FFA CEO David Gallop talks Socceroos, Matildas, the sale of Wanderers and grassroots football in a wide-ranging chat with FFA managing editor Aidan Ormond.
FFA CEO David Gallop talks Socceroos, Matildas, the sale of Wanderers, the FFA board and grassroots football in a wide-ranging chat with FFA managing editor of digital Aidan Ormond.
Overall, how-s the game doing, David?
Like the game itself you need to take your chances in front of goal and I think we-ve done that in many areas. From the grassroots with the now completely national NPL in place and creation of the FFA Cup and the dedicated resource Emma Highwood provides to community football.
We-re in good shape in the A-League and continue to work towards financial sustainability and certainly many of the potholes have been filled in. We shouldn-t forget the investment that the owners have made over the past nine years. Not all clubs are now at a break-even or close to break-even point, but a growing number are reaching a sustainable state of affairs.
The A-League has come a long way in a short time and the past year has been about keeping up the momentum. In the past three seasons, TV ratings and memberships have more than doubled, digital audiences have tripled and crowds are up more than 40%.. All our numbers are healthy and that points to a healthy competition.
And in the national team space a lot of change but a lot of cause to be optimistic about the future not only for the Socceroos but the Matildas.
So if you paint an overall picture I think in the years and decades to come we can look at these years as breakthrough years in the business of football. These will be viewed as the years we really cracked the mainstream and the game-s health will only improve from here.
The Manchester City buy-in to the A-League at Melbourne Heart is significant as we head into season 10. What have City indicated in terms of their vision for their club, where do you stand on their kit debate and is foreign ownership of our clubs something you support?
Firstly, it-s a significant show of faith in the A-League to have a club like that and its owners invest in our competition. They are very focused on the global nature of their business which puts us in one point of a triangle with Manchester City, New York and now Melbourne.
Our proximity and participation in Asian football is something they-ve emphasized as an attraction. And as we all know the game-s relationship with Asian football is at a point where the light seems to get brighter and brighter as the years go on and as people understand further the importance of that relationship at club and national level.
They-ve come in attracted to our competition being run with a set cost base in a salary cap system meaning they can control their playing roster costs. And salary caps are such an important part of the A-League and Australian sport generally given the number of codes and franchises.
And more and more we-re learning about the depths of their investment not only at the A-League level but player pathways and training centres which will benefit the game for years to come. In terms of the current debate about their name and colours of their playing strip, that-s still a work in progress. We-ve obviously got a number of things to consider and we-ll work to find the right answer on that. Global is a word that is intrinsic to the nature of football. Is this something you-ve now grasped? Sure, it-s been a bit of an eye-opener to me. The AFC spans from Lebanon to Japan, with three billion people live in that space and it-s the fastest growing economic and political region for Australia. Football can be a bridge into Asia on so many levels, so we need to continue to reinforce to people how important that relationship is.
Back to the A-League and miked up referees was set to be a new initiative to the broadcasting of this year-s finals. Sadly it wasn-t to be. Where do you sit on the idea of broadcasting innovations?
We were keen to help Fox Sports and SBS with a broadcast innovation. But we haven-t been able to pull that off this time. However we do see it as something that will enhance the value of our TV rights and we-re always looking to add value for our partners. We-ll continue to explore the possibility [of broadcast innovations]. The general principle is that you want people to feel they are getting the extras. Whether that be access to vision they don-t otherwise see or interviews with players and coaches. You need - in all sport - to be doing more than just following the ball around the pitch for 90 minutes. We-re really fortunate to have broadcast partners who want to help us add that extra little bit of interest to football-s coverage.
So perhaps watch this space for season 10 of the A-League? It-s certainly something that we-ll sit down with the broadcasters in the off-season and talk about what will enhance value for them.
Speaking of adding value, the sale of Western Sydney Wanderers is another big talking point. Where-s the deal at and how will the proceeds be spent?
We-ve made it clear that we will share the surplus with the other nine A-League clubs. But at the same time it-s an important windfall in terms of the game-s ability to have some extra cash and we need to get the right balance between spending that and making sure we have a strategic nest egg.
There-ll always be a number of demands on that money, but the good news is that from nothing around 24 months ago when the Wanderers were conceived to now, it-s a windfall that the game didn-t otherwise have.
FFA has set a target of 120,000 memberships for the new season 10 of the A-League. What is your pitch to those who are considering an A-League membership, particularly prospective new fans?
Look, season 10 will be a great celebration of Australian football and for our ten clubs. Memberships are of course important for the clubs but it-s important in Australian sport. Because it means people are rusted onto their team - they aren-t just sampling their team.
