A national second division is the logical place to introduce boutique stadia into the top tiers of Australian football and substantially improve the fan experience.
The troubles at Central Coast Mariners have now put the club’s future in doubt with unsuccessful bids now circling like vultures after their licence.
According to The World Game, “There are whispers from within the New Leagues Working Group – the body tasked with formulating the structure of the framework for an independently run competition – that the Mariners’ licence might be distributed elsewhere, possibly to a second team in Brisbane or even to Canberra.”
This then raises the question, if the Mariners licence can be distributed elsewhere, then so can those of Melbourne City and Wellington Phoenix.
So, with Mariners, City and Phoenix all on the chopping block and Western United entering, we could have as many as four new teams next season with Canberra, Tasmania and Wollongong being the people’s choices. But more realistically, it would be Canberra, Macarthur and South East Melbourne.
Canberra seems to have the support of other clubs as well as tentative support from FFA now that they have placed the next two teams in Sydney and Melbourne, in line with demands by Fox.
Macarthur are set to enter in the 2020-21 season and this could be brought forward by taking over Wellington’s licence, while Melbourne City’s licence could go to South East Melbourne. You may think that CFG are too big to lose, but they have few friends.
If City spend big, they’ll dominate the A-League and none of the other teams want that, but if they are stingy as they are in New York then they won’t draw big crowds or TV audiences.
They’re a waste of space and are only in the competition to make up the numbers for broadcasting purposes.
By comparison, South East Melbourne will have their own separate stadium within 100 meters of Dandenong Station giving them a clear geographic point of difference. They will also be able to play matches at a temporary 8000-seat rectangular stadium at Casey Fields during its construction.
As it says on their bid website, “The main pitch will initially have the capacity to cater for up to 8000 spectators if necessary and will be capable of hosting W-League and National Youth League fixtures, as well as A-League games on an interim basis.”
But what about Tasmania and Wollongong?
Well they would only be left out if the number of teams remains at 11. One of them could take over Macarthur’s 2020 licence as their entry would have been brought forward. Of the two it would probably be Wollongong who get in to make up the 12 due to WIN Stadium.
Only trouble is, it’s still going to be a 12-team league with an AFL-style fixture list where teams do not play each other an even number of times throughout the campaign.
Ideally, you would expand to a 14-team league with a regular home-and-away season. This would allow Tasmania – which is projected to soon have 26,000 participants – to come in to bring the league to 13 teams.
Then, as team 14, you could even bring back Central Coast after a break from the A-League.
But why would you bring back a club after ejecting them? Well, there are three main reasons.
Firstly, they are one of the most successful clubs in the A-League with one championship win from four grand final appearances in addition to winning two A-League premierships and being twice runners-up.
Secondly, despite their appalling current run of form in recent times the Mariners have an average attendance across all A-League seasons of 8913, which is just under the magic 10,000.
If they also had derbies against Macarthur and Wollongong then they could probably get over that figure if they are well managed. They should be able to bounce back.
And thirdly, if the Mariners are included in the league in addition to Canberra and Wollongong then you cover the four main cities around Sydney: Newcastle, Wollongong, Gosford and Canberra. It completes the set.
When you also add in Sydney, Western Sydney and Macarthur that gives you a hub of seven clubs in and around Sydney all within driving distance, much like the NRL.
Now the current TV deal was only designed for 12 teams, but an independent league can not only redistribute licences, they can renegotiate the TV deal as well to make 14 teams possible.
If the Fox deal is reduced to finish in 2022 instead of 2023 then that money can be brought forward.
Alternatively, the clubs might have to take a haircut and accept less than they want with the aim of rebuilding the value of the league over the next couple of seasons should TV viewership increase with the renewed interest.
An independent A-League comes with risks but it also comes with opportunities, including the possibility of redistributing licences and renegotiating TV deals.
With a regular home-and-away season and a bunch of new teams, interest levels could spike significantly.
These are the clubs that should make up a 14-team A-League: Sydney FC, Western Sydney Wanderers, Macarthur Magpies, Newcastle Jets, Wollongong Wolves, Central Coast Mariners, Canberra United, Melbourne Victory, Western United, South East Melbourne Athletic, Tasmania Rangers, Brisbane Roar, Perth Glory and Adelaide United.