technical standard and vital in the marketing mix.

In seasons past, we’ve seen new arrivals become household names – Broich,  Berisha and Carrusca, to name a few.

Brisbane Roar: Thomas Broich - Overall Rating – 72

Last season, Fahid Ben Khalfallah landed in Melbourne with an interesting CV. Inside a few games, this amazing winger was setting the league alight.

In the past couple of seasons, the likes of Marinkovic and Dimitrijevic have added silky smooth skills to the action.

This season, there are many high-calibre imports – Sorenson, Leonardo, Holosko, Castro, Sarpong, Piovaccari to name a few.

Western Sydney Wanderers FC: Federico Piovaccari – Overall Rating - 72

Their stories will be fascinating and some will be stars by season’s end.

There will always be a clamour for marquee players and there will be place for such superstars, but I like the idea promoted by some commentators that it’s better to build marquee teams, than rely on one marquee player.

In May this year, we unveiled the Whole of Football Plan with a very bold and ambitious objective – to become the biggest and most popular sport in Australia.

The turbocharger behind that thinking is the Hyundai A-League…

If we weren’t absolutely convinced that the A-League will one day be the premier sports competition in Australia, we could not and would not be able to dream of that great goal.

In the frenetic progress over the past decade, we maybe lose sight of the big achievements…

  • Each year, about 1.7 million people come through the turnstiles
  • Over 100,000 are rusted-on members
  • A cumulative 12.7 million watch on TV
  • 500,000 are regulars in our digital and social channels

These are fantastic numbers for a “start up” – that’s what the A-League is…

A “start up” challenger to incumbents who have had 100 years head start on us and 50 years of TV coverage to embed their brands in households across generations.

In 10 short years, we have cracked the mainstream of Australian society and that’s a big deal, but we are just at the beginning of the journey.

A grandstand view of last season's Round 14 Sydney derby at Parramatta Stadium.

Our best years are ahead of us. That’s the indisputable truth.

Importantly, recent transactions have shown that the value of Australian sports rights have doubled. The pivotal role of live sport in the free to air business model is more entrenched than ever.

FFA has two years to run in our partnership with Fox Sports and SBS TV. We value their role in the game and thank them for the investment of a combined value of $40m.

When we go back to market, all the indicators are that the value will be someway north of today’s price.

One observation; an investment by networks in the A-League will be transformational on the standard of the product and the entertainment value, unlike any other sport.

For example, the big uplifts for AFL and NRL mean players will inevitably be paid more, but Greg Inglis will still be Greg Inglis, and Gary Ablett will still be the same Gary Ablett.

Those domestic competitions can’t recruit from a massive global market, like football can.

In the A-League, the investment will flow to greater investments in players as well, with a big difference.

The scene from the 2014/15 semi-final between Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City at Etihad Stadium.

An uplift in player payments will inevitably mean more Socceroo players who would otherwise play overseas will stay at home.

On that note, it’s also great to welcome home four Socceroos;  Oliver Bozanic, Dario Vidosic, Michael Zullo and Ivan Franjic.

An increase in broadcast revenues will see the calibre of foreign visa players, already growing year by year, lift even further.

I know in the ultra-competitive Australian sports market, the A-League will get marked for what happens in Season 11.

For a start, let me acclaim some achievements that are rarely acknowledged by headline writers.

We are kicking off Season 11 with the same 10 clubs who started Season 8 – that’s four years in which our focus on stability and sustainability has paid dividends.

In that time, we have lifted the FFA distribution to match the salary cap payments.

In the most recent season, the average salary of a player inside the cap was $135,000. The era of professionalism has changed the world for our players.

We are well advanced in the process of securing a new four-year Collective Bargaining Agreement that locks in affordability in A-League player payments.

We have worked hard on costs and revenue. It’s not the sexy side of show business, but they are the bricks and mortar of solid foundations.

There have been a few wobbles along the way, but we have achieved a sense of permanence that everyone needs; clubs owners, broadcasters, sponsors, players and fans.

Over 40,000 fans attended Saturday night's Melbourne Derby at Etihad Stadium.

To the football. That’s what we live for and that’s what gives us goosebumps.

It should bring pride to everyone in the room that our nation currently sits at the pinnacle of the game in Asia…

  • The Socceroos are champions
  • The Western Sydney Wanderers are champions
  • And the Matildas were runners up at the Asian Cup

There are some innovations for this season as we continue to invest in matchday and quality.

This season we will have a 14 Sunday double-headers with a W-League match on the bill with an A-League game, a connection between the men’s and women’s elite competitions that’s unique on a global scale.

We have the debut of our first three professional referees in the A-League – Chris Beath, Jarred Gillett and Ben Williams.

They are pioneers and I wish them well.

Thursday night football will be a regular feature of the season, again this is an innovation to grow audiences and add value as we position the competition for a new broadcast deal by 2017.

Finally, let me acknowledge the support of Hyundai and Fox Sports, who saw the vision in 2005 and together with FFA have built something special.

We have many important partners in the A-League - SBS TV, Foxtel, NAB, Harvey Norman, ABC Radio and Westfield.

 There’s so much to look forward to. Let’s make it special because ‘We Are Football’.