The excitement and demand for new teams to enter Australian football has reached a tipping point, however we must proceed with caution, for there are just as many negatives as positives.
Fans are loathe to admit it, but the success of football does rely to a degree on the success of other codes.
Both the AFL and NRL (and, to some extent, rugby) by their very existence take fans and sponsorship away from our game. European, South American and Asian football have never had to compete in a similar market. Football dominates and drains the social, cultural and economic capital of those areas which has naturally led to its dominance over other sports those countries play.
You want a second division? We need to find the money for it to be funded – and it needs to be guaranteed year on year to be sustainable. Pro or semi-pro, the public and sponsors need to know that teams will be around for them to emotionally invest.
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Much of the push for a second division is coming from the big teams of the old NSL era, or those who have been relatively successful in the respective state competitions. However, bringing in teams like South Melbourne and Sydney United poses a conundrum.
The teams pushing for inclusion in a second division were the ones that failed at sustaining a national competition through the old NSL. Why would this time be any different? So what value would they bring to the professional game?
Who would support South Melbourne, for example, that wouldn’t already support the Victory or City? Would there be thousands of fans who support Sydney United and don’t already support the Wanderers?
How would teams like that survive in a professional league when they failed to thrive in a semi-professional league? Would they really bring any new converts?
Bentleigh Greens are frequently mentioned as a potential second-division team, as they have won a game against an A-League team in the FFA Cup, but their ‘stadium’ is a few benches built off a suburban paddock. Are these the types of grounds that TV will beam to the entire nation? It would make the second division second rate.
I have nothing against the clubs I’ve mentioned and any club is allowed to exist at any level that is sustainable, but the A-League is an artificial league, created for us by lawyers and marketers. It was not created from communities clamouring to test themselves in a professional league. It doesn’t have to exist for football to exist or be played in this country.
A lot of the issue around funding could be solved if the second division was televised, with guaranteed funding for the teams. Stadium sharing with rugby league clubs with reduced pricing could fill stadiums, making it look good for TV advertisers.
Whatever happens, I just hope it isn’t rushed.