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Opinion

Have the APL made the right call with the next stage of expansion?

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Roar Pro
25th March, 2023
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Positivity is essential to apply amongst the fans for the A-League, especially amidst all of the inconsistency it has served up in recent seasons.

From the ugly pitch invasion at the Melbourne Derby to the low crowds attracted each week, the code is in dire need of some optimism to realise Australia’s incredible potential as a footballing nation.

Last week, the APL announced their plans to expand the A-League Men competition by adding Canberra and Auckland into the 2024-25 campaign mix.

APL CEO Danny Townsend is confident that targeting these two areas is the necessary step forward to grow the game steadily.

“The exciting thing about this process is seeing the potential in these markets to help grow the league as a whole and form that drive interest and excitement in Australian football,” said Townsend.

Let’s start with the positive aspect of this decision.

The inclusion of Canberra United is much needed, as fans and neutrals have been crying out for this for years now.

Not having a single market based in the country’s capital city for so long now has been an incredible missed opportunity. A chance beckons for the potential to be tapped into and attract immense interest. For too long now, the NRL has had the luxury of cruising with their fan base and attendances for the Canberra Raiders, a code that is barely receiving any competition.

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Canberra Raiders fans celebrate victory during the round 10 NRL match between the Canterbury Bulldogs and the Canberra Raiders

(Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Football Australia’s most recent National Participation Report for 2021 showed that Canberra had increased its outdoor football participation rate by 11 per cent from the previous year, totalling 16,169 players across both genders. For one of Australia’s least populated cities, the demand is there.

Women’s football in the ACT has grown by leaps and bounds for 15 years now since the inclusion of Canberra United in the W-League. Having an established club will help springboard the development of the men’s side, where crowds can be drawn in for double-header clashes between the two respective Canberra teams.

Unfortunately, that’s where the positivity and optimism ends.

Prioritising another club from New Zealand instead of Australia and trying to grow the ‘Australian league’ just doesn’t sit well.

Although Wellington Phoenix playing on our shores has been a breath of fresh air by producing some great memories and showcasing many talented players, New Zealand should be focusing on growing their respective league and trying to develop their players and facilities.

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Auckland City is already a well-established club who have appeared in multiple FIFA Club World Cups due to their dominance in Oceania. Would it be correct to simply switch to a completely different domestic league?

The collapse of the New Zealand Knights after two seasons provides further concern that the same won’t happen this time around. They too were also based in Auckland, averaging crowds of just under 3500.

With the Phoenix hovering around the 6000 attendance mark for home games this season, the big question is will Auckland take fans from Wellington, or will they be able to attract their own support?

Despite previously mentioning how a Canberra club would be a positive for the A-League, the financial equation seems to provide no real certainties, casting major doubt.

In the APL’s press release, they confirmed that they are seeking investors for the club. Townsend claims he has full confidence that a major investor will be found by June this year, but the potential new club has been actively looking for stable ownership for the past two years which has resulted in no success, according to ABC.

Of course, there should be excitement around expanding the A-League and trying to grow the game, but it doesn’t mean the hard questions can’t be asked.

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Could it be a case of the APL not being fully convinced that a National Second Division will be ready to be implemented in the near future? Maybe this decision is trying to slow down that possibility without actually making the expansion stagnant and keeping the current 12-team format.

No one is arguing that expansion is critically vital to take football to the next level in Australia. The argument, though, is around which new clubs should be participating next.

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