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As the December 12 deadline for A-League expansion closes in, the football family waits with bated breath to learn which two of the remaining six bids will be granted entry into the national top tier. Or perhaps the new Board may be particularly bullish, and go for more?

That is, of course, if the new FFA Board is in any position to make a decision at all.

It has been a tumultuous 18 months for the game in Australia, with the shambles off the park unfortunately dominating far too much of the focus on the game.

The new Board must now take its opportunity to provide a fresh lease on life for football. For many, there would be few better ways for the new Board to announce itself with the timely and much-needed expansion of the A-League.

The previous Board oversaw a process which whittled down 10 bids into eight and then to the final six, those being Southern Expansion (NSW), South West Sydney (NSW), Western Melbourne (VIC), Team 11 (VIC), South Melbourne (VIC), Canberra (ACT).

When the FFA called for expressions of interest back in March, the criteria hopeful bids were asked to address were; vision and strategy, proposed locations, financial capacity and details about the persons involved in the prospective bid.

Within those criteria, bids had to demonstrate their unique selling point/s, an understanding of the local area and its football history in which they would base their club, evidence of available financial resources, and the experience of the people involved.

With no FFA funding available for the successful bids, the financial case each bid has made would seem by far the most important metric the FFA is looking to satisfy.

FFA CEO David Gallop confirmed as much earlier this week when he said, "The expansion equation was always going to take into account a range of factors. It's silly to suggest that it was only about the license fee. But clearly the financial position of the A-League and the rest of the game means that the financial equation is critical."

If that was the stated criteria, then the hidden criteria were clearly set out by the game's main broadcaster FOX Sports, with comments from Gallop throughout the bidding process suggesting that the addition of at least one more team from Melbourne or Sydney was preferable to create more derbies in the country's two biggest cities. Football Today has previously reported that this is understood to be a requirement of the broadcast rights deal agreed in 2016. 

The fact that, of the six remaining bids, just one is from outside of Melbourne and Sydney seems to reinforce that.

So, with that in mind, how do the bids stack up? We look at each bid in an attempt to apply the FFA's own criteria, as well as a "broadcaster's tick of approval".

Southern Expansion

Vision and Strategy: The Southern Expansion bid has been one of the loudest in the mix. The bid claims to represent three significant catchments in southern Sydney, from Sutherland to Illawarra. The group plans to be 'Australia's Leading Football Club' and will work towards a training facility which includes eight training pitches and a football stadium, as well as upgrades to Wollongong's WIN Stadium. Recently, it was reported that the Southern Expansion bid would become the first team in any code in Australia to represent an Indigenous nation, with the Dharawal country set to heavily influence the identity of any successful team should the bid be granted a license.

Proposed Locations: Initially, a successful Southern Expansion bid would play at three stadiums across its catchment area, those being Southern Cross Group Stadium, Jubilee Oval and WIN Stadium. The bid has also gained council approval for the construction of a 30,000 capacity stadium as well as a training centre in Sutherland Shire.

Financial Capacity: The Southern Expansion bid is owned by the Jiayuan Group, a Hong Kong-listed property development firm and will provide the financial backing required to fund the team. The group has a market capital of $35.1billion HKD (approximately $6.1bn AUD).

Persons Involved: While the JiaYuan Group sits in the background, the bid is fronted by chairman Morris Iemma, a former NSW Premier, and SBS football analyst and football coach Craig Foster. Iemma replaced Les Murray as chairman following his passing.

Broadcaster's Tick Of Approval: Given Southern Expansion's significant financial backing and the potential for another six Sydney derbies in the A-League, Southern Expansion may be a favourite of the broadcasters, though having to set up at three different stadiums over the season may count against them.

Final Thoughts: There's a lot to like about the bid, but there's definitely a cringeworthy side to it also. Southern Expansion has unashamedly claimed – or at the very least assumed – the history of so many of the clubs within the Southern Sydney area. It's hard to argue the bid has demonstrated a connection to the local area given it will play from three home venues and is trying to represent such a huge geographic region. 

The bid has made bold claims that it will convert a sizeable portion of the 40,000 registered players in the vast region it covers, but these claims have hardly been backed up by fans or any noteworthy groundswell of public support. 

In fact, there has been vocal opposition to the bid from one of the club's most significant catchments in Wollongong, where the general feeling is that most fans would have preferred their own Wollongong Wolves to have been selected for A-League expansion and would be unlikely to accept representation from a largely Sydney-based club. Sydney FC also objects to the Southern Expansion bid on the grounds that it could cannibalise sections of its existing membership. However, on the other hand, the largest junior association in the country in Sutherland Shire in Sydney has strongly backed Southern Expansion through the Sutherland Shire Mayor.

