Soccer state of play: Where to spend $17m payday a nice dilemma

By Steven Holloway

In the final part of our series, Steven Holloway investigates what New Zealand Football has done with past World Cup winnings and what it might do, fingers crossed, with a bumper payday in six days' time.

The All Whites' last big payday was a $10 million nest egg from reaching the South Africa World Cup in 2010 after they beat Bahrain 1-0 at Westpac Stadium in November 2009. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The All Whites' last big payday was a $10 million nest egg from reaching the South Africa World Cup in 2010 after they beat Bahrain 1-0 at Westpac Stadium in November 2009. Photo / Mark Mitchell

New Zealand Football is poised to trouser the biggest cash dividend in its 122-year history if the All Whites can get past Mexico over the next six days.

But perhaps surprisingly for having such a game-changing sum within sniffing distance, soccer bosses have no fixed plans on how they might spend a total purse of $17 million that they stand to gain from World Cup qualification and television rights to the home game against Mexico.

However, when they look back over the past four years they are satisfied with the investments they have made in development structures from their last big payday - a $10 million nest egg from reaching the South Africa World Cup.

New Zealand Football acting chief executive Mark Aspden said the board had had an initial discussion about the prospect of another bumper payday but had no specific projects in mind should the All Whites do the business.

"The question is, is the next dollar best spent in developing a few referees? A few coaches? What would be the goal of putting more money into the Premiership? To get more people along watching? What would that achieve? But there are only so many areas we spend money," Aspden said.

"No matter what decision you make, there will be someone who says, 'Well, it would be better if you spent money in this area."'

Whatever happens over the next two matches, Aspden says life will go on.

"In a strange sense it's easier to have no money. Having money presents challenges. If you've got no money then it's easy, you don't do anything. There are a lot of good calls on money. Almost every idea is not silly, so it's always a balancing act about how much you put towards international teams, coach development, referee development, competitions. It's a balancing act the board and management make with every decision."

Any big payday would be in stark contrast to NZF's darkest days in early 2008, when the national body faced an $800,000 deficit and relied upon bankers for its survival. The catalyst of the shortfall was a cancelled All Whites-Fiji World Cup qualifier the year before and an exceptionally poor gate for a game against Vanuatu in Wellington, but the financial crisis led to Frank Van Hattum superseding John Morris as chairman, and the end of Graham Seatter's time as chief executive.

After receiving the $10 million Fifa bounty from the South African tournament and stripping away player payments, NZF ended up with a sum that boosted its 2010 annual budget by more than two-thirds.

It also found itself with profile, opportunity and a world of decisions to make.

But the fact that NZF contests more world tournaments than any other Kiwi sports code kept them sober.

With no serious challengers at Oceania level since Australia left the confederation, young Kiwis have strolled into Youth World Cups at an unprecedented rate.

New Zealand Football spends $250,000 on each two-year campaign and since 2010 they have had eight.

"Prior to 2010 preparation for age group tournaments was pretty hit or miss," said Aspden. "I think on one occasion we didn't even enter a tournament. But preparation was dependent on how the bank balance was looking at any particular time of year, certainly in terms of employing coaches for those teams and giving them a decent build-up."

NZF also set up a fund in 2010 that contributed $2.5 million towards an international programme that included teams that competed at the London Olympics, OFC Nations Cup, age-group World Cups and other internationals.

But perhaps New Zealand's biggest benefactor was its Whole of Football plan launched in 2010, which has been adopted as the blueprint for the development and growth of the game at grassroots level.

Over $3 million has been thrown annually (in non-World Cup years) at the five-to-10-year plan, which focuses on primary and intermediate age children in the belief that a quality experience at this level will lead to a lifelong love for the game.

Launching Whole of Football not only gave NZF a development programme benchmarked on world-leading football associations, it also gave it a product that sponsors were interested in. Government funder Sparc also came to the party, contributing $760,000 annually for the first three years.

Phase One of the programme, created by former NZF director of football John Herdman, has been well received and NZF is now challenged with capitalising on the resulting connections.

Aspden said there were no guarantees that a $17 million purse ($11 million after player payments) would change NZF's controversial stance on its pay to play model for junior national representatives in the country.

"The rationale behind that move wasn't that NZF had run out of money, but that it was seen as a fair contribution by players given the personal benefit they get from participating at a World Cup. So that wouldn't automatically disappear, but it would certainly be something to look at.

"There's a very significant personal gain for players in going to those tournaments and the reason behind the charges is that it doesn't seem fair that the wider membership base picks up the whole cost. It's certainly one that can be argued both ways. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer."

The series

Tuesday

We looked at the health of the game at junior and youth developmental stages, and the three pathways for up-and-coming footballers to pursue.

Yesterday

We asked whether the ASB Premiership is fulfilling its role and about the rapidly improving Football Ferns and the women's game.

- NZ Herald

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