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A-League should fish where the fish are

The Wanderers are an A-League success story. (AAP Image/ Julian Smith)
Roar Rookie
9th March, 2018
57

The last time the A-League expanded, by two teams, it was mired in the ‘one city, one team’ policy and was expanding to enhance the World Cup bid rather than the A-League itself.

This time around, there are great success stories like the Western Sydney Wanderers that show what can be achieved through expansion.

The Wanderers highlight the ability to tap into passion for the game, as well as the huge population and participant numbers. There are currently 1.1 million players in this country, according to the Australian Sports Commission, making it the highest participation sport.

In NSW, there are around 250,000 club based (not school) participants and almost 50 per cent of all participants are in this state. Most are in Sydney, where there are huge associations in the Sutherland Shire, Northern Beaches and South Western Sydney. Each of those areas has around 25,000 registered participants and they have ready-made stadiums.

David Gallop is often quoted saying that they should “fish where the fish are”, which is probably translated to the FFA’s stated aim of “connecting participants to fans”. If this is a guide, then surely they would be looking at one of these areas for a third Sydney team?

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A new license should also consider that 60 per cent of the population lives in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. This means that the major commercial centres for sponsorship and advertising revenues exist in these cities and broadcasters like teams from these areas.

This is important, as the current broadcast deal is worth around $50 million per year and more people watching will grow this.

Major codes like the AFL realise these commercial realities, so went to western Sydney instead of Tasmania when they expanded. According to the 2016 census, western Sydney and southeast Melbourne will be their own major cities by 2035. They are growing at faster rates than anywhere else in the country.

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Southeast Melbourne have almost 20,000 participants, big NPL clubs already there and a population of over 1 million. They’re far enough away from Victory and Melbourne City that they wouldn’t eat into one another’s turf. They just need a stadium. If they could pull this off, they could be another Wanderers.

Brisbane is surely due for another team. There are participation numbers of around 40,000 and the Brisbane Roar haven’t done a great job tapping into this.

It’s a growth city too, with well over 2 million residents. Stadia is a notorious issue – there is nothing worse than watching the Roar play at a cavernous Suncorp. Does Brisbane have the football passion, or is it the heartland for the rugby codes?

The only other place that the FFA should look at is Canberra. The head of the A-League, Greg O’Rourke is on record saying that expansion would be “on the eastern seaboard”. Does this include Canberra?

The ACT has produced great players in recent years, but it’s not that big a place – only about 400,000. Both their current professional sports teams struggle commercially and their stadium needs upgrading. They do have large numbers of participants, no major summer competitors and some prestige of being the capital, but there must be better options ahead of them.

The other aspect to consider is derbies, which are now the lifeblood of the league and we need more of them. A new Sydney and Melbourne team would create around six additional derbies per city. A new Brisbane team would add three. Canberra wouldn’t add any.

If the FFA were bold, they could bring in a club from all three major cities by removing Wellington. This would provide more derbies, more quality and provide pathways for Australian players.