The positives include significant – albeit foreign (if you're bothered by that sort of thing) – financial backing as well as plans for a new, privately funded stadium.

The bid will tick a lot of the boxes for the FFA and broadcasters, but it would not appear it has generated any obvious, significant public interest or support. Is the latter important if the FFA is happy? That remains to be seen.

South West Sydney

Vision and Strategy: In the absence of a functioning website, Sam Krslović told Football Nation Radio that, "We're the only area in any bid that doesn't have a competing professional football code in the jurisdiction." The bid, which is based in Campbelltown. The South West Sydney bid is the amalgamation of what started as two separate bids, the South West Sydney Football Clb and the United for Macarthur bid, which joined forces in August.

Proposed Locations: If successful, the club would play out of Campbelltown Stadium, with upgrades planned for the future.

Financial Capacity: At the time the bids combined, it was understood that the backing of billionaire Walker Corporation executive chairman Lang Walker would be transferred from the Macarthur bid to the newly merged entity. A statement in June confirmed the group would back the bid with its centrepiece being an upgraded Campbelltown Stadium. Mile Jedinak has been touted as a potential marquee if successful.

Persons Involved: A statement in October named co-chairmen Gino Marra and Lang Walker. The bid has been backed by Campbelltown Mayor Councillor George Brticević while Sam Krslović has been representing the bid as well, though it is not clear what his position is. It is understood that former FFA staff member, Aidan Ormond, has worked on their media relations, and former SBS personality and FFA senior executive, Kyle Patterson (who lives over 60 kilometres away on the north shore of Sydney), is favoured to get the role of CEO. New FFA board member Remo Nogarotto was also involved in the bid, and PwC, of which another Board member Joseph Carrozzi is Managing Partner, conducted some work on behalf of the bid. 

Broadcaster's Tick of Approval: It's hard to see broadcasters having too many issues with a Sydney-based team with a stadium ready to go and plans to bring Mile Jedinak to the A-League.

Final Thoughts: To the public at least, it would seem the message may have been lost in the merging of two competing bids. 

Despite this, the club would have a permanent home from day one with significant plans to upgrade the stadium in a public/private venture at the earliest opportunity and there is a strong participation base between the Southern District and Macarthur associations, backed by a billionaire property developer. Compared with the competing NSW bid, the South West bid has a clearly defined, concentrated catchment area.

In his interview with FNR, Krslović confirmed the bid is "very much in favour" of promotion and relegation in Australian football, which is a nice bonus for any fans out there hoping that expansion does not become a roadblock for promotion and relegation down the line.

Western Melbourne

Vision and Strategy: The Western Melbourne Group hopes to represent Melbourne's western suburbs, with plans for a privately funded football precinct in the Wyndham Council. The precinct's centrepiece will be a 15,000 seater purpose built stadium as well as a commercial and training complex. The completely privately funded development is "the key difference" according to WMG spokesperson and former Socceroo Steve Horvat. The club will leave most of the team's identity, including logos and colours, up to the fans. 

Proposed Locations: The new club will be based in the Wyndham Council, an area which covers approximately 4.5 million people from suburbs including Werribee, Truganina and Point Cook. However, it is not expected the new stadium and surrounding complex would be ready until season three. The club would play its games in Geelong until the new stadium is ready.

Financial Capacity: It is not entirely clear if the funding for a new stadium and general team operations is coming from the bid members or private backers, but WMG continues to claim that the stadium will be built without a cent of public money. The development is being supported by Wyndham Council.

Persons Involved: The bid team for WMG is comprised of KPMG partner Maurice Bisetto, Wyndham City Project Lead Kate Roffey, Tribal Sports Group's Lou Sticca, KPMG's Tania Orr and former Socceroos Steve Horvat and Andrew Zinni. Zinni is also construction director at Probuild.

Broadcaster's Tick of Approval: Based in Melbourne? Tick. More derbies? Tick. Marquee? Celtic captain Scott Brown has been linked as a potential marquee, though that was news to Scott Brown at the time. Still, it's hard to imagine any bid involving Lou Sticca won't have grand plans for a serious A-League marquee player, which will more than satisfy FOX Sports, and Sticca is known to have links with Celtic.

Final Thoughts: What's not to like about a privately funded stadium in one of Melbourne's hottest growth regions? The Western Melbourne bid does bring a clear geographic flavour to Melbourne's A-League offering, although it's claimed that no public money would be needed for the stadium cheekily hides the fact that the surrounding infrastructure for the stadium would require government funding.

Melbourne Victory already has a very strong membership base in the west of Melbourne, however, and it remains to be seen if a new team would be able to make inroads to converting those supporters and bringing its own fans to the fore. Victory's relative silence on the issue compared with what is playing out between Sydney FC and Southern Expansion would suggest they are not particularly worried.

