The Hyundai A-League is expanding to accommodate 2 more clubs. The current clubs hail from Sydney (2), Melbourne (2), Wellington, Newcastle, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Gosford. The big question is which cities will host the next 2.
The only Australian cities without an A-League team large enough to be potential candidates are Canberra, Cairns and Hobart. But their relatively small population sizes make them unattractive as average attendances will likely be low, after high initial interest in the inaugural year. That poses the question of whether there could be room for another A-League team in one of the cities already represented in the league. Brisbane and Perth immediately stand out as options. The cities are easily large enough, with populations of 2.1 and 1.9 million inhabitants respectively.
Adelaide? Australia’s fifth largest city is home to 1.3 million people. There are plenty of European cities with smaller populations that are home to multiple Football clubs. Compared to Brisbane and Perth, the city is geographically a lot more attractive as a fixture location for the powerful A-League “big clubs” Sydney FC, Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City and Adelaide United, who inevitably exercise influence over the league’s organisers. Travel time would be shorter, away attendances would be higher and the historic rivalry between the three cities would add extra incentive for viewers to tune in to watch more competitive matches between clubs of Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. However, Adelaide still remains a less attractive option than Sydney and Melbourne. Australia’s 2 megacities have world-class infrastructure readily available. Their larger geographical spread compared to Adelaide means that an existing suburb of either Melbourne or Sydney could easily become a new club’s home, with a pre-defined fan catchment area. Excellent sporting facilities lie throughout both cities and the more cosmopolitan populations of Sydney and Melbourne are already more Footballphilic. It all makes sense.
But while the introduction of a new Adelaide, Sydney or Melbourne club would increase the frequency with which existing A-League followers attend matches or tune in to the telly, it would probably fail to attract new spectators to the league. As the Football Federation Australia continues to ask questions about the strength of the country’s professional Football league, growth of A-League viewing figures is a likely priority. A new A-League club in a city outside of Australia represents a clear opportunity for growth.
The inclusion of Wellington Phoenix in the league immediately demonstrates this idea’s plausibility. In spite of the club’s poor recent form, the team is popular across New Zealand and high merchandise sales bring in a good amount of income to keep its cogs turning. From the perspective of A-League officials, the market for broadcasted Football in New Zealand is an attractive one, and the presence of Wellington Phoenix in the A-League has been a success in this regard. But if the A-League were to expand into another country, which would it be?
Let’s discuss the notion of an A-League club located on one of the Pacific Island territories, such as New Caledonia, Fiji or Tahiti. If an A-League team were to be based on one of these islands, it would immediately see consistently high home attendance figures season to season. Locals would view the club as a surrogate medium through which to express national pride, particularly as that club would play weekly against competitors from Australia and New Zealand. The entire island would serve as the club’s fan catchment area. The profile of Football would also increase locally, the national Football associations would see more local interest and involvement in the sport and the all-important aggregated viewing figures for the A-League would increase quickly. The problem however lies in logistics. Wellington Phoenix already faces the frequent challenge of flying several hours every other week for competition. In the case of somewhere like Fiji, that extensive travel would be
- cost ineffective,
- a drain on the players, which in turn would compromise the quality of the sport and
- environmentally irresponsible.
Additionally, the calibre of Football played on the Pacific Islands is low at the moment, which means that existing fans of the A-League would probably show little interest in watching matches involving these clubs. And while match attendance for a Pacific Island team playing at home would likely be high, the infrastructure and facilities available for an A-League fixtures in e.g. Tahiti are just not there. An A-League standard stadium and all related facilities would probably have to be built from scratch, which is a hard sell. The initial cost and subsequent risk of a club based in the Pacific joining the A-League is going to be far too high for investors. So, if any city outside of Australia is going to become host to an A-League side, which one is it going to be?
Auckland stands out as the perfect location.
It is New Zealand’s largest city in terms of population (1.5 million). If Wellington is large enough to host an A-League side, Auckland definitely is. The two cities are geographically far enough apart to not compete to attract the same fans. A market for Football already exists in cosmopolitan Auckland with its residents from Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia. Proof of this is the existence of an enormous amount of semi-professional Football clubs among Auckland’s city centre, suburbs in the East, on its North Shore and in the Westerly Henderson and Waitakere neighbourhoods. The abundance of facilities and stadia across the city adds to its suitability. And the introduction of an Auckland A-League Football team would probably guarantee that jump in viewing figures that league organisers are eager to see.
Auckland City FC are a ready-made A-League candidate with a strong international brand that play attractive Football to a good-sized crowd every week. The club’s chairman has already expressed A-League ambitions of the club to the media. And in Ramon Tribulietx, the side has a charismatic and engaging coach that would contribute positively to the league. The club, and city, are perfect candidates for one of the open spaces within the Hyundai A-League.