Silver Lake’s investment into the A-Leagues will fund a long-term, digitally-led engagement program, writes Tom Smithies
“They used to say that every time Australia failed to qualify for a World Cup, the AFL and NRL opened another bottle of champagne. Well today they must be putting the cork back in the bottle.”
On November 17 2005, the morning after Australia had qualified for a first World Cup in 32 years, the then-CEO of Football Federation Australia, John O’Neill, couldn’t contain his excitement.
Almost 16 years later, Australia’s elite football clubs could be forgiven for a similar level of optimism, at the news that private equity giants Silver Lake have bought a substantial stake in the A-Leagues that values the latter at some $300m.
Just 10 months after the clubs were given the keys to running the A-Leagues, this is some endorsement of the strategy unfolding to convert years – even decades – of latent potential into commercial growth.
The key to understanding the significance lies in Silver Lake’s primary portfolio – it invests in technology opportunities, and this particular investment is (among other things) designed to fund the A-Leagues’ determination to build a data-driven football content platform as a means to engage new generations of fans. This use of technology to drive the growth of a sport has already been hugely successful with UFC, and is at the heart of the A-Leagues’ entire strategy.
Silver Lake’s other investments will also be part of the equation in bringing expertise in complementary areas – notably TEG, the owners of Ticketek – and the investment timeline for Silver Lake in APL is said to be “long term”.
It’s as important, though, to note what the money is not for. It won’t go straight into the pockets of owners who have already invested millions of dollars themselves, nor will it feed directly to the players (or coaches, or administrators).
In short, this is the war chest that Australian football has never really had to fund a long-term program of digital-first engagement with fans through the clubs, through the grassroots, and through myriad lines of digital communication.
At the heart will be the new digital platform, designed to attract fans of football from all quarters – come for the breadth of global coverage, and stay for the uniquely Australian content.
But that program is intended to work in harmony with a new home on the Ten/Paramount+ that takes both A-Leagues onto free-to-air TV, methodically taking the A-Leagues “product” to consumers.
That product will also benefit from the injection of capital, in the sense of providing supporters with better experiences on game day and new ways of engaging with the teams year-round, across all the leagues – women’s, men’s, youth and esports.
Neither Rome nor the A-Leagues’ future will be built in a day. But the strategy is in place to grow over the long term, and now the funding is too.