Lowy: football's on the way up

After securing the biggest TV deal in Australian football history, FFA chairman Frank Lowy speaks to associate editor Michael Cockerill about the state of the game.

Basking the the afterglow of the biggest television deal in Australian football history, Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy speaks to footballaustralia.com.au associate editor Michael Cockerill about the state of the game.

Q. Frank, you described this announcement of the TV deal as a “bloody good day”. Does that mean there's a sense of relief? A. There's a sense of relief, a sense of happiness, a sense of fulfillment. We can now do what we need to do without drawing on a lot of other people to help us.

Q. The figures announced are about $40million per year. That's about double the previous deal. I guess you've put your head around how you're going to spend the money? A. Oh, yes. We have to be prudent about it. The first thing we're going to do is increase the subsidy to the clubs to the tune of $2.5million, $2.6million, to cover the salary cap. It was always my objective to do that, from day one.

It took a few years to get there, but we are there. It's very important. The clubs are playing a major part in the game. You'd remember I said to you without a good national competition there is no football. That's what happened.

Now we have a good competition, and the football is moving forward, but I think it will take another two or three years to really achieve our position where we should be.

Q. David Gallop has said whenever there are these type of announcements there are always a lot of mouths to feed. The players union have already put their hand up for a share of the TV money. Where do you sit with what the players deserve? A. The players deserve whatever they can get. They are working very hard, they do a good job, basically. But as I understand, the current average salary is about $110,000. I don't think that will increase greatly.

What we have to do first is make the clubs sustainable. Without the clubs, there is no football. They (players) have to do their own jobs, and they are doing very well now.

Of course we need to put more bums on seats, we have a good television contract, which we have now. So they have to do the job, and not to try to gouge more from here and there, because there is no gouging around. There's not enough money for that.

Q. Expansion has obviously been a difficult process. You've now got a new four-year television deal, the security of that deal. Tell us about the timetable for expansion. A. The timetable is a bit flexible. However I don't believe we will be increasing the clubs between now and when the next deal comes about. Additional clubs require additional money, we just don't have that kind of money. Unless some big present appears from somewhere we wouldn't be increasing the teams between now and 2017.

Q. You once said your dream was a 14-team league. Have you given up on that dream? A. Absolutey not, but I didn't say when the 14 teams would be. We were a little bit ambitious a few years ago, and we moved faster than we should have. We paid the price. Really our objective is to make these 10 teams strong before we move forward.

Q. A pet project of many football people is an FFA Cup. I know the FFA has done modelling on this. Now that you have the TV deal, can you tell us when we might see a cup competition? A. I don't believe it will happen in the next year or two. Maybe after that. As I said the concentration is on the 10 clubs we have now. Once that is bedded down properly, we can think about an FFA Cup. Not think about it, do it.

Q. So you're a believer in a cup competition? A. Absolutely.

Q. What about a second division, another subject you have touched upon in the past? How much pressure are you getting from the Asian Football Confederation to come up with a second division? A. I think we need a second division in place. We are a sports loving country, so we have the players. I don't think we have the spectators yet.

So we need a second division one day. I don't know when that will be, but there will be promotion and relegation, and we need to be ready for that.

Q. So that will be on the timetable set by the FFA, not the AFC? A. It will have to be the timetable of the FFA, but we need to be ready. I don't think we should wait until it's imposed on us. We don't have to do it, but we have to be ready to do it.

Q. Western Sydney Wanderers have been a great success so far, and I'm sure you're pleased about that. Does the TV deal take some pressure off the FFA to sell the club? A. It will help. I must say I'm ecstatic about the Wanderers. They're doing a terrific job. We only had six months to prepare, other codes get two or three years and spend tens of millions of dollars. All we had was $4million.

The team we put together was very good. Of course Lyall (Gorman) has done this before, and (Tony) Popovic is a favourite of ours and is doing a wonderful job. The Gold Coast gave us 3-4000 people, or less. Now we have between nine and 15,000 people, so what a bonus that is for the game.

