While the independence of the A-League was thought by most to make Wellington Phoenix safe from expulsion, there is still a narrow possibility that they could be axed.
Wellington have failed to meet the metrics to renew their licence automatically, meaning that they will have to rely on the other A-League clubs supporting them to remain in. However, the lengthy and complicated process requires negotiations with and approval from New Zealand Football, OFC, AFC and FIFA, before FFA and Wellington Phoenix can sign a new licence agreement, which would allow them to remain in the competition until 2034.
At present, the current clubs are all publicly supporting Wellington’s licence being renewed after it runs out at the end of the season. But with the next TV deal being critical to the league’s future, they will have to think very carefully about whether this is the best thing for improving TV audience and crowd averages in Australia. With the current TV deal running out in 2023 there isn’t much time for the A-League to improve its metrics and this could put the Phoenix on the chopping block.
The money from selling a new licence would also be in the front of their minds.
If a stronger alternative bid can be found within Australia, they might be in trouble. So who could step in at short notice and replace them, keeping in mind that they’ll need to have an immediate impact on crowds and ratings?
Pros: The obvious choice is a like-for-like replacement with one capital replacing another. With the highest participation rate of any state or territory, they should have good support.
Cons: The proposed new stadium might be expensive to use if it comes with an equally pricey stadium deal.
Pros: As a developing heartland, Tasmania could become another Newcastle or Canberra and their backers are passionate about building a Tasmanian team into a real club with a strong identity.
Cons: The bid could face competition and resistance from the AFL lobby and their bid.
Second Brisbane side
Pros: A second team in Brisbane could create a blockbuster derby with Brisbane Roar.
Cons: The only option who wouldn’t have to start life sharing Lang Park would be a team from Redcliffe, but there’s no current bid from this area ready to go.
Gold Coast United
Pros: As surprising as it sounds, the Gold Coast United brand still had enough value for a group of investors to take over the IP rights and re-start the club, which they were prepared to back with significant money if they entered the A-League.
Cons: Although they plan to build a boutique stadium, they’ll have to use Robina until they can move in.
Pros: Backed by a consortium of billionaires and playing at an existing 10,000-capacity stadium, this bid could have some good foundations.
Cons: They could fail much like previous franchises have on the Gold Coast.
Pros: With a massive catchment area, large player base and a clear geographic point of difference they could set themselves up quite well for success.
Cons: As in the case of their recent bid, they still haven’t secured funding to build a stadium.
Pros: The city of Perth has a large population and selling out a derby at the new 60,000-seat stadium would be amazing.
Cons: They’ll have to share a stadium with Perth Glory until they can build their own.
Pros: Their bid had strong financial backing and they would create a derby in Adelaide.
Cons: Adelaide is already very united behind the Reds and it’ll take a while for a new team to establish themselves.
Pros: With an existing fan-base and a stadium deal that would make most clubs envious, they have a solid foundation for being financially stable and they could help to heal the old soccer/new football rift.
Cons: When Melbourne City first came into the league, the average attendance for Melbourne Victory initially went down and the same has happened this season with Western United’s entry, also impacting Melbourne City. The risk is that the same could also happen if South Melbourne were to enter.
Pros: As an established club there’s no need to build anything, it’s already there. The Wolves will provide derbies with Sydney FC, Western Sydney Wanderers, Macarthur FC, Newcastle Jets, Central Coast Mariners and relight an old rivalry with Perth Glory.
Cons: They’re not in Sydney or Melbourne.
So who could take Wellington’s place?
Of all that lot, I’d really like to give it to Canberra after FFA have snubbed them before. Then there’s Tasmania, who were also snubbed and they could be a big hit on the island, but they might lack some impact nationally. South Melbourne would be a solid choice for their financial stability with the stadium they have.
The primary consideration has to be how the new team will improve TV ratings and attendances.
For that reason, I have to give it to the Wollongong Wolves. If they were to enter next season by taking Wellington’s place, they would have rivalries straight away with Sydney FC, Wanderers and Macarthur FC while being able to easily boost crowds at their grounds with their travelling fans.
This is also important to consider when Macarthur are also joining the league next season. If Macarthur take away a few fans from the existing clubs, Wollongong could put a few back.
The same is also true going the other way, with Wollongong being an easy away trip for fans from Sydney, which should help get them going. But unlike adding a new team in Melbourne, they won’t dilute an existing market. They could also help create interest in matches against Central Coast, Newcastle and Perth who really need a rival.
No one can seriously claim that the distance derby is bigger than Wolves versus Glory.
The only thing standing in their way would be the attitude of the current clubs. But as the Wolves would generate much more interest in matches involving Sydney FC, Western Sydney Wanderers, Macarthur FC, Newcastle Jets, Central Coast Mariners and Perth Glory than Wellington Phoenix now do, it should be possible to win them over if they made a bid for Wellington’s licence.
Perth Glory in particular would relish the opportunity to meet them again on the pitch to settle old scores. I think they’ve got their vote in the bag already.