The Victorian Football community is driving a national conversation about state football standards. However as the State works to bridge the gap between grassroots and the A-League, it must ensured that regional areas aren’t left behind.
As the FFA Cup provided a platform for many metropolitan clubs to improve themselves, Football Victoria must form a Regional Knockout Cup to create a similar platform for regional clubs.
FFA Cup lifted standards
The introduction of the FFA Cup empowered State League clubs to lift their standards.
Exposure to a wider audience created revenue opportunities which rewarded investment. The most notable example of which being the financial windfall Heidelberg United experienced when they hosted 11,000 people for their quarter final fixture against Melbourne City.
The FFA Cup also provided inter-league exposure which helped establish benchmarks and focused investment. For example, the competition is no doubt a factor in the increased player movement from Queensland to Victoria.
Most importantly though, the FFA Cup gave clubs something greater than the State League Title to aspire too, and ultimately led to the establishment of the Australian Association of Football Clubs which is not working to develop a national second division alongside the FFA.
As the FFA Cup lifted State League club standards, a Regional Knockout Cup will lift standards in Regional Victorian Football.
Regional problems aren’t healed by Metropolitan band-aids
Efforts to force regional pathways in Victoria’s top divisions have largely failed. Bendigo, Ballarat, and Aubrey/Wodonga have all had teams fast tracked up the competition pyramid only to be relegated, or fold completely.
Regional teams face significant travel costs, smaller player pools, fewer revenue opportunities and a wage premiums when signing top tier players. Forcing these clubs into metro-centric systems does not solve the problems they face but rather exacerbates these problems with tougher on-field competition which set clubs up for failure.
Even Cup Competition isn’t immune to these problems. Early rounds of the FFA Cup already face fixture issues and are often played midweek. This provides a further issue for regional clubs and leads to many forfeited games. On top of this, metropolitan clubs, even in early rounds of the FFA Cup are usually of a higher standard leading to early exists for the few regional clubs who compete and makes is tough for regional clubs to justify competing in the FFA Cup at all. This ensure many regional clubs never even have the chance of benefiting from the platform the FFA Cup provides, even at its earlier stages.
A Regional Cup would provide a better competition for clubs. Early stages of competition would be more appropriately zoned which would improve travel practicality, and the more like-for-like competition would provide improved odds of progression. A Regional Cup would also allow for more flexibility in fixture with the ability to coordinate with the smaller pool of regional associations rather than try to navigate the congested metropolitan club schedule.
A Regional Cup would also justify increased promotion opportunities that Regional Clubs are rarely exposed to. These include telling community stories and streaming matches via Football Victoria’s channels. The exposure, in lieu of regular top tier club football, would also provide an important platform for the scouting of country talent so that Regional Youth can enjoy opportunities with larger teams.
Regional clubs aren’t fully benefiting from Victoria’s wave of change
In media, Victoria’s early adoption of live streaming is helping transform the way people consume State Football. Victoria also gave birth to FNR, Australia’s only 24/7 football radio station. Few regional matches are streamed and little regional coverage is provided on FNR. Regional teams simply don’t play in large enough markets, or high up enough in the NPL.
In facilities, Football Victoria is more effectively lobbying government and communicating its facilities strategy in mainstream media. The FFA Cup and National Second Division are two key components in the lobbying effort to lift standards but Regional clubs don’t play at a high enough level to leverage these two factors.
In competitions, the Australian Association of Football Clubs was established in Victoria and quickly found itself at the table with the FFA for discussions in the establishment of a national second division. Many Regional clubs however are struggling to jump from their local associations to the metro leagues so have limited ability to hope for more competitive football.
A Regional Knockout Competition, on top of the existing FFA Cup, would help non-metropolitan areas maximise the benefits of improved media, facilities and competitions but most importantly, a Regional Knockout Competition will provide a little more inspiration for clubs to dream bigger.