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Opinion

A radical proposal for a revised A-League

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16th February, 2020
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With 11 of the current 12 A-League clubs having licences until 2034 (and Wellington likely to have theirs extended to match), it seems unlikely that promotion and relegation will be introduced before 2034-35.

In light of this, I’ve sought to come up with an incentive-based proposal to deliver an enlarged A-League, with promotion and relegation starting from 2022-2023.

The model is based on the format of some South American leagues, with a separate opening and closing championship played each season. It has an A-League with three divisions, A1, A2 and A3, each division having eight teams.

Each division runs a season as follows; a 14 round home-and-away opening championship run over 16 weeks (first weekend of September to the last weekend before Christmas), to allow for some international breaks, then a six-week break (which includes the January transfer window) followed by a separate 14 round home-and-away closing championship run over 16 weeks (second eeekend of February to the second weekend of May) to allow for international breaks. Lower divisions can, however, play ‘split rounds’ during international dates to provide broadcast content.

This season runs for 38 weeks, includes 32 weekends of match dates and has a six-week break over the hottest period of the year in January, which is also when the Asian Cup is usually played, and has a 14-week break over the coldest period of the year, which is also when the World Cup is usually played.

Every team gets to play 28 matches.

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At the end of the second championship, the season is concluded. The two teams in each division with the lowest points won through the two championships are relegated to the division below. The two teams that win the championships are promoted. If one team wins both championships, the team with the next best total points is promoted.

This means divisions A1 and A3 have a 25 per cent turnover per season and division A2 has a 50 per cent turnover of teams.

To incentivise the league, prize money is on a points basis.

Each division has 336 points available (28 games x 3 points x 4 teams).

  • A1: $15,000 per point = total spend (if no draws) $5,040,000, likely to be 60-70per cent of this, so around $3.5 million
  • A2: $7,5000 per point = total spend (if no draws) $2,52 Million likely to be 60-70per cent of this, so around $1.75 million
  • A3: $2500 per point = total spend (if no draws) $840,000 likely to be 60-70per cent of this, so around $580,000

We now have 38 weeks of broadcast content, with 28-32 match weeks of up to 12 matches (112 matches for each division and 336 in total). We can offer broadcasters the rights either as a whole package, or offer each division up for separate sale.

The total broadcast revenue is however retained by the league as a whole and distributed across all 24 clubs.

Any money received from broadcasters is first reduced to cover administration of league costs and then distributed to clubs is as follows; 50 per cent p.a to A1 division clubs, 25 per cent p.a to A2 division clubs and 25 per cent p.a to A3 division clubs.

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But how do we get there?

The A-League seek expressions of interest and tells potential investors that only 12 new club licences (maximum of one in New Zealand) will be sold prior to 2034, and no more than that.

This creates a scarcity and, to some degree, protects the value of the licence. The initial sale period will start at the end of 2019-2020 season and conclude at the end of the 2020-21 season. The A2 and A3 divisions will start play in the 2022-23 season, to give teams 12 months to ready themselves for play and see which four of the 12 existing clubs will be relegated to A2 at the end of the 2021-22 season.

The cost of a licence is set at a floor of $12 million, which guarantees entry into the league at the A3 level. Obviously, most buyers will want to be in the higher division so, once the sale period ends, there will be an auction to determine which four clubs will start in the A2 division. If not all 12 are sold, then the top four bidders at auction will get a licence and the A2 only will start. Any other clubs will have their licence fee returned minus a $100,000 administration fee.

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If all 12 licences are sold, the total revenue is at least $144 million. The league distributes $750,000 of each licence fee received to each current club. This means if there is a full uptake of 12 new licences, each current club can be paid $9 million. This upfront payment, along with the opportunity to earn prizemoney and the ongoing lure of broadcast revenue is more than enough to agree to immediately allow promotion and relegation from the 2022-23 season onwards.

This will also allow “The League” organisation to get a start-up capital of $36 million

Criteria to be able to buy a licence
There are only limited criteria for any organisation buying a licence. You must have a ground with a capacity of at least 5000, a playing surface of a minimum standard to limit the chance of injuries and lighting suitable for the broadcast of night-time matches. There must be a head of agreement in place for at least a three-year lease on the ground.

You must employ a squad of at least 23 players on a fulltime professional basis, with all players contracted for at least one whole season, being paid at least the Australian minimum wage.

Maximum of five foreigners per club. There is no requirement for reserve teams, but you can allow players not selected in the team to play for any NPL clubs by arrangement or affiliation.

It’s a radical suggestion, and I’m sure there are a number of things that need much, much more work, but why not try to play a “killer ball” and really jump the league to the next level?

I look forward to all the comments.

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