A championship team, including marquee players. A big budget. An attack-minded coach. Football and commercial staff at the top of their field. A multi-club model. And maybe – sometime in the future – a new downtown stadium.
If American billionaire Bill Foley wanted to make a splash about his new Auckland A-League franchise – which was officially launched on Tuesday afternoon – he wasn’t holding back, projecting confidence and vision that would turn heads.
Only time will tell how successful the squads can be, with a men’s team launching for the 2024-25 season, followed by the women’s side a year later but the 78-year-old was clear about his ambition.
“I can tell you this, we will be successful,” said Foley, as he gazed out at the large media pack. “We are not in this to be bottom of the league, we are in this to win it.”
As a flourish, he flashed a massive Stanley Cup ring on his left hand, the spoils from the recent NHL triumph with the Vegas Golden Knights, the expansion team he launched in 2017.
That was pure theatre but he had firm ideas.
“I don’t want to say we don’t have a budget, because we do have a budget, but we will be one of the top spenders in the league,” Foley told the Herald.
He didn’t divulge exact figures but that would mean an annual operating budget of around $20 million. Foley wants the franchise to be based around homegrown players but admits it will take time to develop an academy.
“Until that happens, we will probably be spending quite a bit of money,” said Foley. “We are entitled to five visa players and two marquee players. Some of the teams don’t fill out those spots, we will fill them all out, because I need to have those players for leadership among those other players and I need to have the skill level.”
They have already started discussions with potential coaches. Chief executive Nick Becker – also confirmed on Tuesday – said A-League experience or a “connection with Australasia” was important, while Foley indicated that the new mentor must have an attacking mindset.
“We want an offensive-minded, pressing coach,” said Foley.
Foley is also open to a custom-built arena. He is happy at Mt Smart - “we are there for a few years at least” - but told the Herald the long-term plan would be a waterfront stadium, with a capacity of around 20,000.
“It’s something we would want to do,” said Foley. “We need to get the right partners, but I want to be very involved. We want our own stadium and we are quite excited about that, though it would take time.”
Becker, an Aucklander who has worked at Arsenal, Manchester City and Melbourne City, is the first of several key staff members.
“We are going to hire the best,” said Foley. “They are top-notch.”
The delayed entry of the women’s side was a pragmatic call, based on the already tight timeframe.
“I’ve been through this once with the [Vegas] Golden Knights, we had a year-and-a-half to put the team together,” said Foley. “What I didn’t want to do was launch two teams and not do a good job.”
Foley, who has wide business interests in New Zealand, with wine, restaurants and hospitality, admitted the process of acquiring the licence had been “fast”.
“The A-League was pretty far down the road with the other consortium,” admitted Foley. “When the exclusivity ran out, they called and said, ‘We would like to talk to you’. It went quick from there.”
A-League commissioner Nick Garcia wouldn’t give details on why the local bid had missed out, telling the Herald it was “a competitive process”.
Foley had never considered an Australian A-League venture - “I’m such a fan of New Zealand” - nor purchasing the Wellington Phoenix if they had been for sale.
“This is a blank sheet of paper,” said Foley. “I’m going to hire an entire staff, put it together, I didn’t want to get involved in an existing franchise, I would rather build it from the ground up.”
The hard road is yet to come, especially the reality of filling stadiums and winning games, in a league that has its fair share of recent issues, with some concerning attendance patterns and a poorly designed television rights deal.
But for now, Foley is enjoying the opening chapter.
“I’m 78, I’ve got to hurry up,” he laughed. “This is fun for me. If I don’t have things like this to do I will just fritter away.”
Michael Burgess has been a sports journalist since 2005, winning several national awards and covering Olympics, Fifa World Cups and America’s Cup campaigns. A football aficionado, Burgess will never forget the noise that greeted Rory Fallon’s goal against Bahrain in Wellington in 2009.