Auckland set to join A-League from 2024


Phoenix fans

Photo: Photosport

Auckland is set to have an A-League football club from next year.

Auckland and Canberra are the next cities in line for A-Leagues club expansion with the Australian Professional Leagues confirming they plan to introduce a second New Zealand club, ahead of the 2024-25 season.

Canberra will receive an A-League Men’s team, while Auckland will receive an entirely new club, ahead of the 2024-25 season.

Tasmania and Darwin will be considered in the next round as the APL looks to take the A-Leagues to “as many people as possible”.

All future bids must contain men’s and women’s teams, as well as assurances around facilities.

This is the first phase of expansion that the APL has organised following their unbundling from Football Australia in 2020, and marks a shift away from the process that saw Western United and Macarthur FC join the A-Leagues in 2019 and 2020 respectively.

The last two clubs to receive A-Leagues licenses under Football Australia did so under the rationale that they would grow alongside developing population corridors in western Melbourne and south-west Sydney.

However, both clubs have struggled to embed themselves in these communities over the past few years, in part due to the challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic, in addition to a lack of local facilities, patchy fan engagement, and tumultuous leadership behind the scenes.

Chief executive Danny Townsend said the APL was now taking a different approach by instead identifying existing populations that were currently not represented by an entire A-Leagues club (men and women) in order to “hit the ground running”, having learned from the slow starts made by Western and Macarthur.

Auckland and Canberra have ticked multiple boxes on that front, with Tasmania and Darwin also in the frame for future expansion rounds.

“Those two last expansion clubs [Western and Macarthur] were given licences on the back of being two healthy growth corridors in Australia … and FA wanted to build a club in the community as the community grew around it,” he said.

“In the long term, they’re going to be great clubs because they’re going to grow with that community. I think what we’re trying to do with these next two is drive into an [existing] passion for football and hunger for elite football, and Canberra and Auckland have got those attributes.

“We want to make sure that, from day one, they are really strong additions to our league.”

Shea Connors of Brisbane Roar and Mackenzie Barry of the Phoenix.

The Phoenix women’s side is in their second season in the A-League.
Photo: Photosport

A second major pillar of their new expansion strategy is greater diligence over club ownership, with a handful of current A-Leagues clubs such as the Newcastle Jets and Brisbane Roar still experiencing tensions with their owners.

As part of their expansion plan, the APL aims to engage with local partners and investors first and foremost, with an eye to creating consortiums of owners as opposed to individuals, in order to reduce the financial precarity of incoming clubs.

Local and international investors with pre-existing football acumen will also rank favourably when assessing prospective owners.

The introduction of Auckland to the A-Leagues means New Zealand will now be represented by two clubs, joining the Wellington Phoenix to create the competitions’ first New Zealand derby.

While Football Australia was hesitant to introduce a second New Zealand team to the competition prior to the unbundling, in part due to their own prioritisation of Australian players and also the collapse of the Phoenix’s predecessor the New Zealand Knights, Townsend said the A-Leagues has become a separate commercial entity with different priorities.

“Are we a league that is an Australian league with a Kiwi team, or are we an Australasian league that embraces the whole country off to our right?

“Our view is, we’ve got an opportunity to embrace the whole nation. Auckland is the biggest metro city in Australia or New Zealand without a team. We’re not overly concerned about history and why things worked or didn’t.

“You obviously look at why the [New Zealand] Knights didn’t work, and you learn from that and ensure you don’t follow the same path. We’re confident that there is a better path than the one they took,” Townsend said.

The now defunct Auckland based New Zealand Knights were a predecessor to the Wellington Phoenix in the A-League.

The now defunct Auckland based New Zealand Knights were a predecessor to the Wellington Phoenix in the A-League.
Photo: Photosport

“We want to take A-Leagues professional football to as many people as we can across those two countries. It was sort of a no-brainer.”

While the APL has not yet projected beyond the 2024-25 season, the licences of which they expect to award in June, Townsend said that both Tasmania and Darwin were two potential candidates that they would be engaging with following expansion to Canberra and Auckland, with the ultimate goal being 16 teams for 30-round competitions.

As part of their longer-term strategy, all future clubs will be required to have both a men’s and a women’s team if they want to be considered.

Further, clubs must provide assurances around high-performance facilities, including training fields and a stadium, which comes as Western United – whose entry into the A-League Men was predicated on the construction of their own stadium – remain without a home three seasons into their existence.

With the re-introduction of the Central Coast Mariners to the A-League Women’s next season, Macarthur FC will be the only club without a women’s side, making them the next likely candidate for ALW expansion in line with the APL’s “whole of football” strategy.

In a statement, New Zealand Football welcomed the news that the A-Leagues are looking at an expansion side in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland.

“One of our priorities as an organisation is establishing professional pathways for our players and a second New Zealand side in the country’s most populous city would unlock more opportunities for Kiwi talent.”

“We look forward to working with Football Australia and other key stakeholders across Australasia to explore this opportunity.”


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