Fox deal a band-aid solution but it gives the A-League time to heal


The news that the A-League will resume its fractured season with millions of dollars from main broadcaster Fox Sports has come as a bolt from the blue.

Most members of the football community were bracing for an acrimonious divorce after a 15-year marriage that started blissfully but has been on the rocks for the last two years.

Fox has agreed to back the rest of this season and the next to the tune of $32m in a 12-month reactivated arrangement to replace the remaining three years of its $57m-a-year deal.

It is only a band-aid solution but the agreement that includes the W-League, the Socceroos and the Matildas should be welcomed with open arms in a climate of economic uncertainty because it gives the game much-needed funds and enough time to tackle its challenging issues and map out its future.

The current A-League season will end with a whirlwind tournament comprising 27 matches in 28 days from July 16, when Melbourne Victory face Western United at AAMI Park.

The next season will be played from December to July 2021, a move designed to pave the way for a full-on winter competition.

This is a seismic shift in policy from Football Federation Australia, which has steadfastly held on to the summer football concept despite calls from various stakeholders to move to winter and align the A-League with the lower grades of national football and that of Asia.

The defunct National Soccer League was forced to go against tradition in 1989 and move to a summer schedule because it could not compete with the formidable opposition from Australian Rules and Rugby League.

The move was seen at the time as a masterstroke and even the first years of the A-League showed that a summer game could still flourish with sensible schedules.

But the 'clean air' argument does not hold anymore because the sporting calendar in Australia these days does not seem to ease off at any time of the year. So why not join the rest of the world and have a go in winter?

Winter football will pose plenty of logistical challenges to chief executive James Johnson and the FFA board but that's something to talk about on another day.

The million dollar question being asked today is how have the two 'warring' parties come together in a win-win situation when for all intents and purposes everything was pointing towards a complete breakdown? At least that's how it appeared from the outside.

Who knows? Perhaps the constant talk in the last few weeks of other broadcasting alternatives such as the 'FFA TV' concept forwarded by the Golden Generation advocacy group may have put the FFA in a strong bargaining position.

Fox indirectly would have been made aware that it was not the only player in the game because the OTT alternative proposed by the group got strong traction all over Australia.

Fox also could have realised that a complete walkout on football - though you would not have blamed them for making a business decision in a tough time for the pay-tv industry - would have annoyed those football lovers who were vacillating between retaining or cancelling their subscription.

Thankfully, now that agreement has been reached, both sides have time to consider their options without the added pressure of having to make instant decisions that could shape their future.

This deal has been a positive development that reinforces two vital aspects of the 'will they, won't they' saga.

It shows that Fox, despite its dissatisfaction with a product that has become less appealing to spectators and viewers, sees economic and sporting potential in the A-League (at least in the short term) and is prepared to back the game as best as it could in difficult times.

It also shows that football, despite calls for the game to walk away from 'bad boy' Fox, recognises the value of being aligned with a broadcaster that has offered top class coverage from day one although its scheduling demands were not always in the game's best interests.

The ABC will continue to show one A-League and one W-League match a week up to July 2021.  

So have the stars aligned once again to provide a scenario in which we can all work together in unity and with foresight in order to set up our game for decades to come?

Only time will tell, of course, but for the moment let's all cherish the occasion that seemed unrealistic only a few days ago and treat it as yet another golden chance to get our house in order. Once and for all.