Soccer: Auckland City eye A-League spot

By Michael Brown

Auckland's Emiliano Tade kicks for goal. Waitakere United vs Auckland City FC, ASB Premiership semi-final first leg, Fred Taylor Park, Whenuapai, Auckland. Photo / Jason Dorday.
Auckland's Emiliano Tade kicks for goal. Waitakere United vs Auckland City FC, ASB Premiership semi-final first leg, Fred Taylor Park, Whenuapai, Auckland. Photo / Jason Dorday.

Auckland City are talking to a handful of potential investors with the aim of getting a second New Zealand team in the A-League, with Wellington Phoenix owner Gareth Morgan at the top of the list.

Morgan is keen to see another New Zealand team in the Australian competition, and has held preliminary discussions with Auckland City chairman Ivan Vuksich, but doesn't want to drive the project.

The Football Federation Australia have outlined plans to expand the 10-team competition, with sides from Wollongong, Canberra, Tasmania and even Asia touted as possibilities. New Zealand represents an attractive market commercially, with opportunities around sponsorship and broadcasting.

Auckland City offers some potential because they already have a fanbase of about 2000 and have achieved good success, having won four national titles and played at five Club World Cups. They also go into Sunday's ASB Premiership final against Team Wellington at Kiwitea St as firm favourites.

But Auckland has an inglorious history with Australia's top professional competition, with both the Football Kingz and New Zealand Knights dismal failures. What has given rise to some hope is the fact decent crowds have attended Phoenix games at Eden Park - 18,056 watched last month's 2-1 win over Adelaide United and more than 20,000 attended 12 months previously - although it's more difficult to sustain that over time.

"I think it would be great to have a second team from New Zealand in the A-League and the obvious place for it is Auckland,'' Morgan said. ``If Auckland, and probably Auckland City, were to get on the way to achieving that I would be more than willing to participate. But Auckland has to have its heart in because I don't want to drive it.

"If Auckland got off its butt, I would be there. I just think it would be good for the game.

"The conversations I have had with the FFA in Australia is that they are supportive of the idea.''

Morgan views his ownership of the Phoenix as ``social work'' because individuals don't go into football to make money. The 10 clubs in the league have annual turnovers between $6-$14 million.

Morgan will talk to new New Zealand Football chief executive Andy Martin about the proposal this month and Vuksich has already met with a number of potential investors.

"It's very early days but if there's a possibility of another A-League team in Auckland we would definitely be keen to be involved,'' Vuksich said. "I have people working for me trying to find investors and the signs are reasonably encouraging. There are plenty of people in Auckland who could do it, perhaps half a dozen, but it's whether we can get them interested.

"If it's promoted the right way, I think it's possible to get 10,000-12,000 fans at games. But Auckland is a difficult market and even the Blues [Super Rugby side] are struggling to get 15,000 fans to games.''

Morgan and Vuksich have also had very preliminary discussions about establishing a more formal relationship between the two clubs. A number of Auckland City players have gone on to the Phoenix, including Ben Sigmund, Jason Hicks, Matthew Ridenton and Albert Riera, and Wellington coach Ernie Merrick has his eye on a couple of promising youngsters.

Morgan would like to take it further and have formal relationships with all the ASB Premiership franchises but there are difficulties around players crossing over from amateur and professional leagues, not to mention the A-League is recognised as an Asian competition.

- APNZ

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