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Lawyers by their nature are not gamblers and despite a few rash comments, Football Federation Australia CEO David Gallop doesn’t come across as a man who would be first in line if the organisation installed a roulette table in their headquarters.
But even the most sober of lawyers would have to act if they were given $346m from a TV network and told to place a bet that will affect the future of the whole sport. One spin, and doing nothing is not an option. The stakes couldn’t be higher
Last time the FFA were faced with a similar decision, they bet on red and black and won big. But as several teams gear up for expansion, there is no obvious safe and each potential franchise comes with its own risks.
Gallop and the FFA are still as oblique as ever on the criteria for any new franchise, beyond viability of size and fan-base, as they weigh up the odds.
Most keen are Geelong, South Melbourne and Tasmania, as reflected by the bookies’ pricing. None are certainties, though.
Pundits will point to the success of Melbourne Victory’s sojourn to Western Victoria, but it would be wrong to assume an impressive crowd size of over 14,000 at Simonds Stadium means Geelong is ready to host a franchise.
The Victory’s game was played at the height of holiday season and before any conclusions can be made as to the viability of a franchise, you first have to separate what numbers are existing Victory supporters or day-trippers and which numbers are Geelong natives.
Satisfy the FFA with those numbers and the odds start tumbling. Geelong is a serious contender but that doesn’t necessarily translate into support from the governing body, as Canberra, who are still licking their wounds from their failed franchise bid in 2012, will attest.
Or indeed South Melbourne.
The child of the old Hellas club is one of the most well-known names from the old NSL days and was beaten to a licence by Melbourne Heart, and were later rebuffed in their attempts to buy the Heart.
South Melbourne has long coveted an A-League licence. Like the Western Sydney Wanders, and unlike Melbourne City, they have a clearly defined fan-base and a sense of community within the city. On paper, they are one of the strongest candidates.
And yet, the FFA has been lukewarm in the past and may be reluctant to entertain a third Melbourne team so soon. The city could sustain a third franchise, but there is a real chance this could dilute support for the existing clubs. Melbourne City especially are still slowly developing their supporter base and there’s only so long a Cahill bounce can last for – most probably until his legs give way.
Politically, the FFA may also feel they need to expand into a territory that isn’t currently served by an A-League team, such as the Gold Coast.
Or, indeed, Tasmania.
There is no doubt the local government would love a Tasmanian franchise and while any club would be competing against the Hobart Hurricanes for bums on seats, the island fills the definition of an untapped market and would relish being a David against the Goliaths of Sydney and Melbourne.
But passion alone won’t impress the FFA and a stadium remains one of Tasmania’s biggest issues, as does the rivalry between Hobart and Launceston. Base the club solely in one area and you risk alienating half your market.
On the opposite side, if the FFA want to properly tap into a heritage name and an existing fan-base, perhaps they’ll decide to listen to the pundits who have long championed Wollongong’s case for expansion. The Wolves were one of the biggest names from the NSL and the area has the support base in the Shire without the risk of syphoning off existing support from Sydney FC and the Wanderers.
But the FFA hasn’t exactly shown itself to be overly sentimental or nostalgic when it comes to selecting franchises and purely going by attendances and the demands of TV networks, they may view Geelong or South Melbourne as a sure fire winner.
Again, much depends on how lucky the FFA is feeling in the crapshoot.
Then there’s another gamble of aiming for a second Queensland team, either in or out of Brisbane. The risks here are more apparent. Bring in the Brisbane Strikers and you risk destabilising the Roar at a point in time when the owners have a rocky relationship with their supporters.
And while there is a thriving football scene in Queensland, memories of Gold Coast Unity and the Fury probably still keep some at the FFA awake at night. Will those bad dreams mean they stay away from the Sunshine State?
While sports administrators aren’t a breed that attract much in the way of sympathy, it’s hard not to feel a little for Gallop and his team.
Whichever way they bet, the minute the next franchise is announced, there will inevitably be a long line of pundits and fans queuing up to tell the authorities why they’re wrong.
Time will tell if this set of gamblers hit upon a hot streak by creating the next Western Sydney Wanderers or loses all momentum by giving us another New Zealand Knights.