The FFA announced last week that it has rejected Wellington Phoenix’s application for a 10 year licence extension.
It is a huge blow for the club and for the A-League.
A four-year extension is on the table, however, this appears to be more of a stay of execution than a real guarantee.
FFA CEO David Gallop said that the decision was “in the best interests of Australian football”.
“The application for a 10-year extension to the licence does not meet the requirements we see as fundamental to the future growth of the Hyundai A-League,” Gallop said.
However, the goal of the A-League should be expansion, not forcing clubs out of the competition, particularly one of the few clubs that are financially viable.
Admittedly, the crowds at the Phoenix games are not good enough, but handing the club a four year licence will surely turn fans away rather than draw more in. However, with New Zealand having a population of just four million people, the crowds in Wellington cannot be expected to be as high as some of the bigger clubs in the league such as Melbourne Victory or Sydney FC.
In order for the league to be taken seriously, it must expand to at least a 12 team competition very quickly and then further to a 14 team competition.
As the population of Australia and the popularity of the game is not as big as in other countries, adding teams in New Zealand, which has the potential to bring in an extra four million fans to the game, is a great way to build the league.
In order to build interest in New Zealand, the FFA should introduce a second club in the country, not force out the only professional football team in the nation.
A team in Auckland would be the perfect fit. It would also create an exciting New Zealand derby and if they could garnish even half as much interest at the Melbourne and Sydney derbies, then it would be a success.
The FFA has helped keep several struggling clubs afloat financially in recent years and now one of the few financially viable clubs, which is well run, is being kicked aside. It simply does not make sense.
The decision sends a poor message to future clubs and potential new owners of clubs. Why would a businessman invest his time and money into building an A-League club if it can be taken away so easily?
Several other codes such as the NRL, Super Rugby and the NBL have shown that a team or teams in New Zealand in an Australian based competition can work.
The FFA should grant Wellington a ten year licence extension, as they have done with other clubs, and commit to growing the game in Australia and improving and expanding the A-League, which should continue to include New Zealand.