FFA and their strategic direction: 2011-2015

Earlier this week Football Federation Australia Chief Executive Ben Buckley outlined the long term vision and strategic direction of the FFA, so we’ll have a look at it. The vision covers everything from the A-League to the various national teams and concludes with the Asian Cup being hosted here in 2015. On the whole it seems to be a considered and well thought out release on the FFA website accompanied by an 8 page pdf file going into greater detail so clearly some thought went into this and how to publish the information.

 

This is our vision:

– Development of a football culture ingrained with unique Australian characteristics.
– Producing technically-gifted Australian players from an elite player pathway that’s the equal of the world’s best.
– Building a Hyundai A-League that rivals the best in Asia.
– Making football a sporting and social powerhouse in Australia.

 

Not a bad vision and it appears to be covering a wide range of topics which is a good thing. I personally like the idea of an elite player pathway to develop future stars, although that could be a pipe dream in such a short space of time. The idea of football becoming a ‘social powerhouse’ is also a long way off imo, given the air space that the AFL and the NRL attract, even in their off seasons. But hey, its good that they have a vision and a plan to act on, now to see if they can manage to hit these targets.

 

 

 With our vision stated and our mission set, the Strategic Plan includes four pillars:

1. National Teams excellence.
2. A sustainable and vibrant Hyundai A-League.
3. Greater connection with football’s grassroots.
4. Delivering a successful 2015 AFC Asian Cup that leaves a legacy benefit for our game.

 

The above four pillars to me appear to cover all of the facets surrounding Australian football right now, which is a positive but how much time and resources will be put into each of these pillars?  They all have their own cases to be argued, so lets take a look at what the FFA is looking for from these four pillars.

 

The first pillar is National Teams excellence and elite player development.

Our targets include:

–          Qantas Socceroos qualifying for Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup and reaching the round of 16 as a minimum.
– Winning the 2015 AFC Asian Cup on home soil
– The Socceroos contesting for a Top 10 spot on the FIFA Rankings by 2015 and averaging a Top 20 spot across the period.
– In the women’s national team program, we aim to see the Westfield Matildas successfully defend the AFC Women’s Asian Cup, once again qualify for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup in and hold a Top 10 ranking, which we have currently achieved at no.10

 

To me, this one on the whole seems totally ambitious, I mean as a national side in both men’s and women’s we have performed quiet well over the past 6 years and achieved things that many thought were impossible. It’s good to have a target, but im not sure this one is realistic. We could very well make the last 16 in the 2014 World Cup and win the Asian Cup at home, but if we don’t achieve that is it a failure? I think you have to consider that we could draw a ‘group of death’ in Brazil in which we struggle. I would also argue that if this is the target there needs to be some serious regeneration of the national team, but that’s a story for another day.

 

As for the Asian Cup, that’s a realistic target given we were one David Carney blooper from winning it.  But for mine I am more interesting in making the final of the Asian Cup, otherwise it could be a pr disaster for the code with the continental showpiece played out inform of a 25,000 crowd at Homebush.  Im not going to talk about the Fifa rankings, because I put no stock into those and don’t care where we rank on them. For the women’s those targets seem eminently achievable to me and it’s good to see such expectations being placed upon them.

 

 Our second strategic pillar is the Hyundai A-League and the sustainability of the competition.

 – Improve A-League club community engagement to increase fan base – focus on increasing attendances.
– Improve A-League reputation and brand image through better marketing and media relations.
– Ensure season timing and structure maximises attendances.
– Improve club business results through a central services unit – our plans are taking shape and will be a focus of the 2nd year of the strategic plan in 2012.
– Ensure A-League clubs are integrated into the elite player pathway system.
– Deliver better financial arrangements in stadia and more efficient event management.

