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Look for next deal to make loud statement

Date

Sebastian Hassett

ANALYSIS

For those more attuned to the big two codes, Football Federation Australia's new television rights deal - $40 million a season until 2016 - might not seem immediately impressive, especially when you consider the AFL earns more than six times as much and the NRL roughly five times as much.

But don't get bogged down in the fine print. The devil isn't in the detail. Football never expected to secure a comparable figure, nor was the A-League ever created on such expectations.

For all the internal delusions of grandeur, football knows it is only laying the foundations to build the biggest house on the street. That means small steps, even now, despite interest and legitimacy rising by the hour.

Patience and perspective are required. Even if recently-departed chief executive Ben Buckley infamously turned down a higher offer ($42 million a year) a few years back, this deal saves enough face in tougher financial times.

Frustrating though it might be to watch television networks throw bundles of cash at codes that still struggle out of their own regional footprint, football is still paying the price of revolution. Although change was absolutely necessary, year zero is barely eight years ago, and history can't be faked.

Try not to think of this deal as an end result. It's more a means by which football can stabilise immediately, then grow steadily for the next few years. However, it's the next deal that will determine football's future.

There, $40 million could become $75 million, or even the $100 million that Harold Mitchell, who played a key hand in the development of this deal, predicted back in 2008. That's a direct challenge for Buckley's replacement, David Gallop.

Crucial to that negotiation will be the forthcoming years with SBS. Their live Friday night matches are likely to be the make-or-break for Australian football on free-to-air television.

If it's a hit, and the viewing numbers are good, expect the likes of Seven, Nine and Ten - who have hardly boasted any interest in the A-League so far - to start agitating for a piece of the action. If any of them is ready for a bidding war, it's game on. The FFA beancounters dream of this day.

However, no such battle occurred this time around, and thus Fox Sports deserve credit for investing another big chunk of money. Their money essentially funded the A-League from scratch, and once more they'll primarily underpin the next four years.

As much as the game provides hours of high-quality content, it still leans on the direct cash pipeline from Pyrmont to Paddington. In the context of football history in Australia, where barely a cracker has been earned from the medium, it's been a win-win relationship. The margins are slim but football's hand has seldom been this strong.

The good news is the hand is getting bigger by the year - and in the current climate of exuberance, by the month. No wonder there's a palpable sense of optimism. Something is happening, and it's more than the ''Del Piero effect''. Sydney FC are on the bottom of the table, after all.

What is to be done with all this new cash? It's not a bounty but it is significant. The first priority must be shoring up existing markets rather than finding new ones. Let future regions demand teams, not the other way round.

The powerful Professional Footballers Australia lobby will clamour for a share. Rightly so, but their last collective bargaining agreement already established a premium position. Perhaps attention this time can help address the astounding lack of investment in infrastructure, youth development and quality coaching.

As Gallop has said last week on taking the job, this is the time to make things happen. Now he has the bank balance to do it.

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