Q. So no urgency to sell? A. No urgency, but over a short period of time we should find some partnerships. We are a national body and it's not our job to run individual teams. We will carry on as long as necessary, but we will be looking for suitable partners in the near future.

Q. Just quickly on the Newcastle Jets, there has been a lot of publicity again about the business affairs of Nathan Tinkler. Are you confident the Jets and Tinkler will still be part of the competition for the foreseeable future? A. We don't live in the commercial world, we live in the football world, and all indications are the Jets are a permanent part-and-parcel of the A-League.

They have a good team, they bought out (Emile) Heskey, and I believe there is a commitment on behalf of Mr Tinkler and his group to continue with football in Newcastle. I mean Newcastle is a hotbed of football. How can we do without that?

Q. Are the owners, generally, a lot more relaxed than they were six months ago? A. It takes time to settle in. I'm not sure we handled everything as good as we should have. When there is a shortage of money there is always some squabbling. There will still be some shortage of money, but we should be able to do the job well, and there should be some good co-operative work between the clubs and the FFA.

Q. Does that mean you're happy with the way the strategic committee (JALSC) is working? A. I think JALSC was only introduced to be a conduit to the clubs. Whether it is necessary in the long-term will be seen. At the time it helped very much.

In the future? Of course we have a new chief executive, how does he want to run the game? What kind of relationship does he want with the clubs? It will be up to him to feel, and tell us, what he wants to do. He's the boss of the game, and he'll have to carve out his own relationship with the clubs.

Q. We've talked about this before, marquee players and a marquee fund. You've seen the impact this season, have you changed your view on how valuable they are? A. No I haven't changed my view at all. You'll remember when I was major shareholder of Sydney FC it was the first time we had a marquee player (Dwight Yorke), and how successful it was. It's the clubs job. They have to embrace it, they have to make it happen. It will help the clubs, and it helps the game tremendously.

I really want to congratulate Sydney FC for bringing (Alessandro) del Piero, to Newcastle for Heskey, and the Wanderers for (Shinji) Ono. For a period a time it will be able to help, these high-powered players, but there will be a time when we may not need them. At the moment, they're very good to have.

Q. So the FFA at the moment is happy to help financially? A. From time to time, when help is needed, we can have a look at that. But our help must be modest, because every dollar belongs to the whole game, not to one or two clubs.

Q. What about David Beckham, how do you feel about that? A. How do I feel about it? It would be great if one of our clubs could secure him, no doubt about it. Whether they do is up to them. If some assistance is required from us, not so much financially because it's got to stand on its own feet. But it would be great if David Beckham came to the A-League for the next 10 games.

Q. Now that the TV deal is finalised, and you have a new chief executive in place, do you feel you can now switch your attentions to the 2015 Asian Cup? A. I have been working on the Asian Cup already. There is a committee, a board, and we are working very diligently. I hope, and I have every ambition, to make the Asian Cup a wonderful event, for Australia, and for Asia.

The government policies towards Asia have been just announced, and we already part of Asia. We have a job to do not just for football, but for Australia.

Q. How big can the Asian Cup be? A. You're going to have 16 teams here. Let's hope the good teams come, and the populous teams come. I think it will be very big, we are working very hard, we have a lot of help from the government, and the AFC themselves are very enthusiastic. We will do our best. I expect it will be very successful.

Q. The Asian Cup is not the World Cup. Has the FFA been burned by the (2022) World Cup experience, and do you think at some stage in the future we will be in a position to bid again? A. I have been burned by that. I was personally very disappointed, and I will never forget that loss. When there is another opportunity, Australia should bid again.

Q. Finally, a lot of people have recently been wondering what Frank Lowy's legacy will be. Do you feel comfortable about your legacy now all these things are in place? A. I think my legacy should be a strong one. We had a really good beginning. There were some potholes in the middle, that's expected. You don't start something and keep rising all the time. There are some dips, and we've had some dips. We took them, we fixed them, and now we are one the way up again.