Any A-League fan can tell you, despite their love for the game, it only takes a Wellington Phoenix home game to show how far we’re still off the pace.
For a handful of clubs, attendances under 10,000 are common but none more despised than that of a match at the infamous Westpac Stadium in Wellington. Chilly gusts of wind unrelentingly buffets their fans, seated so far from the pitch that all their matches are devoid of atmosphere. It’s a concerning striking contrast between the Kiwi-side and their Australian counter-parts.
It has been such a recurring pattern for Phoenix, many have forgotten the charm this club once possessed. When the club were a mid-table side, they attracted over 20,000 people to their matches several times in Season 5, a record that not just suggests, but solidifies New Zealand’s assertions that their team has the potential to be a powerful player in the A-League market.
However, lacking in brand consolidation, a hated home stadium and a handful of underwhelming seasons in a row have seen the ‘Nix’s contribution questioned in recent years, most notably by Football Federation Australia and prominent football analyst Mark Bosnich. There’s a sense of impending doom with the club; many are simply waiting for their issues to force the FFA into writing the club’s name onto the A-League tombstone alongside Gold Coast United, North Queensland Fury and their fellow countrymen, the New Zealand Knights.
This is a state of emergency as the club is in dire need of a total overhaul. In more symbolic terms, like a Phoenix, the club needs to die and rise stronger from its ashes.
Many are panicking, but if Phoenix can play their cards right and capitalise on the biggest opportunity sitting right in front of them; solving the FFA’s expansion problem.
Ask any A-League fan what the league needs most right now and nine times out of ten you’ll see the e-word dropped again; expansion. There is an unquenchable thirst throughout the league to freshen up the opposition and create a bigger and better A-League. This is where Phoenix comes in… more accurately, out.
Phoenix offers the FFA a deal to take a one-year ‘break’ from competing in the A-League, with their place in the league temporarily relinquished while Wollongong Wolves are awarded a license. Before we start an expansion argument, I have selected the Wolves because they’re an established club and brand with a football specific stadium ready and would be the team most quickly inducted to the league in pretty much four months from now!
The plan would be the long-contracted Phoenix players are moved to the Illawarra-based club, who pay their wages from their own coffers for their first year only (effectively an on-masse one-year loan deal). In return, the Wolves are rewarded in two ways; the first option to re-sign the Phoenix players they want and a permanent A-League license ahead of South Coast Football’s rival bid.
The benefit for the FFA is twofold; firstly, they enormously save on the travel allowance budget they grant for each of the ten A-League clubs, otherwise permitted for subsidising long international trips to New Zealand. Secondly, they scratch the expansion itch Australian football fans are desperate for, possibly stopping the not-so-unlikely scenario of a club and fan revolt against the game’s executive leadership.
Most importantly, they allow Phoenix’s Welnix Group the opportunity to rebrand, re-strategise and re-energise their club, using their usual season budget.
The millions of dollars saved by not operating a football club will prove extremely crucial. It gives the club the chance to hire any of the best marketing agencies in the world to thoroughly research what is the best viable strategy in New Zealand and to make it happen. Personally, I believe strongly involving their jersey sponsor Adidas in that process could see a sleek and stylish brand grow in New Zealand.
Of course, it will answer many burning questions for the club, especially regarding how the club’s location, colours, logo and overall brand can capitalise on a market of four million people. With this budget, the plan should detail right down to even the smallest factors; style guides, social media and communications plans, three areas the club has struggled with over past seasons.
The budget should also allow for a long recruitment process in the football department and their administrative office, to ensure every dollar is spent effectively. On the football side, they can rethink their football direction and hire to achieve that style of football. In administrative duty, they can take months to seek the best employees in specialist positons in areas they are currently lacking.
When the Phoenix conclude their strategic hiatus from the national competition, they’ll come back bigger, better and stronger than what they are now. The FFA would see 11 teams already established for season 2018-19, meaning they would only have to allow one more club to join the league to even out their expansion goal of two more clubs by then.
With the momentum of the 2018 FIFA World Cup (fingers crossed) behind the governing body, football will be set for a steep ascendency, crucially heading into the final two years of their current TV rights deal. A successful World Cup and a thriving A-League straight after it could finally provide all football fans what really we are most desperate for; free-to-air televised football.
Phoenix might seem like a little, funny-accented, sheepish (pun-intended) irrelevance to our league now, but for me, they’re the golden ticket for the A-League to grow and thrive.
So Wellington Phoenix, live up to your name; die now and rise stronger from your ashes.