The A-League faces a future without any big money TV deals – but former FFA technical director Rob Sherman has a plan for its survival because “…it’s absolutely vital”.
The Australian top tier has been plunged into disaster mode by the current sport shutdown which has seen Fox Sports pull the plug on its latest payment.
In the face of disastrous recent ratings, the broadcaster has been keen to escape its near-$60m a year TV rights contract which still has three years left to run.
The FFA had to delay its plan to spin the A-League off into its own company owned by the clubs to prevent Fox using that as an excuse to renege on the current deal.
But the current Covid-19 lockdown has given the Foxtel company the chance they’ve been looking for.
Their latest payment was due last week - but the cheque never arrived, pending the completion of the home and away season and finals series.
Now the sport is facing up to a future without the massive annual cash injection, causing many to speculate on its chances of returning in the future.
Seven clubs have already stood down their players and staff for the duration of the crisis and there are fears several of those clubs may not make it through the crisis.
Sherman - who quit the FFA in frustration on the eve of the Covid closure - believes the player-base could be the key to saving the sport at all levels – including the top tier.
He’s proposed a new registration scheme tied with a revised and audited academy structure which could see the FFA bringing in $200m a year income, without a cent of TV cash or even sponsorship.
Melbourne Victory’s former technical director believes a simple $100 registration fee for every one of the sport’s near-2m participants would solve the sport’s money problems in a heartbeat.
Last year the FFA’s total income was around $130m including TV money, sponsorship, grants and fees, taking just $14 from around 550,000 registered players a year.
Stepping that up to $100 for all players would bring in more than three times the money Fox Sports paid for the TV rights.
“If you have five coffees with your wife in a week - that’s $100,” Sherman told the FTBL podcast from his adopted home of New Zealand after moving back there following his exit from the FFA.
“I think the thing is transparency and you actually say where the money has been spent - like, say, $10 of their $100 went to the national teams, $25 went to competitions and $55 went to development and $5 went to equalisation to make sure people in remote areas have equal opportunities.
“I do wonder whether people would really mind.”
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He added: “If you take away TV revenue and sponsorship – we don't know what that looks like in the future – obviously, there's going to be a huge economic impact from circumstances beyond everyone's control.
“But ultimately, you do have an income and that's from the game itself.”
The key to the new funding model relies on channeling players into a more structured academy pathway and set up while trying to drive out the high-charging rogue soccer schools .
Sherman quit the FFA in frustration at being unable to drive change through the organisation, but before leaving he laid the ground work for an overhaul of academies in Australia.
His blueprint outlined a four category system for academies with category 1 being the most basic with volunteer staff, and category four being the elite A-League academies with no fees for its youngsters and top quality facilities, coaching staff and resources.
Academies would be audited to ensure they met the standards expected - and uncategorised academies, often charging big money for contacts overseas rather than their training facilities - could be forced out of business.
“Once you have a standard in place, then people can make a judgement,” said Sherman. “It’s a matter of accountability and transparency.
“At the minute, you know, the most abused word in Australian football is probably the term Academy because every one and their dog has got one.”