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FFA’s expansion criteria of having a market of a million people is creating a new wave of ‘multi city’ spreadsheet clubs clambering for A-League inclusion.
The early failures of Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury have put FFA off adding new expansion teams in regional cities.
The lesson they have taken away from these failures is that places with small populations will struggle to support an A-League team.
Unfortunately, this has driven new expansion bids to inflate the size of their catchment areas by adding regions together which might have little in common. Will they be stable long-term?
Of the current A-League teams the Phoenix are the most obvious as they have taken ‘home’ games outside Wellington to places like Auckland, Christchurch and Palmerston North.
Not only do they claim to represent Wellington but they also market themselves as a team for the whole of New Zealand!
Central Coast Mariners
Because of poor crowds in their own home market, the Mariners tried selling themselves as a team for Canberra under a kind of ‘Capital Mariners’ concept.
But the deal with Canberra has fallen through and the Mariners are currently looking for other cities to partner with and take matches to.
Canberra are now rumoured to be interested in forming a link with Wellington because of direct flights between the cities.
What a mess.
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The Phoenix and Mariners are both teams who already exist but the interesting thing is how many new expansion bids follow the same model.
The Tasmanian bid, which kicked off the current expansion frenzy, will play most of their games in Hobart, with a few in Launceston and maybe a couple of FFA Cup matches on the north-west coast.
The north-south divide may be an issue but promoting a team as representing the whole state is seen as more solid commercially.
The Northern Fury are keen to return to the A-League at some point and have stated that they would like to share matches around between Townsville, Cairns and Darwin.
Northern Fury chairman Rabieh Krayem did an interview with Outside90 about all the issues up there, which is well worth a listen.
A new region bidding for an A-League license is Geelong under the Victoria Patriots bid.
This team will be based in Geelong but will also claim to represent not only Ballarat, Bendigo, Colac, Warrnambool, Werribee and the whole of western Victoria but also the western suburbs of Melbourne.
Melbourne City have taken notice of this and are now promoting themselves as the team for Geelong, but they will also have to compete with Victory in this regard.
It makes more sense to have Geelong represented by two Melbourne teams than by one of their own. You know, like Tasmania.
Then there’s the Brisbane Strikers bid, where the team will be based in Ipswich but represent the ‘western corridor’ from Logan to Ipswich and on to Toowoomba.
Ipswich and Logan are both in Brisbane at least but Toowoomba is about 100 kilometres away in the Darling Downs region.
South-west Sydney could be the location for a new team if a bid from Fairfield is successful.
The team will be based at a new national ‘home of football’ in Fairfield but will also represent Liverpool and the Macarthur region.
Liverpool is close by, but Campbelltown is 33 kilometres from Fairfield, so will they want their own team in the future?
And wouldn’t Liverpool be a better location for a team in south-west Sydney, since it is easily accessible from both Fairfield and Campbelltown?
This is the big one. The southern expansion bid hopes to combine Sutherland, St George and Wollongong all under the one banner.
This seems unlikely to work when Lyall Gorman has stated that he wants the team to be an extension of the Sharks brand.
Not only are Sutherland and St George fierce rivals but Wollongong is a completely separate city from Sydney with a historic club of its own.
But the bid has the support of David Gallop, Greg O’Rourke, Lyall Gorman, Les Murray, Craig Foster and Morris Iemma.
I’ll put them down as a maybe…
Dude, where’s my club?
Expanding the A-League is a must, but questions need to be asked about the identity and stability of some of these bids.
The biggest problem facing the A-League is just trying to get fans to watch Australia’s top-flight competition. But it might not help if these new teams propagate and reinforce an already negative image some have.
With things like a salary cap and salary floor, an A-League run by FFA, FFA’s own governance structure, lack of fan ownership, the finals system, shared stadiums, teams playing each other three times, the franchise nature of teams and so on, the new mish-mash bids don’t do much to help.
The traditionalists and purists must be walking around looking at all this with Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What It’s Worth’ playing in their heads.
The issue of promotion-relegation might be contentious, but maybe it’s a better way of doing things than FFA trying to pick winners.
Promotion-relegation allows teams to enter the league based on performance rather than be introduced based on speculation.
I’m not so sure that building teams based on spreadsheets and just beaming them down out of nowhere is the best way to go. New bids might look good on paper, but if they try to combine areas which lack a common identity between them they could fail to find and keep loyal fans.
Having said all that, FFA will probably put the next two teams in Sydney to boost TV ratings and news coverage with 18 big derbies.
It might even generate the money they need for a second division.