Expansion of the A-League
The A-League is the top soccer division in the Australian league system, and the only professional and national league of the sport. Established in 2004 with eight teams, it has since expanded into new markets across Australia and New Zealand. The league is currently contested by 10 teams, although a total of 13 have competed at some stage in its short history.
- 1 Initial teams
- 2 Expansion
- 3 Future
- 4 References
When founding the A-League in early 2004, Football Federation Australia (FFA) was very cautious in selecting who was to be part of the new league. FFA decided upon a 'one city - one team' principle in order to protect the initial development of the foundation clubs. Towards the end of the National Soccer League (NSL), reigning Victorian club Melbourne Knights FC made a bid to change their name to Melbourne United. The club was required to drop their Croatian ethnic identity as the FFA did not want a repeat of the old NSL where clubs supporters had racial or ethnic disputes. The club intended to play a portion of games at Olympic Park Stadium and possibly at South Melbourne FC's home ground Lakeside Stadium, as their then home stadium was located in Sunshine with a low capacity of only 15,000 that was deemed too small. The bid ultimately failed and the Knights kept their name and now play in the state-based National Premier Leagues Victoria.
The initial eight teams selected were Adelaide United FC, Brisbane Roar FC (formally Queensland Roar FC), Central Coast Mariners FC, Melbourne Victory FC, Newcastle Jets FC, Perth Glory FC, Sydney FC and New Zealand Knights FC. Of these 8 clubs, only the New Zealand Knights have failed to survive, folding after the 2006–07 season.
In late October 2006, as a result of low crowd attendance at North Harbour Stadium in Auckland and continual poor on-field performances, rumours began to circulate that the FFA was considering revoking the A-League licence of the only New Zealand based A-League club, New Zealand Knights FC, and granting it to a new club that would enter the competition in the 2007–08 season. The FFA had continued to express angst at low attendance numbers, poor on-field performance and the lack of domestically developed players. On 14 December, the FFA announced that it had revoked the competition licence held by the Knights' owners, and on 19 March 2007 after several delays, Wellington Phoenix was selected as the successor to the New Zealand Knights.
Gold Coast United and North Queensland Fury
In 2009, a 12th license was awarded to Sydney Rovers. The club soon became defunct after being awarded this license.
Melbourne Heart / Melbourne City
After Melbourne Victory FC announced they would not be playing at the new Melbourne Rectangular Stadium unless it had a capacity of at least 30,000, the government suggested a second Melbourne team would play there. A consortium of investors were willing to put at least 5 to 6 million dollars per annum into the venture, and a letter of interest from the football club had been sent to the FFA. The agreement that saw the new stadium built with a 31,500 capacity meant that it would be unlikely such a bid will succeed based on the above conditions, though in June, the existence of three separate consortiums bidding for second Melbourne franchise were announced. In September 2008, a bid led by Victorian businessman Peter Sidwell and operating under the working title Melbourne Heart Syndicate received exclusive negotiating rights an A-League licence. Sidwell's group was awarded the license to join the 2010–11 season on 12 June 2009.
Western Sydney Wanderers
After the scrapping of Sydney Rovers FC in 2010, the FFA approached the Greater Western Sydney Football Group, who were one of the losing groups in the bid for the second expansion. This was done to see if they could come into the competition for the 2012–13 season. The team was to be based at ANZ Stadium, at Homebush and named "The Wanderers". After consultation the idea was dropped. On 4 April 2012, FFA CEO Ben Buckley announced the introduction of a "New Sydney Club" (Western Sydney Wanderers FC) for the 2012–13 season.
In spite of the unsuccessful New Zealand Knights, New Zealand's current club, Wellington Phoenix has been relatively successful and the possibility of a second New Zealand team in the future has been raised, possibly playing home matches in Auckland or Christchurch. Previous matches in these cities have proved successful, with crowds of 15-20 000. Auckland Knights FC is the working name of an A-League expansion bid based in Auckland. In January 2013, veteran Auckland journalist Terry Maddaford and Auckland City FC president Ivan Vuksich stated expansion into Auckland remained unlikely unless lessons had been learned from the previously poor experiences of the New Zealand Knights. They commented on the need for a "hands-on" approach from investors, ones that would be close to the team, not managing from outside the country. Vuksich also commented on the fact that funding will always be an issue, that "sponsorship is almost impossible to get" and that "the New Zealand public are pretty fickle, they like to support winning teams.".
