Sydney FC boss backs A-League and Foxtel to stick together

According to its contract with the A-League, Foxtel is not going anywhere, but some stakeholders say it is only a matter of time before the pay television provider and the sport part ways, which would end a relationship that began with the league back in 2005.

Despite the uncertainty that has been cast over the current A-League season, Sydney FC boss Danny Townsend does not think his sport’s partnership with its broadcaster is coming to an end.

“We have been in partnership with Foxtel for 15 years and I don’t see that changing,” he said.

But after making significant layoffs to its football department in the past year while dealing with stagnating ratings and a softening advertising market, one could be forgiven for thinking it might be considering offloading the A-League rights.

A new proposal that would see the final 32 games of the 2019/20 season played in 35 days has been put to Foxtel, designed to create a festival of the sport, with a grand final in mid-August.

The FFA is about to head to the negotiating table with the broadcaster, which will have the final say on whether the revised season-ending plan goes ahead in its proposed format.

A group of footballers jump on each other in celebration next to a crowd of cheering fans.

A group of footballers jump on each other in celebration next to a crowd of cheering fans.

There is a proposal to finish the A-League season with almost a game a day for just over a month.(AAP: James Elsby)

Foxtel has reportedly offered substantially less than its usual $57 million annual payment to Football Federation Australia (FFA) to broadcast the league, given the impact of the coronavirus shutdowns.

FFA chief executive James Johnson said he was focused on getting a deal done and ending the season properly.

“We have really looked at some of the leagues that we are working closely with, such as the Bundesliga, and what we have seen is that more people are watching live sports on TV,” he said.

“I think it is a good time to broadcast the league and I think our fans will view this very positively to be able to watch effectively one match per day over a one-month period.”

One goal at a time

Former National Soccer League player and current Fox commentator Andy Harper said the game’s biggest financial consideration during this time should be its relationship with Fox Sports.

“My sense is that within the game there is a distinct willingness to employ a short-term, two-phase approach to this,” Harper said.

“One is an agreement to get the existing season dealt with in that period and then the second part of that is a bridging sort of period into subsequent seasons.

“I would like to think there is going to be a pretty resolute agreement between all parties that everybody in the game is taking a haircut severely.”

James Johnson talks at a press conference

James Johnson talks at a press conference

FFA chief executive James Johnson wants to see what a mid-year finish could do for the A-League.(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

Having got agreement from the players to take a pay cut and the clubs to move to the one location to finish the season, Johnson said the plan had the added benefit of testing whether the A-League should run at the same time as the lower football leagues.

“I think it will be positive,” Johnson said.

“Our 2 million participants [registered football players] and our many A-League fans have really been starved of watching and playing football for many months now.”

Johnson said he was also looking at a new player-transfer model that would incentivise clubs to create and foster top-level talent, similar to other systems in countries like Uruguay, Croatia and Belgium.

A-League under review

Beyond the scope of the current season, Johnson, who became FFA boss late last year, said he wanted to eventually review when the A-League should be played.

“I would like to know if our current calendar — does it align better with grassroots?” he said.

“If we were better aligned, would we see more participants converted into A-League fans?

A soccer net with children playing in front of it

A soccer net with children playing in front of it

The world game has one of the highest participation rates of any sports in Australia, but that does not necessarily translate to A-League fans.(Unsplash: Alyssa Ledesma)

“I think we need to ask ourselves ‘does the current calendar help the clubs and our game in the international transfer market?’ These are questions I think that we need to talk about.

“I am certainly open to opening up that debate.”

Townsend agreed there could be some benefits to the A-League being played alongside the 2 million Australians playing the sport, but admitted the reschedule was not straightforward, with the NRL occupying many of the major grounds used by A-League teams.

“The big strength of our code is the huge wealth of players we have coming through the system,” he said.

Sydney FC chief executive Danny Townsend stands, wearing a suit, at the beach side.

Sydney FC chief executive Danny Townsend stands, wearing a suit, at the beach side.

Sydney FC boss Danny Townsend would not mind seeing the A-League shifted from its summer timeslot on the sporting calendar.(ABC News: Elena de Bruijne)

“Equally there are some challenges around … [whether there are] available to share rectangular stadia in certain cities, but it has definitely got merit.”

Whatever direction the game takes after its current negotiation is finalised, Harper said the most important thing would be for all of the game’s stakeholders to get behind the new vision for the sport, which would ultimately by set by its new chief executive.

“From the top of the pyramid down to the very base, the challenge for our game was and probably will remain, an alignment issue,” Harper said.

“The A-League has been, over the course of its 15 years, a very bright success, albeit with various issues that it needs to deal with, no hiding from that.

“That is a great foundation.”