The new Head of Hyundai A-League Greg O’Rourke has opened up about the future of the competition and how he’ll be driving growth in the coming years.
How do you do that?
The new man sat down with www.a-league.com.au managing editor Aidan Ormond to explain.
Greg, you’ve been spotted on the terraces at a few clubs already…
Yes, I was up in Brisbane recently. I had a few beers in the Fanatics Bar at Brisbane Roar and spoke to the punters.
How was that?
They were a bit stunned. They were like, ‘You’re the head of the A-League and you’re sitting here with us having a beer with us?’
I wanted to understand what they were looking for as fans. They said they were concerned about the off-field situation ownership and felt they had a real stake in the whole of the club not just the football.
And they all wanted to know if it was it all okay and can we just get on with focusing on the field.
I was able to give them a sense of relief in that we’re just about there [with that ownership question], that’s almost sorted. And they were excited by that
In Newcastle I had the same conversation with fans. I sat in the grandstand and they told me they had been disappointed by the quality of their team on the field [in the past]. And I spoke to some of the local businessmen about why invest in Newcastle.
That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m not staying in the corporate boxes.
By the end of Round 6 I would’ve been to everyone’s home games at least once.
I’m continuing my journey in the game.
So apart from coming from a corporate background this is not new to me. This is my style.
Standing on the terraces, with the punters, sharing a meat pie watching the game and trying to get my jacket and tie off as quick as I can, because that’s where you get the insights to help run the game.
You’ve been in the job two months. What are your overall thoughts on the Hyundai A-League?
The thing that makes us difference from competitor codes is the atmosphere. The atmosphere the fans have created…
We’ve just got to keep within the edges of that framework … and we don’t want to inhibit it. We don’t want to sanitise the game or make it vanilla.
You want all the really good things we’re seeing, being able to co-exist inside the laws of the game. We’re stretching it a little bit but we think that’s our attractiveness.
That’s what people are going to pay attention to. They’ll pay attention to Timmy but also the type of football across Australia and New Zealand.
That said how difficult is it to drive the changes needed at corporate level?
I think that was why I was employed.
So I don’t feel that I was asked to do this role and then I’ve got to seek permission to make change.
Part of my brief coming in was to take my experience to make change.
That’s a very different dynamic because other people inside FFA and inside whole of game are looking for you to do what you’re looking to do.
So it makes it easier.
And we’re right in this time when fans, media, club owners, players, everyone is saying, ‘Okay, what’s going to take us to the next level? Because we think we’re ready to go now’.
So actually having hands on the steering wheel at this point in time it’s a bit easier to drive when people are allowing you to make those subtle turns.
And those subtle changes, can you elaborate?
There is a very clear FFA strategy around four things of which three I have particular focus on in this role.
The area around connectivity between all levels of the game is the bit that is really close to my heart.
I want to drive that, but the primary strategic intent is to make the Hyundai A-League and Westfield W-League the primary focus of the business.
The W-League has been going for eight years bubbling away but it hasn’t really been taken to centre stage. Like it needs to. That is acore strategic part of my job.
And then there’s the connection between the grassroots and how we turn participants into fans. And our connectivity with NPL clubs and of course the FFA Cup, which I really want to focus on because they deliver to the strategic intentions.
So to the question, how do you do that? There are some big buckets not the least of which is expansion.
How integral are younger fans to the future growth of the Hyundai A-League?
Yes [they are]… and it is a critical part of the “You’ve Gotta Have A Team” campaign, by getting a 10-year-old saying you’re going to have to make a choice of which team to support.
If you look at our competitor codes with the AFL and NRL it’s the other way, your parents often will take you will take you to the football.
We are trying to capture those young boys and girls of 10 to 15 years old so they get rusted on to a team and convince their parents to follow.
We think we can have fans who “generation-up” because [regarding growth] it’s a long-term thing.
Given this, how important is a digital strategy to FFA?
Absolutely it is the current medium and who knows what the future brings but clearly if we are not digitally savvy in respect of your brand, we are going to miss the absolute target audience we are looking for.
We measure broadcast and we also measure digital reach on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Our digital reach is growing which means it’s working – and even when the conversations are negative people are still participating.