And when you couple that with the atmosphere inside A-League grounds with our active supporters it makes for a compelling proposition. And if you aren-t a member you might not feel fully connected to what-s going on at the game. We think 120,000 is a realistic target.
And as you say, the atmosphere inside A-League grounds is a compelling add-on sales point when people are thinking about how to spend their hard-earned…
Yeah, it-s a sense of belonging and football in particular provides that in a unique way of including people inside the ground.
How do you feel when you-re inside an A-League ground and fans are shoulder to shoulder jumping up and down, swaying, singing, showing off tifos with all that colour and noise?
You can-t help but being impressed with the commitment. The crowd sorts of becomes the heartbeat of the game in a way. And it-s something to celebrate and promote.
Obviously occasionally people do the wrong thing but they are a very small minority and we-ve got a good track record now of working with the authorities to make sure there are consequences for poor behaviour inside our grounds with bans and prosecutions.
Seeing Ange Postecoglou around the FFA, he-s brought a real fresh vibe to the place. How do you see the culture under him?
First and foremost we wanted a coach who had the right technical ability to coach our very best. But it was also important to have someone who understood the bigger picture with the off-field commitments and understood that Australian football is on a mission to become the largest and most popular sport. So that involves everyone doing some extras. It-s great to see Ange embrace that when you see him talk to a group of corporates.
I walked down the street with Ange yesterday and we had people calling out to him, “Go the Socceroos” and “Go Ange”. It makes me feel great when that happens, it shows he-s now in the fabric of the community and people know who he is and that-s good for the sport.
Growing up the Socceroos to me represented the battlers. Later they were like a Millionaires Club. What do the Socceroos now represent?
They represent a coming together of the game at all levels. It-s unprecedented in Australian sport the way the Socceroos come together for really short periods of time, coming from all corners of the globe and preparation time is so limited and yet they go into a big match and ARE expected to perform. And at the same time the Socceroos have an ability to unite lots of different people from different backgrounds in this country. And in that period when the team comes together the nation comes together as well. That-s the great thing about football.
Can you put a dollar value on the Socceroo brand?
We-re working hard at the moment to attract corporate dollars to the Socceroos and we-re starting to see people realizing what an achievement it is just to make it to Brazil. For us to be ranked in the 50s yet be going to a tournament where, technically only the top 32 countries make it, that shows we-ve over-achieved already. And then there-s the romance of playing in Brazil against three world class teams with a new coach in Ange whose clearly said he wants to punch above our weight and regenerate the team. All those things are starting to give us some traction and I-ve loved the way Ange has said that at the end of the game let-s make sure these teams don-t want to play us again. That-s a great way to go into this tournament.
I-d be happy if we left with our football reputation enhanced, what would you be happy with at the end of this World Cup campaign?
I-d be happy if we come away feeling like we were competitive and surprised a few people. That might not mean a lot of wins, but let-s be regarded as a surprise packet and look forward to improvement over the next period in the team-s development.
The Matildas have been in the headlines. What does new interim coach Alen Stajcic need to do to get the job full-time after the Asian Cup? And what are the plans in terms of the review?
Having reviewed the Matildas and interviewed a lot of people from the playing group and staff we felt there were issues that couldn-t be resolved under the current coach [Hesterine De Reus]. So we were looking for a coach who could hit the ground running and obviously it-s over to them now to knuckle down and get on with things on and off the field. And that-s our expectation.
It couldn-t have been an easy decision parting company with De Reus? It-s never easy. But you also need to consider where you-re at and what the alternatives are. And we felt we had no choice. Any movement on expansion of clubs and rounds in the Westfield W-League?
The W-League is a really important part of the total picture of Australian football. And obviously like most areas of the business there are budgetary constraints as to what we can achieve and we-re working through budgetary issues at the moment in view of the new financial year starting July 1. We-re well aware in an ideal world you-d have a greater number or rounds but we need to be realistic about that and not try to over-stretch ourselves.
A busy off-season coming up with the A-League All Stars meeting Juventus in August. How confident are you about the success of this year-s concept? I think sports fans generally will know of Juventus with the added spice of Alessandro Del Piero playing against them after his 19 years in Turin.
While Manchester United and Liverpool-s visits from last year will be hard to top, we-re excited about this game and what it can for us in a period when we-re usually sitting back watching the other codes, which is important as well.
The state government has recognised what a coup it is for Sydney and they-ve got right behind it as well.
What-s the future for the All Stars concept?
It-s new as you say but has some key ingredients that make it attractive. One is that all A-League clubs get to participate in it and secondly all A-League fans get to participate through the voting mechanisms.
It-s supposed to showcase the whole competition, though games against individual clubs such as Melbourne Victory versus Liverpool last year are exciting as well. But this is a new way of showcasing the game in an entertaining way - it-s not part of the national technical advancement of the game as such, that-s for the Socceroos and junior national teams.
