Wellington Phoenix Chairman Rob Morrison has refuted claims he wants to sell the club's A-League license.
But he's echoed the call from other A-League club chairmen that significant change is needed in the way the A-League is run if the competition is to survive.
Rumours surfaced over the weekend, claiming Morrison was seeking an Australian buyer for the license currently held by the Welnix consortium, which operates Wellington Phoenix FC.
According to leading Australian football writer David Davutovic, Morrison has already met with interested parties as he seeks to either completely sell the license or enter into a shared ownership or merger agreement with another group based in Australia.
With the A-League to expand by two teams in 2019/20, Davutovic reported Morrison has held talks with at least two expansion hopefuls – Southern Expansion (based south of Sydney) and Campbelltown (southwest Sydney) – to explore the possibility of a full or partial sale of the Phoenix's license.
"No is the simple answer," Morrison exclusively told NZME.
"There has been all sorts of speculation about clubs talking to clubs. Parties have certainly talked to us and I know they have talked to other A-League clubs. When you announce there are going to be two new clubs, there's lots of jockeying for position and that's stirred up a lot of speculation. We'd be silly not to talk to people but that doesn't mean we're selling," he said.
"However, we've always been open to the fact that we'd like to have other investors in with us to share some of the load and who will create more pathways for the talent we produce."
In February 2016, after a period of uncertainty, Wellington was granted a four-year extension to their license until the end of the 2019/20 A-League season.
Provided the club meets mutually agreed targets around attendances, television viewership and greater financial contributions to the A-League, a further three-year participation agreement will then be approved, with a second three-year extension to be granted on similar criteria beyond the 2022/23 season.
But what has brought the Phoenix's place in the A-League into sharper recent focus is their forgettable 2017/18 campaign, avoiding the wooden spoon by only one point and winning just five of their 27 matches.
Coach Darije Kalezic was sacked during the season, but not before top players Gui Finkler and Dario Vidosic had departed, along with Vidosic's father, assistant coach Rado Vidosic.
Off the field, two of the most crucial metrics for the club's continued participation – crowds and TV viewership – were both down.
Given the downturn in their fortunes and impending A-League expansion, there have been suggestions from across the Tasman the Phoenix should be cut loose before the start of the 2019/20 season to allow for three new Australian-based teams (instead of two) to enter the expanded competition.
Under that scenario, next season would be the Phoenix's last.
A-League boss Greg O'Rourke confirmed earlier this month Wellington is below where it needs to be to trigger the first extension after the 2019/20 season.
"They have metrics to hit, and we'll continue to work with Wellington Phoenix to see whether or not they're interested in improving their club to a point where those metrics become achievable," O'Rourke said.
But Morrison has fired back.
"We obviously had a very disappointing season and we've acknowledged that, but the crowds were poor in the A-League, full-stop. It's indicative of where the A-League has got to. The FFA like to use us as a bit of a whipping boy and they've been public about the fact and that we're a concern to them, but the bigger concern is the way the FFA run the A-League."
"When you look at the next couple of years, the biggest thing is what will the A-League look like? Who will actually run it? The clubs are very focused on the fact the A-League needs to be run independently of the FFA. We need a new governance structure."
"All of the clubs want to see change and change is the best way forward, not just for us, but for every team in the A-League."
"All the clubs are hurting. Everyone has said things have gone backwards. At some stage you have to say, do we continue to run with this or do we make significant change? Everyone with the exception of the FFA is of the view we have to make change," Morrison said.
Australian-based football pundits have been extremely vocal in their calls for Wellington to be kicked out of the A-League, with former internationals John Kosmina, Robbie Slater and Mark Bosnich among those to suggest the Phoenix should be cut.
"There's always a lot of noise and a lot of it is uninformed noise, particularly talking heads in the media who might have been quite good football players but know squat about running football clubs. I don't expect that noise to disappear and it gets traction. That makes it difficult. It doesn't concern me but it concerns our fans and sponsors," Morrison said.
As a result of the ongoing speculation about their future, the Phoenix's loyal fan-base, Yellow Fever, now exists in an almost constant state of doubt and impending extinction.
"I can well understand how frustrating it's been for our fans and I feel for them," Morrison said.
"We need to get better results on the park – everyone knows that. If we do that, it's obviously going to be a lot easier for our fan base. It is unfortunate that there will always be speculation, but a lot of it is just that – speculation. I think if you got rid of half of it, it still wouldn't be the truth."