A Canberra based bid was announced in July 2008. It was led by TransACT CEO Ivan Slavich, and gained support from many local business leaders including the manager of Canberra Stadium, where the team was expected to be based. The FFA agreed to Slavich's request to extend the deadline for bids until mid-August, and Socceroo Carl Valeri and former Socceroo Ned Zelic became foundation members.
On 10 May 2012, with the FFA announcing that A-League expansion beyond ten teams was on hold until 2015 in the wake of the establishment of a West Sydney-based side in time for the 2012-2013 season, A-League4Canberra suspended its efforts to secure a team for the Australian capital city. A-League4Canberra CEO Heather Reid told FourFourTwo, "The A-League4Canberra bid group is being wound up and foundation memberships will be offered back to those who signed up."
There is currently no Northern Territory-based team competing in any national competition. In 2008 after successful A-League pre-season games were played in Darwin, the NT Government offered its support for a Darwin-based A-League bid.
North Queensland Fury was renamed Northern Fury in 2012 and reformed to compete in the NPL Queensland. So far Fury home matches have drawn capacity crowds of up to 2500 at Townsville Sports Reserve, and the club plans a return to the A-League within five years, with a National Youth League team to be established prior to that.
On 27 May 2013, Greater Geelong Galaxy FC announced its intention to bid for a Victorian National Premier League licence, raising the prospect of being a future representative of the region in the A-League.
Sunshine Coast F.C., who currently play in the Queensland State League, have expressed interest in joining the A-League, indicating a five-year plan in late 2012. The club currently play at Stockland Park, though the stadium would need expansion to meet A-League standards. Sunshine Coast F.C. Director Noel Woodall has noted that there are already plans in place to turn the ground into a premier boutique stadium, with an undercover seating capacity of 10 000 and a total capacity of 15 000 or more. He says that it is part of the club's long-term strategy to join the A-League.
In October 2007, Football Federation Tasmania CEO Martin Shaw suggested that Tasmania would be a viable location for an A-League club, mentioning the fact that it would need support from state and local government. It has been suggested that such a team would play games in both Hobart and Launceston. In 2008, a Tasmanian Football Taskforce was formed to investigate an A-League bid. The Taskforce has registered the name "Tasmania United FC" and is submitting a bid for the 2011-12 season. The Taskforce chose 25 November to launch the consortium to the press and named 'Motors' as a major sponsor. A franchise in Tasmania will give the A-League a wider national representation than the AFL and NRL. A sheikh from Dubai is being linked with Tasmania’s bid for an A-League team.
A Tasmania state representative team has been formed and has played pre-season friendlies such as against Melbourne Victory, indicating the possible colour scheme of a potential Tasmania club. A survey on the Tasmania United FC website found that the nickname "Wolves" was the most popular unused name amongst supporters of the consortium.
It is felt amongst most that the twice Australian Champions the South Coast Wolves should be the team from the Illawarra, but according to media reports the Wolves are planning on staying in the NPL NSW, and are fully supporting a new club for the region. A group known as "Great South Football" are behind the Illawarra bid. Former Wollongong star Scott Chipperfield has thrown his support behind them and Tim Cahill has joined the group, promising to establish a football academy in the region. It has been rumoured the club will be backed by Bruce Gordon, Australia's 14th wealthest person. Supporting Wollongong's bid for admission into the A-League is its strong junior participation rates in football, with the region widely being regarded as a 'heartland of football' along with Western Sydney.
Expansion into the western suburbs of Brisbane have been boosted by the growth in population projected over the coming decades. Ipswich mayor Paul Pisasale promised in August 2013 to build a 15,000 seat stadium at North Ipswich Oval if a license was secured. The region's bid for an A-league expansion position is further helped by the strong community ties of current NPL Queensland side Western Pride FC.
On March 8, 2014 it was announced that the National Premier Leagues outfit from Cairns, the Far North Queensland Heat had signed a sponsorship deal with the Aquis project to help them achieve a NYL team and an A-League license. This came just days after it was announced that the Fung family had launched a $269 million takeover bid of the Reef Hotel Casino in the Cairns CBD and that their Aquis project worth $4.2 billion was to develop a mega-resort including a casino, nine hotels, theatres, a golf course, and a 25,000 seat stadium at the Yorkeys Knob site.
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