A-League clubs could be on a collision course with Fox


Are we heading for a spectacular breakup of the once blissful marriage between Fox Sports and football?

This is the million dollar question surrounding the outcome of the grab for power between wealthy men in suits that will shortly lead to a new FFA congress.

The new governing body, comprising 29 members which no doubt will be indirectly influenced by the 10 A-League clubs, would be playing with fire if it puts on hold plans for expansion and a second division with subsequent promotion and relegation.

It is reliably understood that the majority of owners are far more interested in recouping some of the money they have invested in their clubs and putting the competition on an even keel than in expanding the league and creating a second tier.

Expansion is as far as they would go but apparently they do not see it as a priority.

They feel there are more pressing issues surrounding the competition and a second division could be "10 years away", as one club official puts it.

This scenario would not only frustrate those who rightly feel that a 'B-League' would give football a much needed facelift but could alienate main broadcasters Fox.

It is no secret that Fox are not exactly jumping for joy with the return of their considerable investment that will come to an end in 2023.

Fox are paying $57 million a year for the right to show the A-League - plus the running costs of televising each and every match - but viewership is down in recent years.

Overall attendances have dipped as well: the average attendance last season was 10,926 per game which was 1,624 fewer than the previous season.

This translated to 241,408 fewer fans from one season to the next. In the context of our game this is quite remarkable and a major worry.

It is fair to assume that Fox are beginning to lose their patience with the A-League's failure to provide supporters and viewers at large with something to get really excited about.

Fox are strongly in favour of expansion and at this stage a second division is not on their horizon.

However, by the same token, refusal by the expected independent A-League to enlarge the competition and create a second tier that would give the club scene a much-needed breath of fresh air could be seen as a missed opportunity by the broadcasters.

Suggestions also emerged in the last few days that Fox have not taken too kindly to the rebellion that forced FFA chairman Steven Lowy's bitter exit and they may well say goodbye to football when their obligations to the game come to an end ... perhaps even before if both parties agree.

The clubs, remember, feel that the league's television rights have been undersold.

One wonders what precisely did Lowy have in mind when he declared on his way out that he "fears for the worst".

Fans and pundits are crying out for something new because they are bored with watching the same teams play each other all the time.

There is talk of expansion but what will put Australian football firmly in line with most football countries is a second division with the added bonus of promotion and relegation.

Fans are yearning for a scenario that would punish mediocrity in the A-League, give National Premier Leagues clubs an incentive to reach a higher status and eliminate in one fell swoop the number of meaningless games that take place towards the end of each season.

Sounds exciting, doesn't it? But aficionados across the country would be advised to hold their breath and get used to the idea that this set-up might be a long way down the track.

Needless to say, club football would be dealt a massive body blow if this inertia continues: "a disaster" is how a Fox insider describes it.

If the worse comes to worst and there is no Fox money, where would the money to back the league or leagues come from?

This was one of the questions I had prepared for A-League clubs spokesman Greg Griffin a few days before the vote that would give them a much larger representation at the FFA congress, but he declined to be interviewed.

It would remain to be seen if Fox are prepared to continue their association with football if things do not improve or else offer much less for the right to show a product that is diminishing in value.

Not because the standard of play is lower - it certainly is not - but due to the fact that the competition is dominated by a degree of sameness that has bored the average punter to death.

Watching the A-League can be a dull exercise occasionally but it also can be a rewarding experience because most coaches and players are doing their bit to enhance the image of the competition by lifting their collective game.

I just hope the professional clubs and the working groups they will try to influence in the boardroom fully realise the risk surrounding their opposition to expansion and a second division.

Football has yet another golden opportunity to lift its collective game and take that crucial step towards full acceptance and genuine respectability in a country that enjoys a rich sporting pedigree and that does not take kindly to mediocrity.

We've said this many times: let's not stuff it up again because, quite frankly, we will not get another chance.

And nor would we deserve it.