Australian football is continually growing in popularity and prestige, attracting bigger crowds, well-known names and more and more lucrative commercial prospects to the sport.
As such, it has presented officials in charge of the Australian top flight, the A-League, with a dilemma.
Operating on a franchise system, much like football over in the United States, they decide outright which teams will be in the country’s top division and where they will be based, rather than a traditional promotion and relegation system as is commonplace around much of the rest of the footballing world.
For a country like Australia, that presents a real dilemma when deciding upon the locations of new expansion teams. Suddenly, footballing executives must choose between commercial profits and better, more widespread representation of the Australian populace.
Basically, they have a decision between quick profit or a slow growth, but which could potentially herald entirely new markets.
It’s no easy decision to make, but it does seem as if currently the Australian top flight are favouring towards the former. Of the two most recently welcomed expansion teams in the A-League, both are set to be based around some of the country’s major cities.
Joining this year for their inaugural season, Western United FC are based in Melbourne, becoming the third side to play out of the city alongside Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City. Meanwhile, Macarthur FC – the other announced expansion side, as the A-League grows to 12 teams, will join the league the following season and represent Sydney. They will become the city’s third side, as well as the fifth within only a short stretch of eastern Australia coastline.
Now, this makes some financial sense. Expansion bids require commercial backing from wealthy businesses and investors, and often these are based in Australia’s most prosperous cities. As such, they want their new sides close to home – leading to such a focus of clubs around these areas.
Of the 12 teams soon to comprise Australia’s top flight, only four clubs are based outside the wider Melbourne or Sydney areas.
One of those clubs, Wellington Phoenix, isn’t even based in the country. The New Zealand side play in the Australian top flight, but they are a Kiwi side based across the Tasman Sea in the New Zealand capital. That leaves just three professional top flight sides in the A-League covering the remainder of Australia outside of the Sydney and Melbourne areas.
Perth Glory at least bring football to the west coast of Australia, while Brisbane Roar and Adelaide United represent large cities which sit along the very same coastlines as the aforementioned Sydney and Melbourne.
It truly begs the question as to whether the A-League governing bodies need to look closer at where they want to position the next round of expansion teams. Surely it makes sense to better represent the wider Australian populace?
Cities in the north and central areas of Australia, in Tasmania and even the capital city, Canberra, are all without representation in the highest division of Australian football, which just seems counter-intuitive.
Better representation and coverage of football will do nothing but benefit the sport, especially in a country so vast and where football is forced to compete with other sports for dominance and attention.
Australian rules football has in particular done a fantastic job of more widespread appeal, connecting closely with communities in Australia often overlooked. It is the reason the sport has a significant Australian Aboriginal representation, something missing from association football. Why would the young members of these communities look to football when they better access to other sports, and can see stars like themselves making it at the highest level.
The A-League must think honestly about changing their policy if they want to break that cycle. The potential fans are there, many of these cities like Hobart, Cairns or Darwin have well-supported sides playing at lower tiers of the football pyramid. It’d be a financial gamble, but it seems like one that is worth the risk for both investor and the league alike.