 

Engaging the fan base is the most important part of this to me, and it’s been shown that if you get out there and support the local football community then they will get behind you in return. You only need to look at the way Brisbane go about it to see a good example of that, and without singling them because they aren’t the only ones guilty of it, you only need to look down the road to the Gold Coast to see an example of poorer community engagement. The elite pathway is also vital because it will be to the long term benefit of Australian football if clubs bring in kids at 16/17 and turn them into elite players in the Asian region by 21/22. 

 

The media stuff is going to be tougher to control given you have certain media outlets that have no interest in football, and a vested interest in rival sports, it will be tough to get better relations with those media publications, but you can defiantly get better relations with the football media, im not sure if that would improve the reputation of the league thou. Finally on this about the attendances and I think that is one of the biggest league wide positives this season, attendances are up league wide, so are membership sales and television ratings, so more and more people are tuning in to watch the games. Imo the ‘rivalry round’ concept was a good one as was the idea to launch the season once the egg ball codes were finished and there are some good initiatives coming up like the ‘community round’ which will take games to Morwell and Bathurst amongst others and the ‘A-League marathon’.

 

 There is a natural public debate around expansion, usually around Greater Western Sydney, which is the heartland of the game. However, in the Strategic Plan period to 2015 expansion will only occur when those economic pre-conditions of stability and sustainability exist.

 

I have two quick points that I would like to make around expansion, and the first of which is listed above. We should not be expanding the league while the current teams are losing substantial amounts of money, and teams are looking for new owners. The second point I would like to make is that Western Sydney might be a ’heartland’ for Australian football but I would prefer to expand to areas that don’t currently have a team in their city such as Canberra, Hobart, Darwin or dare I say back to Townsville. To me that makes more sense than to put a team in western Sydney, especially since the last one couldn’t even get off the ground.

 

 The third pillar of our strategic plan is all about connecting with the grassroots. As I stated earlier – it’s all about conversion.

 We will deliver benefits to all tiers:

– For players – being part of a virtual community with the benefits of our numbers: Socceroo ticket offers, discounts on playing equipment, information on coaching and healthy lifestyles.
– For clubs and associations – lower IT costs and greater ability to organise and service players.
– For the professional tier (National Teams and A-League clubs) – a real connection to the grassroots and an efficient and sophisticated way to communicate in this digital age.

 

This is certainly a key cog to the future because grassroots football is where the numbers are and more importantly this is where kids fall in love with the game and the lucky ones go on to make a career of it. This website may or may not be the answer as to how to engage the grassroots better, but at least the FFA have recognised its importance and are trying to fix it. Their target of 1million people by 2015 is also ambitious to me but the lowering of costs for local clubs in any way is a good thing. They should also lower registration costs because the cost for a kid to play our game is getting higher and higher –especially in the many Sydney district associations- and that’s not sustainable imo.

  

Of course, at the end of the Strategic Plan period, Australia will host the 2015 AFC Asian Cup – and that’s the fourth pillar of our plan.

 – A financial legacy for Australian football via a Tournament Budget surplus.
– Sold out Socceroos matches.
– Sold out Final match.
– Leverage business and commercial connection of Australian football with Asia.
– Leverage and convert awareness and support for football into increased participation and A-League attendances.

 

 The Asian cup is obviously an important part of the future moving forward and its quiet clear that the FFA want to leverage it and get the most out of it as possible and they should because it’s a fantastic opportunity for Australian football. Im not sure what the timing of the cup is but don’t Australia also host the cricket showpiece that year too? The concept of packing out stadiums for Socceroos games is a nice target, but when was the last time Australia played in front of a packed stadium on these shores? It’s a given –or at least it should be- that the final will be sold out well in advance, with the majority of people expecting Australia to be there, and that they will win it, but im not so sure they will all show up in Australia isn’t in the big game.

 

Overall this stuff is largely positive if it actually happens but as we have seen in the past with the FFA they come out and say this nice shiny stuff and then fail to deliver on it, this time has to be different. This time they have to deliver on a lot of this stuff, especially around the A-League and the community stuff because that can really drive the game forward in this country, and a positive Asian Cup in 2015 would be the icing on the cake.

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