And potentially there’s a platform out there that’s still in development that we need to be across. Whatever that is, any combination of text, video or whatever, or something different… but traditional media is not our target audience.
What do you hear and see in the corporate world when you make your way through the boardrooms?
To be really frank they don’t say a lot and that is something that we have to change.
So, when they talk about the sports of interest in business – and it’s not about love of the game it’s about value and return for sponsors and commercial partners – we would be the third if not fourth if all.
AFL clearly is the market leader with other sports sitting in behind them.
My job is to make sure that football becomes a part of a conversation, it becomes an option and more of a discussion much more than it currently is.
How do you do that?
With the A-League we want to make the game itself a magnet for people to say, ‘how good is this product? I want to consume it’.
So you don’t have to be a [grassroots] participant to enjoy that.
However one of our advantages over competitor codes is we have all these participants who love the game.
So you got this critical mass of people who can continue to amplify the story.
We need to capture them as well because about half of those in the participant base have no A-league team.
But it’s predominantly about the A-League that we have to get people saying, ‘you know what, it’s Friday night, I’m going to go home grab a few beers and sit down to watch this Friday Night Football’.
And that’s A-League not what they’ve consumed in winter.
We believe consume it one or two times and you’ll be hooked. The question is, how do we find and facilitate you to consume this.
Presumably free-to-air TV would be part of that solution?
We are already seeing with our current FTA broadcaster SBS 2, our numbers are up by about 50% on Friday nights.
What we think then is in the new broadcast deal, we would be looking to get one, if not two, free-to-air games in addition to the ones we’re currently seeing for SBS.
So if there are five games, which there is, then we will expect to get one or two.
If there were six [games] in an expansion model, that mathematics works even better for free to air and subscription TV where you could have two on FTA and four on subscription TV and both those partners could work in unison.
Which is one of the other reasons behind why expansion now makes sense.People say, ‘well why now?’ Why not before? There are a couple of other commercial reasons why six games make more sense than five games.
With expansion, broadly speaking, when do you think we might see two new clubs to make a six-game round?
I truly believe we’ll see within the next broadcast deal.
The next broadcast period starts next year and we won’t see expansion next year, but before it [the next broadcast deal expires] we’ll see expansion. That’s what I want, anyway.
Interesting enough, since we’ve been speaking about expansion much more over the last three months, we’ve received many unsolicited applications of expressions of interest from Far North Queensland, Perth, Tasmania and I was in New Zealand and they were asking me about a second team.
There is interest all over our footprint to be part of our expansion process.
Expand where the viewers and numbers are are in larger city centres, or regional areas? What view do you have on that?
My view is, FFA has gone to regional areas in the past, and some of those have failed. And we need to make sure we don’t repeat the past.
But I don’t think we should exclude from our thinking any regions.
We may be brought a proposal that is much bigger and of greater benefit to the game than we ever expected.
I’m expecting that and I’m expecting to be surprised by someone coming to us and saying, we should have an A-League team here and we say ‘wow’….
Because we don’t know everything about every inch of the map.I think there’s a lot to be said about harnessing opportunities in big cities but I’m not going to rule out the regions.
And I think part of this goes to how the game will be consumed in the future…
That’s a fascinating point. How will the game be consumed in the future, do you think?
If you think about subscription TV and how it’s consumed and where it can be rolled out, it brings a natural restriction.
But if this game is going to be consumed through a Telco, it actually opens up a much broader application of consumption and therefore commercial ability.
The reasons now are very different to the reasons four years ago about where [to expand] because if you grab your phone or a device and watch a game, you could be anywhere.
So a consumer in Asia having a Telco with rights to the A-League could watch on their device?
We are more and more getting asked that question.
I have already asked our media guys to give me an answer in two areas of Asia in respect to inquiries people have who want to tap into our game from Hong Kong, Indonesia…
I think that’s the future.
The football landscape in 10 years in Australia?
I think it will be substantially different. You would find it would be part of mainstream sports consumption in Australia.
I think you would see a minimum of 16 teams.
I think you would see a connected pathway from small children who as five- and six-year-olds can see a pathway to be Socceroos and Matildas. That would be our sign of success.
We would have a successful national team and we would have our Hyundai A-League and Westfield W-League seen as a mainstream sporting leagues in Australia.