Wellington Phoenix have been the subject of big debate ever since they joined the competition in 2007.
The Wellington Phoenix have long been the cat among the pigeons of the A-League, albeit it a docile moggy, requiring the occasional prod to make sure its still alive. Yet, year after year they bat away calls for disbandment and prove their place in the competition.
So, that time rolls around again, kickstarted by the recent expansion and a carrot dangled by the FFA to any future ventures. Cue online speculation that failed expansion bids are in line for the Nix’s license.
The ten-year expansion signed by the club in 2016 is broken into three-year renewal cycles the first of which coincides with the start of the 2020-21 season when MacArthur South-West United join.
Comments from the sport’s suits did little to ease the concerns of Nix fans. FFA Chris Nikou comments reflected that of a man forced to humour his senile aunt at family Christmas.
“Wellington are a member of the A-League, so that’s the starting position. They’ve got a right to be in the A-League. They know what they need to do to maintain that,” Nikou said.
So what do the Nix need to do? Meet metrics — the ever-ambiguous concept driving FFA decisions. With the FFA continually acting under self-obsessive secrecy it’s not clear what these metrics are.
But, they’re understood to be generic enough. Increase crowd numbers, grow support bases and capture larger television viewerships.
It’s not unreasonable to criticise the Phoenix if they are failing to conduct themselves in the manner of a professional sports club, come FFA paycheck. But, the Phoenix are viewed with an expectation that they’re the fault for the standard of the league in Australia.
Attendance figures will always be the smoking gun for the ‘failings’ of the Nix, conveniently ignoring the consistently high standard of the Westpac Stadium pitch and New Zealand broadcasting team.
Viewed in the Australian context, most comfortable for outside eyes, the numbers are too low. But the Nix manage to attract decent crowds in a smaller city, in a country arguably less interested in the round ball game. Those that are there are committed too.
In the Yellow Fever, the Wellington Phoenix have one of the most invested and cherished supporter groups in the league.
Very much ingrained as furniture of the club, they are a rarity in the competition, compounded by the recent loss of City’s Melburnians.
Uprooting that for, say, a new Canberra team with a crowd of fresh football fans and pollies seeking photo-ops is beyond senseless.
Asking clubs to address declining TV viewerships is like asking polar bears to fix climate change. The failings of the FFA to promote the competition has been shifted on to clubs, with a wave of the finger and closed eyes and ears.
Viewers are expected to watch a stagnant product, through little fault of the clubs. The A-League’s marketing strategy is non-existent and international promotion consists of trawling European clubs’ player lists for anyone over the age of 33 and speculating whether they’ll ignore the millions of the MLS or Chinese Super League for beaches and the odd kangaroo.
Archaic transfer rules welcome a player recycling station where each season is a chance for Mitch Nichols to pick up a new set of colours, the same players working their way through the competition.
Wellington Phoenix find themselves the easiest target in a league where the problems are countless. The pass across a drawn out keeper, rather than a finish into the corner.
Under the guise of metrics, the FFA have ammunition against the outsider, and they’ll continue to fire in ambiguously toned, buzzword-filled soundbites.
The sooner the A-League and its community fully owns the Nix the better, and if Phar Lap or Sam Neill are anything to go by, Australians have no trouble claiming Kiwis as their own.
Wellington Phoenix are what the league needs – a community-driven club, providing excellent facilities. Their only fault is that they’re the outsiders.