This is about a bit of entertainment and people have embraced that. And with Manchester United we probably surpassed expectations last year, and we-re working right now to bed down high quality opposition for the next few years so people know there-s a program for the All Stars and that it-s locked in to the calendar.
Any chance of Liverpool playing the All Stars over the coming years?
Yeah, look potentially one of the great things about last year was that Manchester United and Liverpool came and had a great experience. With good quality training facilities, good games and everything the cities had to offer. Through a mate of mine at Bondi Icebergs we got United to have their Sunday lunch there and they had a run on the beach too. It just capped off the week. And I think other teams have looked at it and gone, “Gee, that was a good week - we-d like to do that”. Not only that we pulled 80 and 90,000 for the games. It had a spotlight on it from many in Australia and around the world to see if it was successful and I think we did a good job of it.
And I think other teams have looked at it and gone, “Gee, that was a good week - we-d like to do that”. Not only that we pulled 80 and 90,000 for the games. It had a spotlight on it from many in Australia and around the world to see if it was successful and I think we did a good job of it.
How is the FFA Cup tracking ahead of the June 26 draw when A-League clubs will join the rounds with the semi pro clubs?
It-s obviously something that-s been in the pipeline for some time. This is a really tangible connecting of the game where semi-professionals could face A-League players. There-s a magic to that, that other sports can do and a connection that-s magical. You can imagine a coach of a semi pro side sitting up the night before he plays after finishing his day job and work out how he-s going to beat a Sydney FC or a Brisbane Roar or a Melbourne Victory.
And facing a huge fan base with supporters chanting and singing. There are stories all over like this. I think it captures people-s imaginations just as watching the FA Cup in England over the years.
Facilities at grassroots level is often discussed, how can we improve this to accommodate the vast numbers of players out there? How do we tap further into the market?
It-s something we need to continue focusing on and talking to governments and reminding them about our numbers and just how big the game is and reminding them of the advantages of artificial pitches in terms of usage. I-ve been around the country over recent weeks like Tasmania where winter rains can really knock around your natural pitches. We are getting some traction there with the authorities. It-s a constant work in progress.
We-ve recently rebranded the game for 5-11 years olds as ‘mini-roos- and as you say social football is booming. I guess trying to help people play recreational forms of the game. In Perth recently there was a launch of an App for backpackers who wanted to find a game on a short-term basis. That-s really cool.
I have a kick myself with a group of guys in Queens Park and just making sure those types of games have good access to equipment and maybe a rewards program is something to think about. That kind of stuff is ahead of us and it-s an exciting opportunity for a game that-s so accessible to such a broad range of people from five year olds to those women and men still playing in their 60s and even 70s. Over 45s comps can-t get enough grounds and likewise with over 30s women-s comps. I think some people are probably keeping physiotherapists in business!
It-s all about bringing as many into the football family to grow that 1.96m number over the 2m mark?
The progress in that area has been pretty impressive, really. There-s more work to do but the data capture and for people to get value for their contributions is an important part of the challenge over the next few years.
The cost of football gets talked about a lot but when you actually drill down into the numbers there-s a very small percentage paying these big fees that get publicity. By and large, the game is as reasonably priced as any other sport. And we need to get that message out.
The MyFootballClub portal seems to have been received well…
For someone who-s been around sport - not necessarily football - the challenge has always been how do we get our arms around all these people and understand where they-re at and what they want and gather that info. And we-re at the cutting edge with that, setting the benchmark in Australian sport with it [MyFootballClub] being a smart investment by the game a few years ago.
When I talk to the MyFootballClub people the interesting thing is that the questions they get are likely to be more complicated ones. People have worked the simple stuff out now. They are not ringing up with simple inquiries because that-s all understood now. That-s progress.
Finally, on the FFA board next year we-ll see Mr. Lowy step down as chairman as set out in the Constitution. Who-ll take over?
Massive change for the sport and the business of the sport. It-s hard to put into words how big Frank-s contribution has been, but the transition to some new directors is well under way and a robust process is being put around that.
Fortunately we-re in a position where we can handle that now. We have a good solid board that understands the demarcation between board and management. They are engaged but they let us get on with the day-to-day. So whoever comes into these new positions can come in confident of where the game is travelling.
Would Mr. Lowy still be involved in some way?
He-s definitely got the passion for everything about the game and he-ll still want to know where things are at given he-s invested so much into it.
And will he be embracing social media at some point?!
[Laughs] He-s actually to his great credit been coached by younger family members about social media technology - he-s pretty savvy on that sort of stuff for an 83-year-old!