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The A-League has finally announced that there will be two new teams come the 2019-20 season, long-awaited good news for Australian football fans.
The mad rush will be on like a Boxing Day sale as consortiums around the country excitedly prepare bids in the hope of joining the country’s elite. There are approximately ten active bids operating at the moment, and surely more will throw their hats into the ring as the day of reckoning comes close.
Geelong, South Melbourne, South East Melbourne, Southern Sydney, Wollongong, South West Sydney, Canberra, a second Brisbane side, Tasmania and West Adelaide all have working parties ready to go as the fight for licences 11 and 12 hots up.
Southern Sydney is a shoo-in with super-rich owners who already have a self-funded stadium at Loftus ready to be built and with a catchment area that is the envy of the country. No fewer than 40,000 registered footballers play in the area from St George to Sutherland, which is covered by Southern Expansion’s bid to the south coast. Chinese ownership means there will be hundreds of thousands more watching on TV from the most powerful country in the world on top of the domestic television audience.
So the real battle is the one for the 12th licence. There are numerous criteria that will be vital for the new team to meet, ranging from potential crowds and TV audiences, junior programs, female participation, geography and of course commercial strength. The last one goes hand in hand with the others.
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It is vital the FFA actually advise where they want teams. This will mean consortiums in those areas can get to work whilst others can stop wasting their time and money. There is no point in a bid coming from a region where there is little or no hope of them having a team in this round of expansion. Geography alone isn’t a sticking point, but a team from an area with a large population of registered footballers is far more likely to get the nod.
On this note we can pretty much rule out Geelong, South Melbourne, Canberra, West Adelaide and Wollongong. Sadly none of these bids will come close to the commercial firepower of the other bids due to sheer numbers in terms of population and football fans. Corporate partners will not have huge incentives to invest in those regions when even clubs in powerhouse markets are struggling.
Geelong has 4000 registered players, which is a healthy number for the region but sadly doesn’t come close to matching other bids. Geelong’s hope will be pinned on capturing the western suburbs of Melbourne, from Point Cook through to the western districts and up to Warrnambool.
But would Melbourne’s western suburbs-based football fans really want their team based in Geelong? I’m highly doubtful.
Geelong fans will point to Central Coast and Newcastle already having teams, but this is precisely the problem – the Mariners have had a largely successful club yet have struggled to bring in huge numbers. The Newcastle Jets are currently doing well but have been on the brink of collapse numerous times. The FFA cannot afford to fund another regional team that will struggle initially.
South Melbourne has a wonderful history but their fanbase is limited. While the club has gone out of its way to promote the fact it is more than just a Greek club, the vast majority of their fans would be from that background. Due to their historical rivalries with other NSL clubs, South is unlikely to capture too many fans nor bring in new football audiences.
West Adelaide will face exactly the same issue as South Melbourne in capturing the South Australian market, with the only difference being they don’t have the historical success of South Melbourne.
Canberra probably has the strongest regional bid, but at the end of the day just because it’s the nation’s capital doesn’t mean it will have a team at the expense of much more lucrative markets. Wollongong’s main problem is that Southern Expansion will get a licence, effectively ruling out of the equation a team based solely in Wollongong.
All of the above bids shouldn’t lose hope. They are all strong contenders for the next round of expansion, which will hopefully come in the next five to ten years.
This brings us to the teams that have a chance for 2019-20. Of the remaining four bids the second Brisbane proposal, the Brisbane City Gladiators, is the most likely one to get up.
There is a population of over two million people in Brisbane, with the Roar capturing only 8768 of them in 2017-18 as members. Football Brisbane had 29,012 registered players in 2017, with over 15 per cent of them female. A genuine rivalry for Brisbane Roar is vital for Queensland football and may prove a boost to the highly successful A-League club.
What is good about the Brisbane bid is that they may very well have a refurbished Ballymore Stadium to use as a home ground. This ground will have a much more intimate feel to it than the vast expanses of an empty Suncorp Stadium.
Further, the bid is backed by Socceroos great John Kosmina and features Thomas Broich as one of its ambassadors. These two men have strong pedigrees in terms of knowing Queensland football.
South West Sydney’s formal bidding party was put together in December last year. The proposed bid aims to use the ready-to-go Campbelltown Stadium as its base, and it is a council-back organisation.
The Macarthur region has over 10,000 registered players at present. If we add the Fairfield and Liverpool population base, we are looking at double those numbers. Western Sydney is expected to have a population close to 10 million people by 2036, and this area is the true heartland of football in this country.
Adding a western Sydney derby to the mix would be a juicy proposition for A-League stakeholders. The commercial possibilities, especially with a new airport coming in, are huge and something that cannot be ignored by FFA. A western Sydney derby would easily crack 50,000 fans for each game. These sorts of crowd figures are a dream for Australian football fans.
South East Melbourne has a population of 1.2 million people and has 12,000 registered footballers in its region. The club already has plans for a world-class training precinct at Casey Fields as well as a boutique stadium operating out of Dandenong.
The only catch for South East Melbourne is there are already two teams in Melbourne, one of which is struggling significantly. The mega-rich Melbourne City have failed to attract many more Victorians to the football landscape. Many argue this is because the club does not have a distinct geographical focal point. Perhaps this is where the South East Melbourne bid is strong. Adding another Melbourne derby would also have strong commercial backing from corporate partners.
Tasmania, with a population of nearly 600,000 people, is the interesting one. It is a state that is desperate for national attention on the sporting stage and would love a team of its own in a national domestic competition.
Tasmanian cricket teams aside, the apple isle does not feature any club team in its own right. Hawthorn and North Melbourne take AFL games there at present and the Hobart Devils NBL team is long gone.
Tasmanians are rightly proud of their state and would be keen to have an A-League team to follow. There are around 13,000 registered players in the state as well. The issue is where the team would play. Hobart and Launceston would both be keen to get a team, but will this rivalry diminish the support for a Tassie side?
The FFA has promised to reveal the criterion for expansion next month, with the new clubs set to be announced by October this year. Let the battle begin.