For decades Australia’s cricket team have been held to be the ultimate representative of the country’s sporting persona. Hard, tough, skilful, competitive – and successful.
But not any longer, says Football Federation Australia boss David Gallop.
Now, says Gallop, the Socceroos, Asian champions and qualifiers for the past three World Cups, have assumed that mantle and are more appropriate and realistic representatives of Australia’s heritage and identity. Not just for what they are and what they have achieved but how they reflect contemporary Australia and the links they can bring in the future.
“We believe that they are the only team that truly represents the nation in all of its diversity and multiculturalism,” Gallop said on Tuesday.
“Winning the Asian Cup was a huge shot in the arm for them and the game. It highlighted the importance of football to the nation, that it is the common language of the globe; football is the common language of Asia and all of its diversity.
“People went along to games [during the Asian Cup] to support the Socceroos and their own heritage and I think they bought into the idea that it was a tournament that put a spotlight on the nation. I think economically, politically, socially, the nation will see the benefit of that tournament in the years to come.”
With a Cricket World Cup taking place it’s a big call, but Gallop believes that, under Ange Postecoglou, the Socceroos can build on the success they achieved in hosting the Asian Cup, in which their victory over South Korea in the final in Sydney six weeks ago brough the country its first significant soccer trophy.
“The Socceroos have certainly boosted their importance in the commercial picture of the game. They are setting themselves on a realistic road to Russia and perhaps progressing past the pool stage in Russia,” Gallop said.
“When you look at the players we have now got, and the fact that we will have players at the peak of their powers who have got experience as 21, 22-year-olds, all that puts together a nice cocktail commercially.”
Still, where the new TV broadcast deal is concerned – a negotiation Gallop believes will bring a significantly higher rights fee than the $40 million a year the game earns from Fox and SBS – the A-League is a bigger revenue driver than the national team.
While TV audiences have fallen and average crowds at some clubs have taken a hit this season – particularly after the Asian Cup – Gallop says that the domestic competition remains the key driver of any TV deal.
“Commercially I think the backbone of the game is the A-League, the week-in, week-out competition producing five quality games every week, where it’s difficult to predict the winner. It’s part of the business model, a very important part of the business model. Operating on a level playing field but still allowing for star players to come into the competition through the marquee player system is important for football.
“The backbone is providing content week in and week out for television and that’s what the A-League does.”
A major plank in Gallop’s growth plans for the sport is the development of the women’s game, for which the Matildas are the flagbearers.
“Women’s football is strategically important to the business of the game. It’s a point of difference, we are seeing a spike in women and girls signing up to play the game. We need to use the role models and the profile of the Matildas to maximise that opportunity.
“They are a top-10 team, they are a genuine contender for the World Cup in Canada. They have a relatively new Australian coach [Alen Stajcic] and we are pleased with how they are travelling. They had three wins out of four games last week in Cyprus. They are a great team and they are also great role models for the sport off the pitch,” Gallop said.
The FFA chief added that free-to-air broadcaster SBS had “big plans around the Matildas for the World Cup” to be staged between June 6 and July 5. He is also upbeat about a new broadcast deal for the A-League now that the ABC will no longer screen the women’s elite domestic competition.
“With the W-League, we are confident we will have a package that will give people access to those games,” Gallop said.
© 2015 The Age | This article first appeared in The Age on 18 March 2015.