New Zealand Football has changed the structure and composition of its national league five times over the past two decades, and recent rumblings strongly suggest No6 is in the pipeline.

NZF is going through a consultation process with leading clubs, seeking input on the direction and structure of the national league - and a women's league - with a series of national competition review meetings around the country.

Chief executive Andy Martin spoke last week about the possibility of the franchise-based national league model being overhauled in favour of a return to a club-based competition in late 2016, with an outcome likely to be made public in July.

For Kiwi football fans, this debate will be well worn, though there are some key questions that need to be addressed.


Under the original ASB Premiership licence agreement the long term goal of the league was to be "the premier men's competition, commercially sustainable, entertainment product that engages the interest of both players and supporters of football in New Zealand through a structured, centralised administration offering central planning and policies to ensure consistency and quality ... "

Does the current model, which costs over $600,000 a year to run, still meet those stated objectives?

Given so few people seem to be watching, would a return to a club-based format bring a more loyal and passionate following?

Would it produce a more evenly spread competition than the current one - which only the two Auckland clubs have ever won?

Are clubs any better placed to contest a national league now, when it has always been such a challenge in the past?

The ASB Premiership, which will this year enter its 12th season, is propped up by community gaming trusts where pokie machine losers probably contribute at least $25 for every dollar taken at the gate.

That is probably true of most national sporting events, of course, but crowds have dwindled in recent years and the league has an image problem; with no games on TV it's largely invisible to the public.

Whereas it was once the domestic pinnacle of football, in terms of fan consumption and live television coverage, that is now the domain of Wellington Phoenix.


But just because the current model is broken, does it mean "club-based" will necessarily make it better?

Ideologically it sounds great; leagues should be built on clubs not franchises, football needs relegation and promotion, and club stalwarts will help drive the passion through the communities.

However, clubs will still need the same amount of pokie money - and it will still need NZF to be prepared to invest more time, money, and resources into a new, improved design.

The good news is there's a lot more money in the game these days than when the code first experimented with a summer league in January 1996, thanks to Fifa funding and the injection of million-dollar prizemoney from the World Club Champs.

And some minor modifications could easily be made. Getting kick-off times to better suit the potential audiences would help. Lifestyles have changed markedly in recent decades - particularly with seven-days-a-week shopping - and more floodlit games might address this.

A return to the weekly highlights TV package that was possible in the first season of the New Zealand Football Championship, in 2004-05, might be a good investment of World Club Champs prizemoney.

Also, how about some double-headers in Auckland - if only to avoid the absurd situation of having competing fixtures on the same afternoon in the same city.

If the model does get scrapped it raises a supplementary question. What motivation will there be for franchises, fans and sponsors to really give a stuff about this final season? If the league as we know it is dying, will anyone care?

If there is one sure bet as this review process evolves, it is that there will be few arguing for preserving the status quo. Even Auckland City FC - who have thrived in the current model and are arguably the most well-supported team in the league - have attendances which are only a fraction of what they were when the eight-team summer league was launched in 2004.

But turning a peach into a pear helps no one, and NZF must be aware that the wrong move could set the national league back 10 years.

If there is one thing that stands out from previous revamps and structural tinkering, it is that the national league is most yearned for when we haven't got it.

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