The time is right for a new Auckland A-League team, though there are some critical factors for it to succeed.
The news on Wednesday that Auckland is one of two preferred locations for an expansion franchise from the 2024/25 season was long overdue.
Interested parties from this city have been petitioning and knocking on doors for years, though it has only become a realistic proposition since Football Australia handed over control of the league in 2020.
And now the way seems clear.
There will be naysayers – and Wednesday’s development provoked memories about the ill-fated Football Kingz and New Zealand Knights - but there is no chance of a repeat of those sad episodes.
Here are eight reasons why this could be different.
The venture will have money behind it – and it will need to. Whoever stumps up with the $20 million licence fee won’t quibble about the annual operating costs ($3-5 million), with commercial partners to help in that area.
The Kingz and especially the Knights had constant cash flow problems, with the now legendary stories of last-minute cheques being written at the airport to ensure players could get to their next game. It was hand-to-mouth – and quite chaotic behind the scenes – which won’t be allowed to happen this time, especially as the A-League has a vested interest.
The A League has endured many incarnations over the years and the late 1990s and early 2000s was particularly fluid, with teams coming and going.
The old National Soccer League was almost broken by the final season of the Kingz, with financial issues, image and identity problems and deep-rooted factions. That seems to be a thing of the past, helped by owners with deeper pockets and a better strategic vision for the league.
There is no shortage of local talent, with New Zealand getting better at producing football stock.
The Phoenix have led the way, beside the various private academies in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, along with other areas. This new team need to be built on a local core – like the Phoenix – and that is much more feasible now than two decades ago.
When the Kingz and the Knights were sourcing football players, it was often on a hope or a prayer.
It was the early days of the internet, with much less analysis and information available. The Kingz churned through an incredible amount of personnel while the Knights signed plenty of duds.
Getting the right visa players remains a mix of art and science, but the Phoenix have shown it is possible to have a lot more hits and misses while the global supply has never been greater.
There is a latent appetite for professional football in this city. That has been helped by migration patterns, with 90 per cent of recent immigrants from countries where football is in the top two sports.
Participation rates have never been higher and crowd numbers for the All Whites and Phoenix in Auckland have been encouraging.
Sustaining that interest on a fortnightly basis will be a challenge, but the new team will have support from areas that the Blues and Warriors can’t reach.
Global football environment
The football landscape has changed significantly over the last two decades, with ambitious investors spreading their wings across continents.
That has led to vertical structures like City Football Group (12 clubs across the world, from Manchester City to Melbourne City) or Red Bull (four teams in Austria, United States, Germany and Brazil). An Italian family owns both Udinese and Watford and there are several American and Middle Eastern consortiums than run multiple clubs.
Sourcing overseas investment in an Auckland-based team won’t be the challenge it once was.
The prospect of three domestic derbies each season is a huge bonus. The best leagues are built on genuine rivalries and the competition between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory has been a cornerstone of the A-League.
There’s a template…
Over the last four or five years the Phoenix have evolved into one of the best A-League operations, in everything from player development and high performance to recruitment, fan engagement and commercial relations. That existing recipe will be vital for the new venture. There will also be inspiration gleaned from Auckland City FC, who have made giant strides on the world stage despite limited resources and a reliance on a volunteer base.