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Judgement day approaches for Buckley

by Ben Somerford on Dec 01, 2011

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Football Federation Australia (FFA) may have hit an all-time low following North Queensland Fury's axing from the A-League, but in recent months the perception has improved. It has even been suggested that perhaps the organisation has learned from some of its mistakes.

But the ultimate test for CEO Ben Buckley and company awaits.

And that test is the next TV rights deal, with the current contract due to expire in 2013. That means there's less than two years to go and the bargaining, to make the FFA's product appear as valuable as possible, has already begun.

Indeed, Buckley used Monday's FFA Annual General Meeting to get on the front foot and begin his pitch.

The FFA CEO said all the right things too, discussing a four-year strategic plan, taking the Socceroos into the top 10 and making the A-League one of the best competitions in Asia.

Of course, if you cast your mind back a few years you'll remember Buckley was labelled as the brains behind the AFL's huge TV rights deal with Channel Seven and 10. So Buckley's biggest test should also be the one he's most comfortable with.

And, with Frank Lowy unanimously re-elected to the FFA chairmanship earlier this week, Buckley surely will be under pressure to get a great deal for football.

Lowy has previously given Buckley his full backing when football fans were calling for his head, for instance after the failed World Cup bid or in light of the failure of A-League expansion in Townsville.

But this TV rights deal is a big moment for the code, particularly given the AFL's bumper broadcast deal earlier this year will have sucked a lot of money away.

There is plenty for Buckley to work with, particularly given the 2011-12 A-League season has been a breath of fresh air for the embattled FFA. Suddenly there's a positive feel about the code when 12 months ago it was a vastly different situation.

And Buckley's trump card at Monday's AGM was “football's ambition”.

Unfortunately, the game needs capital to invest if they are to fulfil this ambition and that capital would likely come from the TV rights deal. Essentially it is about the game's “potential” - meaning a broadcaster would need to make an investment that is somewhat of a gamble.

Whether anyone is willing to do that remains to be seen, but boosting football's chances of finding such a suitor will be chief among Buckley's concerns over the next year or so. The image the FFA and Buckley spin will be all about ambition and stability.

The A-League, for once, has had any expansion talk put on hold, despite the desire from some fans for a western Sydney club. Again, this is about appearing stable.

There certainly is a platform for the FFA to work from and as an organisation they seem to have improved in many ways already this year. Whether or not that'll equate to achieving their said ambition and potential remains to be seen, but the pitch for a big TV rights deal has begun.