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A-Leagues set to expand to South East Queensland in 2025/26, is Gold Coast, Brisbane or Sunshine Coast the best bet?

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Roar Rookie
17th March, 2023
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According to several reports, South East Queensland appears destined to obtain one of two future A-League expansion licenses in 2025-26.

This would follow the entry of Canberra and Auckland a season prior in 2024-25, which was announced earlier this week. Gold Coast and a second Brisbane team appear set as the primary contenders, with Sunshine Coast touted as a hopeful outlier. Each option has its pros and cons, which will be examined here.

The Gold Coast skyline with its towering skyscrapers adjacent to Surfers Paradises white-sand coastline is a nationally (and internationally) recognised landmark. It represents a unique identity in South East Queensland with a clear differentiation from Brisbane an hour north.

It lays claim to being the glitz, glamour, surf and party capital of Australia. This clear cultural and geographical distinction from Brisbane represents an opportunity for a new franchise which would not cannibalise Brisbane Roar’s fanbase.

Gold Coast also has a suitable rectangular stadium, albeit slightly too large. There were rumblings up in the sunshine state of a planned boutique, appropriately-sized 10,000 capacity stadium on the coast’, although these quietened during COVID-19.

Population-wise, upwards of 700,000 people call Gold Coast home, making it the sixth most populous region in Australia, almost doubling in size since the collapse of Gold Coast United in 2012 when under Clive Palmer’s control.

Now for the cons. As the old adage goes, fool me once…..

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Admittedly, Gold Coast United were, in this writer’s view, not as poor off-field as the A-League community remembers. The club had modest crowds before their downward twilight years, at least by today’s standards. Yet it remains fact that Gold Coast is a tried-and-failed region in the A-Leagues, and a return to a failed location when other untried regions are waiting in the wings would be irrational.

Further, Gold Coast is universally considered a ‘Bermuda Triangle’ for sports teams, where crowd attendances tend to casually decline once the novelty wears off. Would a new Gold Coast franchise bring in consistent, rusted-on fans after ten years? Can it buck the trend?

Clive Palmer was unable to keep a Gold Coast based, A-League club alive. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

A second Brisbane franchise is also fraught with opportunities and dilemmas. Beginning with the benefits, Brisbane will soon be home to 2.5 million people, almost quadrupling the population of the Gold Coast and representing the third-largest population centre in Australasia.

Perhaps more significantly however, a second Brisbane franchise would establish an original, A-Leagues-first Brisbane Derby, with the potential of sell-out evenings at Suncorp Stadium. The reintroduction of Gold Coast would not bring an event of this magnitude to the sporting calendar, with the promise of a mere ‘South East Queensland Derby’ failing to attract the same commercial appeal.

Moreover, a second Brisbane franchise would be new, untried waters for the Australian Professional Leagues (APL) to dip their toes in. It is also likely to revitalise Brisbane Roar (and their owners) to compete with the added competition.

Yet, a second Brisbane franchise would likely have little to no identity distinction from Brisbane Roar. Geographically, the club could conceivably represent a distinct region, such as the western corridor or Brisbane’s north, but the regrettable fact remains that there is limited infrastructure and stadia for a new Brisbane side.

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Hence, a new franchise would almost certainly play in Brisbane’s city centre and likely share a home with Brisbane Roar, spoiling any genuine opportunity to stand out and attract new supporters.

The APL cannot afford another Melbourne City situation; a club with incredible on-field success and off-field resources yes, but in a city of near seven million people, there has been little-to-no growth in attendances or cut-through with Melbourne’s populous.

Scott Galloway of Melbourne City (C) holds the trophy and celebrates with fans after winning the A-League Grand Final

Melbourne City have plenty of success, yet very few fans. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

However, there are potential solutions for addressing Brisbane 2.0’s dilemmas. A new north Brisbane franchise could play every match at Dolphin Stadium in Redcliffe, home of the newly introduced NRL side, leaving the Roar its city heartland.

This would establish a north-south divide. Alternatively, perhaps an “old soccer versus new football” distinction could be established, especially if the newly formed Brisbane United entity (an amalgamation of Wynnum Wolves, Brisbane Strikers and Virginia United) were to be granted entry into the A-Leagues.

Finally, the possibility of the Sunshine Coast has sprouted in reports as a possible destination for South East Queensland expansion. Home to over 350,000 residents (similar in size to the Central Coast), the beautiful ‘Sunny Coast’ would be an intriguing left-field option.

The region represents a clear, unique identity from Brisbane. If a possible franchise were to intelligently market itself as a small, local club, in a similar fashion to the aforementioned Mariners, anything is possible. There is also no competition from other sporting franchises on the Sunshine Coast besides the NRL’s Dolphins, who broadly represent the area and are set to play one match a year there.

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However, Sunshine Coast lacks two vital criteria. Firstly, Sunshine Coast Stadium is, in this writer’s opinion, not quite up to A-Leagues standard, with just the one medium-sized grandstand and three hills. Yet similarly to the Gold Coast, the second worry is the lack of a defined Brisbane Derby, with the Sunshine Coast one and a half hours north of Brisbane.

The Sunshine Coast is ripe for a club represented in the National Second Division, with excellent potential for promotion into the A-League Men down the path.

As demonstrated, none of these three options score perfectly. They each grade well without being outstanding. Putting aside the physical location for a moment, perhaps the winning formula is the quality of investment and ownership. An intelligent investor willing to commit bottomless funds for a franchise which they live and breathe for, regardless of geographical location, would get them across the line.

The degree to which local residents feel an emotional connection with a franchise through strong engagement is paramount. Hypothetically, a smaller city with 350,000 residents in which one to two per cent of the populous regularly attends matches would surpass a city of 2.5 million in which a minute percentage of fans rock-up with little emotional attachment.

So once again, with the scores seemingly split, the recipe for success will come down to the quality of ownership and fan engagement. This will surely prove to be the secret ingredient.

Let’s hope the APL considers this carefully, prior to making a final decision.

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