SOCCER scribes around the country are adamant there are internal plans locked in to expand the domestic competition by two new clubs to twelve for the 2018-19 season.
The A-League is currently in its eleventh year and without question, be it comparatively to the old NSL or simply judged on its own merits, it has been a resounding success.
The brands and identities involved are identifiable on a national scale, the size and grandeur of the Melbourne Victory, the excitement and flair of the Western Sydney Wanderers, the love and affection for Archie Thompson and the more recent obsession with all things Tim Cahill.
Sure, the prize for winning the league is a spray-painted toilet seat and there’s been trouble with booking venues for Grand Finals, league chairmen staying on the daises at trophy presentations and the accountants at certain Western Australian franchises not awfully good at basics like addition and subtraction.
But all in all, to give the reincarnation of the national league a pass mark would be to undersell its performance.
Now the league wants another two clubs, and concerns arise with the likely locations to receive these new teams.
We are hearing a team based in Tasmania, Hobart and/or Launceston, there are talks of Geelong, possibly a Cronulla/Sutherland club, or further south in Wollongong, perhaps a return to Townsville, or a second team in Brisbane, and then there’s talk of a third team for Melbourne, either something brand new based far south-east or at a pinch maybe the reappearance of an old combatant – South Melbourne.
Those in the know feel as though Tasmania is as strong a chance as any to be one of the two chosen, a bid backed by heavyweights with finance and experience behind them, and then something south of Sydney, be it as close as Cronulla, or indeed Wollongong might snaffle the other opportunity.
A rock solid waste of time that would be.
No free to air network currently sees the value in putting up the big bucks for A-League content. The idea of Central Coast hosting Wellington Phoenix has no market worth whatsoever; you’d be better off trying to flog re-runs of Heartbeat.
Sure, there are dud games in the AFL and NRL too, but look at the Big Bash as better example, every single game no matter who is playing has commercial interest; it’s consistent, it’s always going to pull a big audience and that’s why Channel 10 is paying big bucks but also devoting so much of its prime time to it – it works.
The A-League is a long way off, and that’s with its current mix of established clubs. Imagine weakening that further with franchises that don’t add any value.
Tasmania, whilst noble and fantastic that our Apple Isle friends can get behind a rare commodity – a team of their own on the national scale, won’t do a thing to tickle the chins of mainland audiences nor marketing executives. You think it was hard to get good ratings for Central Coast vs. Wellington, how about the following weekend when Wellington is hosting Tasmania.
Yes, there’ll be ‘some’ interest, we’ll all want to know how Tasmania FC or Tasmania United or Atletico Tasmanio is going but you’re not going to watch them anymore than you want to watch Mariah Carey preform on new year’s eve.
Same goes with any other of Geelong, Sutherland, Townsville, Canberra or Wollongong. They are regional stories that are fantastic for the local communities, but like some elderly woman living in the country who makes it to her 100th birthday, its huge news locally but do you think those in Bondi or Albert Park would even bat an eyelid?
And then we hear about south-eastern Melbourne. Oh it’s a growth corridor, we’ll get all the people from Casey council and Cardinia council and we’ll put a boutique stadium next to Dandenong station.
Has the world gone mad? Sure, there’s a tonne of people out there, but there’s also a tonne of people who voted for Casey Donovan to win Australian Idol, now she’s driving an Uber – having people’s interest is one thing, turning that interest into something commercially sustainable is another thing altogether.
Melbourne City, owned by the City Group who are bankrolled by a group of Sheikhs so wealthy you can’t actually measure their value, are set up beautifully to succeed and print money as a title-winning, prosperous club.
They get smaller crowds than a bacon stall at a vegan convention and make less money than Kodak, Blockbuster and Sanity combined, all the while having the nation’s greatest ever soccer player as their star attraction.
The A-League is doing just fine but it’s not going gangbusters yet. Victory, Sydney FC, the Wanderers, sure, they’re doing reasonably well and you’d be happy looking at their balance sheets.
But as long as you’ve got little spot fires with an underwhelming Melbourne City, and the non-for-profits like the Newcastle Jets for example, the last thing you should do is light a few more spot fires and give yourself more headaches.
The only exception would be South Melbourne – a proven history of support and passion which, yes, at times boiled over to staunch fanaticism. But it’s 2017; a heavily-governed policing of the club’s activities and the actions of its supporters would see South Melbourne flourish again on the national scale in a most positive manner.
But they won’t do it. They won’t go back on the mantra that this new league is exempt from the demons of the past, issues stemming from ethnic-based clubs who caused more harm than good to the game’s image.
Even though commercially speaking South would become one of the stronger clubs in the whole competition within 10 years and common sense would show that.
But the irony with common sense – it’s not very common.
So the FFA will avoid the South Melbourne route, decide to go all Cletus Spuckler and plop a franchise in Tasmania, or Wollongong, or the Sunshine Coast, and before you know it those same newspaper hounds will be covering how the league plans to prop up, support, manage the number of struggling franchises under its watch.
The Big Bash executives in the Cricket Australia offices will be doing cartwheels.