Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Finally some good news for football as Nix gain extension

Blake Powell of the Phoenix celebrates with team mates after scoring a third goal during the round 19 A-League match against the Western Sydney Wanderers. Photo / Getty Images.
Blake Powell of the Phoenix celebrates with team mates after scoring a third goal during the round 19 A-League match against the Western Sydney Wanderers. Photo / Getty Images.

Finally, some good news for football in this country.

After a year of mostly negative headlines - topped off by two extraordinary and costly administrative blunders by New Zealand Football - the game received a major fillip yesterday, with the Wellington Phoenix granted a 10-year extension to their A-League licence.

It's a vital boost. It feels like a new start. Nobody really knows whether Football Federation Australia would have carried out the drastic step of cutting the Phoenix from the league, but that prospect would set the sport back decades in this country.

There are, as ever, some caveats in the conditional deal. Somewhat appropriately, it's set out in a 4-3-3 formation - participation in the next four years is guaranteed, before two further three-year extensions that are contingent on several factors.

The specifics of these "hurdles", as FFA chief executive David Gallop described them, weren't made public but centre around building crowd numbers and increasing revenue streams (read amount of broadcast revenue) that flows into the league from this country.

Sky TV pay a relative pittance for A-League rights, compared with the multi-million dollar deal negotiated in Australia with Fox Sports.

However, Phoenix chief executive Rob Morrison welcomes the presence of such targets.

"We are quite comfortable with the deal," said Morrison. "We wanted some hard hurdles in there so that if we could achieve them, [the renewal] would be automatic.
"We wouldn't be investing in the club if we thought we were just going to muddle along. We are comfortable because if we can't reach the hurdles, then we are not doing the job or getting the results we would want out of the club either. We are on the same page as the FFA."

Attendance figures should not be a problem, if on field performance can remain relatively steady. The Phoenix have increased their average crowd figures each of the past four years, and topped both Central Coast and Newcastle last season. They also reached a record number of memberships this year, though Morrison acknowledges that was partly from the impetus of the Save the Nix campaign.

Raising more broadcast revenue might be more problematic. It's not a core responsibility of the Phoenix - it's negotiated among Fox Sports, the FFA and Sky - and Sky will pay only what they think the rights are worth. But the entry of new players into the market and the digital possibilities that abound may change the equation in the next few years.

Yesterday's news continued a good week for the club, after their impressive 5-2 win over the Western Sydney Wanderers last week snapped a nine-game winless run. Today they face the revitalised Newcastle Jets across the Tasman, with Ben Sigmund expected to return from injury.

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