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Opinion

Who's next for A-League expansion?

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Roar Guru
2nd July, 2021
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3118 Reads

A lot has happened since the last round of expansion and even a lot since last year. But one thing that hasn’t changed is discussion about expansion. Given that, maybe it’s a good time for a bit of a look at where things stand.

In the last round of expansion there were 15 bids that stuck around, which were then cut down to a shortlist of ten for consideration. The list of 15 were Western United, Macarthur, South West Sydney, Southern Expansion, Team 11 in Dandenong, Wollongong Wolves, South Melbourne, Western Pride in Ipswich, Canberra and Capital Region, Brisbane City, Gold Coast United, West Adelaide, Belgravia Leisure, Tasmania and Fremantle City.

Brisbane Strikers had a high-profile bid, but dropped out. The Sunshine Coast were also there for a while, but have since disappeared.

The Macarthur and South West Sydney bids merged and were successful, as were Western United.

Southern Expansion packed up and left while Team 11 have now got behind Melbourne City and have dropped their bid. Belgravia Leisure were a nothing bid that went nowhere and haven’t been seen or heard of since.

The remaining bids from Wollongong Wolves, South Melbourne, Ipswich, Canberra, Brisbane City, Gold Coast United, West Adelaide, Tasmania and Fremantle all seem to still be interested.

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Of those, Canberra appears to be a shoo-in as the next expansion team. They have the highest participation rate of any state or territory, a highly successful W-League team and perhaps most importantly the backing of Qatar Sports Investments, who own Paris Saint-Germain. Suffice to say that financial stability will not be a concern.

The Wollongong Wolves are a highly popular contender and if added along with Canberra they would create a hub of seven teams in NSW and the ACT. The derbies will make them a good choice that will be hard to look past.

Wollongong Wolves

(Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

South Melbourne as always are still around, but with three teams now in Melbourne it might make things harder for them to secure a licence, especially with attendances so low right now.

West Adelaide and Fremantle have both shown signs of interest in making bids, but both will be seen as outsiders. Nonetheless they still seem to be in contention.

The Tasmanian bid have now been taken over by a new consortium of anonymous backers who are said to be even more wealthy than the previous group, which shows strong interest in the state.

With three teams now in Melbourne, this will create six Bass Strait derbies each season without cannibalising support in Victoria. Tasmania have been knocking on the door since 1980 during the Phillips Soccer League, surely they should be let in into the national league at some point.

But the most complicated expansion location is Queensland.

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In Brisbane you have Brisbane Strikers, Brisbane City and Ipswich as well as hypothetical bids from Redcliffe and South Brisbane. While in the regions you have Gold Coast United as well as hypothetical bids from Sunshine Coast, Townsville and Cairns.

Brisbane Strikers dropped out before even making the long list, let alone the short one. It’s hard to see them making a comeback. Likewise, Brisbane City are still making noises but with Ballymore being permanently downgraded they’ll have to use Suncorp. If the Roar can’t afford to play there then a second team won’t be able to either.

The Ipswich bid has significant problems. They were first proposed by David Gallop as a way to boost the case for an NRL bid, which has recently gained attention.

David Gallop speaks during an FFA press conference.

(Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Ipswich itself only has a population about the same size as Macarthur in Sydney, which has led to them positioning themselves as a Western Corridor bid. This then risks diluting their identity similar to Southern Expansion, while they will also have to use Suncorp while a new stadium can be built, giving them a nomadic start to life a bit like Western United. Yikes!

New bids could emerge from Redcliffe or South Brisbane, but as these are hypothetical it’s hard to include them in a list at the moment. With that being the case and Brisbane looking like a non-starter you have to look to regional Queensland.

A team in Townsville or Cairns might be an option, but it’s purely hypothetical and in the case of Cairns they would need to build a new stadium.

Sunshine Coast had a bid for a brief time, but they have since disappeared. Although their population of 350,000 is projected to increase to 500,000 by 2041, so they might be worth looking at in the future.

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The only realistic option in Queensland that I can think of is the Gold Coast. When they first entered the league in 2009 they had a population of 496,000 which has since grown to 710,000, representing an increase of a whopping 43 percent.

Their average attendance in their first season was 5300, so if you increase that by 43 per cent it would now be 7600 per match. With a better fan engagement strategy, it should be possible to get to around the 10,000 mark.

Apart from the bids I’ve mentioned, there’s also one final hypothetical contender that might be an intriguing dark horse. Geelong.

Steven Lustica of Western United (L) celebrates his goal

Geelong already hosts Western United matches. (Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images)

Speaking on the Geelong Region Soccer Show podcast in May, Geelong Region Football Committee chairman Mike McKinstry said that City of Greater Geelong had set aside $50,000 in its budget for the development of a business case for a regional football facility in Geelong.

When asked what his vision was for Geelong, McKinstry said that: “The cherry on the cake if you like would be to have A-League representation for Geelong.”

While former GRFC chair Joanne Plummer was keen on a W-League side, saying that: “When you think about Geelong being synonymous with sporting success, I think that would be a terrific addition.”

On a follow-up episode Geelong councillor Kylie Grzybek said that: “We’re a bit behind the eight ball now, but I think this is an opportunity to really catch up and put Geelong on the soccer map.”

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If there’s division within the ranks of Western United then that could spell trouble, should Geelong go their own separate way. When you think that they started out a Geelong-based bid, maybe they could end up relocating there.

But that’s just speculation of course. When it comes to the next two expansion teams however, the most likely locations are Canberra and Gold Coast.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

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