Damien De Bohun, the new head of the A-League, has no doubts about the chief task facing the competition in the next few years as he gears up for his first season in charge of the premier domestic league.
Restoring financial equilibrium to the A-League’s 10 loss-making clubs, partly through revenues generated by the new broadcast deal, has to be top of the agenda.
But, he says, clubs also have to work hard not just to bolster funding from the game’s governing body through slick marketing and aggressive pursuit of sponsorship of their own, but to grow their fan base and convert those interested in the sport at the margins, turning them into regular supporters.
The league is due to kick off in just over a fortnight and impetus is building after what feels like an inordinately long off season.
The signing of Alessandro Del Piero by Sydney FC has put a spring in the step of all associated with the game who point to it, rightly, as a coup given the level of interest shown in the Italian World Cup winner by better-known clubs in Europe.
And the imminent agreement of the crucial broadcast deal, widely tipped to contain a mix of programming from major partner Fox Sport and free-to-air candidate SBS, is also expected to lift spirits after a messy end to the last campaign when one team, Gold Coast, crashed out of existence amid rows and recriminations between its owner, billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer, and the FFA’s billionaire boss Frank Lowy. That wasn’t the only end-of-season drama last year. The future of Newcastle hung in the balance before agreement was reached on its continued existence as a club.
De Bohun is due back in Sydney tomorrow from Wellington after completing an itinerary that has taken him to meet club officials at all A-League sides. While he has missed the blizzard of publicity that accompanied Del Piero’s arrival, that has only whetted his appetite for the new campaign which kicks off with the Melbourne derby between Heart and Victory on October 5.
“I am very excited by the overall feeling within the clubs and the game. I have met personally with all the clubs in the off season to find out what their views are, what their opportunities are and their major issues,” De Bohun says.
“Its been a very interesting experience. There’s a very strong sense that the competition will be very even and that performances on the field will continue to improve,” said the ex cricket official, who also had a spell in charge of Football Federation Victoria earlier in his career.
“We are waiting for the outcome of the broadcast deal that is currently in discussion but there is a strong feeling about the viability and the sustainability of the clubs. And an FTA element will help the game grow, reach parts of the community that don’t have pay [TV]. It will help with converting people who play the game or who are interested in it to become fans. A mixture of the two is the perfect storm.
“We have got to get the message to the fans that the competition is better than they might think and that it is up there with some better-known leagues. With average gates of around 10,000 it is one of the better-supported leagues in the world.”
De Bohun believes a strong start to the season is vital, and what better way than to hit the ground running with a Melbourne derby.
“Victory seem to be setting themselves for a new direction and they have made important decisions both on and off the field, while Heart are building a competitive squad for what will be a very balanced league. Not only do we have that for the first game, but then Ange Postecoglou is going up against the team he won the title with twice. There is a genuine Sydney derby now too.”
De Bohun also forecast deeper TV coverage this season.
“We are working closely with the host broadcaster to maximise coverage and integrate it with clubs, players and managers. We will be working a lot closer with Fox. There will be a lot of insights, a lot more interactivity with the players. But FIFA rules prevent us from miking up referees and officials.”
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