For the first time, football’s destiny is in its own hands

A-Leagues Managing Director Danny Townsend reveals why the launch of KEEPUP signals a new era for the game

It is rare that a sport gets to reset, and standing here in November 2021 I believe Australian football has never been better placed to fulfil its mammoth potential.

Our sport has always been a trailblazer, dating back decades, including the formation of the country’s first true national sporting code in 1977, the National Soccer League (NSL).

I was privileged to play in the NSL with Sydney United and Parramatta Power, while I have also served as CEO of Sydney FC. I have experienced highs and lows in both eras.

With the A-Leagues now following most of the world’s serious football competitions in unbundling from the national federation, the domestic leagues are unshackled from some of the inevitable regulatory structures that Football Australia and others are governed by.

We have been in charge for less than a year, during a turbulent period, at the height of a global pandemic that forced every sporting competition in Australia to slash spending or reassess their finances.

But when I reflect on what we have achieved in that short period, when public confidence in football was a low ebb, I am proud of our team:

  • Managed two seasons through COVID without missing a game
  • A-League Women Expansion – Wellington in 2021/22 and minimum two more teams in 22/23
  • Introduced a world-first A-Leagues Club Championship 
  • 5-year CBA in partnership with the PFA for men and women
  • Landmark Media deal with ViacomCBS (Network 10 and Paramount+)
  • Finalised separation from FA, setup new business
  • Hired over 20 staff in 2021 and moved into a new office
  • Completed world-leading, Australia-first rebrand of A-Leagues
  • Secured new naming rights deal – Isuzu UTE A-League
  • Setup a production capability APL Studios from scratch by bringing on production partner Global Advance.
  • Launched a digital and data Infrastructure transformation of A-League and clubs
  • Built and launched our new digital platform and brand KEEPUP

Most of these are big standalone projects, to pack them into such a short timeframe is a testament to our team and underscores the fact that we have a long-term plan that key operators locally and abroad believe in, which augurs well for our future.

Some fans might be thinking great, but what does this mean for us? Fans have been at the heart of our decision-making, and our grand vision is to transform the football fan experience.

It will take time, but fans will notice changes this season, if they haven’t already. The commitment of our new broadcast partner is a case in point. As reported there were other interested parties, but to us it was clear that Ten and Paramount+ (owned by ViacomCBS) would invest in us and the clubs and the fans like no other.

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Ten’s “Home of Football” and A-Leagues promos have been well received, and it will be great to see them elevate the game to the next level, after Fox Sports’ huge collective investment since 2005.

But importantly we are taking destiny into our own hands, with the launch of our digital platform, underpinned by our digital and data infrastructure overhaul.

KEEPUP is the new digital home of football in Australia. The website and App will provide in-depth content on the A-Leagues, Australian football home and abroad and players, clubs and topics that interest the millions of football fans that call Australia home.

We are confident fans will enjoy the immersive new experience, despite this merely being the first phase of the KEEPUP evolution.

This is a great example of how unbundling is enabling us to unlock commercial opportunities that sit in the professional game.

Football is the world’s biggest game and we are applying a global lens to our strategy – on and off the field. For fans it will mean Australian and overseas football in one place, while on the field it’s about embracing players’ journeys wherever it takes them. 

We’re committed to growing the game in Australia – for everyone. That means delivering a world-class experience on and off the pitch, and inspiring the next-generation of A-Leagues superstars to fulfil their highest potential. This is just the beginning of our ambitious, long-term vision for the growth of football in Australia.

ViacomCBS will bring the A-League men and women to life from the outset and remain a crucial part of our future. To be a key partner in the launch of a new OTT platform, Paramount+, is exciting for the A-Leagues and Australian football.

Football is over 100 years old in Australia, and I’d like to acknowledge the contribution everyone has made to this great game over that time.

The Socceroos and Matildas are strong brands that have an affinity with Australians, but any serious football nation is underpinned by a strong domestic competition.

The recent Matildas and Olyroos (Tokyo 2020) performances have highlighted the importance of the A-Leagues players and production line.

The 2023 World Cup will be a watershed moment for Australian and world football, and expanding the A-League women for the first time since 2015 and announcing the biggest batch of additions since the competition began in 2008 ensures we demonstrate our commitment and show a pathway for more aspiring female athletes.

We’ll take risks and we won’t get everything right, but it will be exciting.

Strap yourselves in. Here Come The Future.