Friday, December 23, 2005

Australia's year of 'destiny' not just for World Cup

In their end-of-year message to the "football family", Football Federation Australia chairman, Frank Lowry (pictured right) and CEO, John O'Neill (pictured left), report on a year of sensational growth for football at the national level in Australia:

The performance of the Australian team in Montevideo on 12 November followed by the “date with destiny” on 16 November 2005 "will be long remembered by football fans and proud Australians generally" but "qualification was always just a step on the path, however, and we will certainly not be going to Germany to 'make up the numbers'. Intensive planning is continuing to provide the team with the ideal preparation and support to give them the best possible opportunity to perform at their best at the World Cup."

On Australia's transfer to the Asian Football Confederation, the benefits of qualifying for the next World Cup without a “do-or-die” match "should make it fairer, but there are five Asian countries ranked higher than Australia at the moment, so the competition will be tough! "

The real reason that membership of AFC and playing in AFC competitions will be a transforming change for football in Australia is that in one fell swoop, we will be in a position to “complete the pyramid” of the Australian Game ... Now ... our national men’s team will play six Asian Cup qualifying matches in 2006, and if successful, the Asian Cup itself in 2007. Half of these qualifying matches would be at home here in Australia, and they would fall on FIFA reserved dates – making it much easier for our best players to be available.

In turn, this program of regular, scheduled, high quality, meaningful qualifying and competition matches against strong Asian opposition – and not forgetting the opportunity for the top Hyundai A-League clubs to play in the Asian Champions League – makes much more compelling football for commercial partners. All this allows the potential for more dollars to be driven into the top end of game, so that we can really start to improve the value being delivered down through the Australia football pyramid and into the grass roots football family.
Spectator, television and online audiences suggest that the newly launched Hyundai A-League has "resonated and engaged" with a significant section of the Australian sporting community.

+ Total crowd attendance for the first season of the league is on track to top one million with average attendances likely to be in the order of 11,000-12,000;

+ FoxSports reports that A-League average broadcast audiences are comparable with Rugby Super 12, despite the Rugby competition’s relatively long history.

+ The A-League’s family of websites in October 2005 received more than 850,000 unique visits. This compares with AFL number which were 961,000 in September – the peak month of the AFL season.

In short, all of the A-League’s key indicators are tracking ahead of expectations at this early stage and both the momentum of the Socceroos’ “Road to Germany”, and the new opportunities in Asia will be harnessed for the benfirt of the league. World Cup Socceroos returning to Australia for matches in the lead in to Germany will be used in A-League promotions, and Australian A-League players’ World Cup aspirations will be highlighted.

The opportunity to bring a number of senior international players home after the World Cup, to play in A-League is also being evaluated. "Certainly many players have expressed a desire to return home' after the World Cup and play in Australia."

In the meantime, the Sydney FC experience in the recent FIFA World Club Championship provided a useful insight into the potential opportunities presented for Australian clubs in Asia. More than 100,000 Australian viewers tuned in to Fox Sports coverage of their opening game in Japan, "a terrific Monday night audience".

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