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Nov 30, 2011

Smith Review brings battle on two fronts

The A-League will struggle to survive unless player salaries and high stadium rents are cut.

That is the big pill contained within the federal government's prescription for soccer - the Smith Review - released on Thursday.

Most of what lies within the 42-page report and its 11 recommendations is self-evident, or fairly easy to implement.

A-League clubs must tap into grassroots support better.

The competition shouldn't be expanded further until it is in a better financial place.

Club owners should be given more of a say in how the competition is run. After all, they're the ones putting in the dollars to make it happen.

But Australian Sports Commission chairman Warwick Smith's report takes exception with A-League player salaries.

It says freeze the salary cap. Even better, look at reducing it.

Seven separate times in the report, player salaries are mentioned.

Most times with the subtlety of a Kevin Muscat tackle.

The language is evocative or provocative, depending on your point of view.

This from page five: "Costs must be reduced - player salaries and stadia deals represent costs disproportionate to revenue. The A-League must live, and grow, within its means."

Or page 29: "Compared to other football codes, A-League players are receiving a significantly higher proportion of the revenue that their competition generates.

"AFL, NRL and Super Rugby players receive approximately 20 per cent of the income generated by their respective leagues, compared to over 40 per cent that A-League players receive."

Page 30 makes it clear what must be done: "The salary cap must be revisited. At a minimum it should be frozen but there is a case for exploring a salary cap reduction. The salary floor, which artificially inflates salaries, should also be examined."

The current collective bargaining agreement, signed off earlier this year by the players' union and the FFA, goes until the end of 2012-13.

The union doesn't need to do anything if it doesn't want to. It's got a deal.

And Professional Footballers Australia boss Brendan Schwab counters Smith's 40 per cent plus figure is wrong - saying the actual revenue share for players is far less and comparable with other sports.

But FFA chief executive Ben Buckley says there is a need for "sensible conversations" between both parties in the wake of the Smith Review.

Taking a pay cut is unpalatable in any form of work.

When prescribed by a quasi-government body, it becomes even more so.

But, says the report, it must be done for the good of the game.

Ask yourself, would you take a $100 a week pay cut to ensure there is still a workplace around for those who are following you?

The FFA says it will implement all recommendations in the report.

On this one, it faces the hardest of sells.

The other battleground for the FFA and the A-League is with stadium owners to get better deals for clubs.

While some have it right - Melbourne Victory has a deal with Etihad Stadium some AFL clubs would kill for - most clubs are paying unsustainable rents for their stadia.

In Queensland, the state government through Stadiums Queensland has a monopoly on the venues a club like Brisbane Roar must use.

And Stadiums Queensland has had a running battle with Gold Coast United over that club's cumbersome and expensive deal.

Buckley is very strong in the view the competition won't compromise on the quality of stadia.

They don't want suburban grounds, instead big-city facilities.

Both Buckley and the report are in unison - give us cut-price rents until we grow, then you'll be rewarded.

So too will the FFA if it implements the recommendations.

The elephant in the room is that there's no mention of future government funding levels to soccer.

That, it would appear, is dependent on football swallowing its government-administered medicine.

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