With the announcement of the FFA’s expansion plan and their final decision still two years away, anticipation grows and the critics circle.
Without a new ownership model that sees the inclusion of two new teams and financial security for all twelve, the FFA see expansion as unsustainable.
Of course, it will happen and patience is key to do it right, yet whichever direction the FFA eventually decide to go, there are going to be some incredibly disappointed people.
If ignored, Brisbane folk will be grumpy that the potential derby with a state rival is lost for the time being. South Melbourne would feel their tradition and heritage should have been rewarded if they are overlooked and the Les Murray/Craig Foster southern expansion bid will make some serious media waves, as they already have in regards to the W-League decision.
Only time will tell, with the announcement only being the start of the process. Myriad details will need to be ironed out once the decision is made. People will focus on kit colour, team name and other finicky details yet the successful expansion team/teams commercial appearance will be more important.
What exactly does a successful expansion team in the A-League look like? In my eyes, it starts with a marquee. Not just a good signing or a seasoned pro, I mean the marquee to end all marquees.
It is in the best interests of the expansion philosophy that the initial moments pack a punch. Success on the pitch, financial stability and crowd numbers will surely take some time to grow, and that’s okay, but the start of this journey must have impact.
Seeing the international star, or perhaps a Socceroo, swamped by media at the airport, hustled into a taxi and hours later, the subject of a photo shoot with new kit in hand is vital. A manager, standing nearby, grinning like a Cheshire cat, would complete the picture.
The marquee man must bring quality and class and these attributes must permeate through the entire organisation. Professionalism from the front office to the children acting as ball kids at home games.
There is no point being average. Expansion needs to come with a bang. We have some moderately successful and professionally run A-League teams right now. The best thing a new team could do, is set the bar higher.
Australia will, no doubt, have slicker and more corporately supported teams in the future. The unbridled growth of the game and the junior numbers will inevitably transform football to the biggest and most powerful, truly national, code. However, at this stage, the local product still has the remnants of its amateurish origins.
A new expansion team can be a model for the way the future of Australian football should look.
The excitement around the club needs to be juicy enough to entice new sponsors, corporate interests and businesses that have been on the football fringes, tempted to dip their feet into the beautiful game.
Otherwise, there will be a sameness about the new team and that sameness and the current cries for expansion, are what build the fear of stagnation.
I wouldn’t expect to be required to pay for a ticket to attend the new expansion team’s home games for the first few months of the season. Marketing the new club through different media sources, significant ticket giveaways and offering tangible incentives in the local community to attend, should far outweigh any short term revenue.
I would expect to see jumping castles, affordable club merchandise for sale, great multicultural food and game day entertainment like we have never seen before. Maybe even throw in a flying sauce bottle or two.
Having a considerable number of spectators in attendance without an intricate or perhaps even a basic understanding of the game is not undesirable. Reciprocal memberships with local clubs in other codes would be a terrific way to get some bums on seats in the early stages of the season.
A partnership between South Melbourne and St Kilda would be a nice snug fit, as would a southern Sydney expansion deal struck between the Cronulla Sharks and the new entity. The potential of a link between a new Brisbane team and the Broncos is a mouth-watering thought for the A-League.
Showing the sports fan what an A-League game looks and feels like would never be as easy as in the early days of expansion. Giving away free tickets and claiming massive interest has been done before and while met with some cynicism, it grabs headlines.
Offer existing club members of other professional teams, whether it be football or not, an A-League ticket in general admission seating for fifty dollars a season.
Full club memberships cost somewhat more than this and more devout followers of the game, excited about their new team. will take up this option. However, it would be foolish for the FFA to miss the opportunity to invest heavily and aggressively in the new markets.
With astute scheduling, the A-League season opens with a new derby. I don’t care in which city it takes place, but the new team must face its new enemy, unfortunately that’s what it will become, in week one or two. The team songs need not only to be written, they need to be well rehearsed, loud and provide an atmosphere to rival that of the visitors.
The match must be played on the home turf of the new boys, at night and if there aren’t dancers, pyrotechnics and multiple rocket launches hurling free gear into the crowd, then we aren’t taking expansion as seriously as we should.
When the marquee thumps one home from twenty yards and sprints to the supporters behind the goal, I got goose bumps writing that, the new team will have arrived.
Watching a flat start for a new expansion team, with poor crowd numbers and little media interest just can’t happen. Football can’t afford it. The A-League can’t afford it.
When the time comes, do it right. Give them a quality squad, a marquee name, a solid front office and do everything to make them noticeable.
Incentivise to lure people in, make the experience memorable, cheap and fun. Attack families and kids. Give away jerseys and create a new excitement.
As successful as the A-League has been in its short life, the sense that the pioneer days are over gets stronger. The inevitability of expansion is scary, intimidating and fraught with danger.
Lets just hope that we the inevitable does happen, that we do it big and do it right.