There is still uncertainty around where exactly the new stadium would be built and where exactly the money is coming from, but if the finances behind a purpose-built, privately owned stadium stacks up as per the FFA's due diligence, and the government will support the surrounding infrastructure, then this bid will be very hard to ignore for the FFA.

Team 11

Vision and Strategy: Team 11 has put the community at the heart of its bid and while almost every bid claims to have done the same, few have done it with the enthusiasm and with such publicity as Team 11. Team 11 hopes to provide Melbourne's south-east – a region comprising the greater Dandenong area and stretching as far as Gippsland – its own professional team and includes plans for a new stadium, depending on government support.

Proposed Locations: The bid is heavily dependent on the construction of a new stadium with state government support next to Dandenong Train Station. In the meantime, Team 11 would play out of Casey Fields.

Financial Capacity: The bid is backed by a consortium of local investors from the region, headed by Jayco Caravans boss Gerry Ryan, who has previous experience with Queensland Roar (now Brisbane Roar) and Melbourne Heart (now Melbourne City). The proposed new stadium will be 100 per cent funded by the Victorian government.

Persons Involved: Joining Ryan in the bid will be interim chairman Ghadir Razuki, Collin Madden (RMBL Investments), Max Shiftman (Intrapac Property), Renato Pellicano (Pellicano Group) and Tony Selak, who interestingly heads up a consortium of local friends and associations who have joined forces to invest in Team 11. 

Broadcaster's Tick of Approval: Team 11 delivers more Melbourne derbies and potentially a brand new venue for broadcasters to get excited about. It probably lacks the marquee player potential of some other bids, though. Still, it's hard to imagine FOX Sports or anyone else would have too many issues with the club that has probably done a better job of any of the bids representing completely new teams in mobilising a real sense of support from the general public.

Final Thoughts: The chicken/egg scenario facing the bid makes Team 11 a fascinating proposition. Without a stadium, the FFA is unlikely to consider the bid. Without a license, the state government is not likely to commit to funding it - though it is unclear why provisional approval could be given pending awarding of a license. 

If the bid can get the funding it needs for a new stadium, it is arguably the strongest of the Melbourne bids. It truly represents a strong geographic area which neither Melbourne Victory nor Melbourne City has any significant claims to. The bid team has done a fantastic job of mobilising support from Socceroos past and present and its ability to document its significant efforts with local clubs and communities have won it great local support.

The public commentary provided by former Herald Sun journalist Matt Windley has also been a refreshing addition to proceedings. His ability to help tell a compelling story has undoubtedly helped the bid's public perception and has delivered an authenticity in terms of stakeholder engagement most other bids have failed to achieve.

If funding for the stadium can be secured and assurances given to the FFA, it's hard to see how this bid can be ignored.

South Melbourne

Vision and Strategy: South Melbourne needs no introduction to any football supporter in Australia. The club promises to help bridge the void between "old soccer and new football" and deliver the standard of football their loyal supporters continue to crave. As one of the few bids ready to go with their own stadium South Melbourne believes its return to the top flight would be the shot in the arm the game in Australia needs. More recently, South Melbourne has laid claim to a wider corridor of support in the South East. South Melbourne also points to the work it is currently doing in local schools to help grow the game's participation base and potential supporter base for its A-League team.

Proposed Locations: South Melbourne would play out of Lakeside Stadium in Albert Park. Bid chairman Bill Papastergadis confirmed that the club would look to put temporary seating behind the goals to improve the football atmosphere at the ground and increase the capacity.

Financial Capacity: The club claims it will bring an instantly profitable model to the A-League thanks to incredibly low costs of playing at Lakeside Stadium, and the revenues which the club will be able to retain as a result.

Persons Involved: The South Melbourne bid has been fronted by bid chairman Bill Papastergadis.

Broadcaster's Tick of Approval: It's a dull mind which struggles to imagine of the immense possibilities for compelling storylines offered by a South Melbourne A-League team. More Melbourne derbies, the old versus the new and a picturesque stadium to boot. Definitely something the broadcasters can get behind.

Final Thoughts: There is an argument to suggest that the South Melbourne bid is a complete no-brainer.

The football club – and it is a football club, unlike the other bids – has a home, existing supporters, surrounding infrastructures and social clubs ready to go from day one. Add in a potentially profitable model to boot which will be invaluable in the first few years with little financial support on offer to expansion clubs, there is a lot going for South Melbourne.

If this decision was being seen by the previous FFA Board, it would be hard to see how South Melbourne would have any hope of succeeding, but a new board could potentially open the door for South Melbourne. In fact, the view from many is that the previous Board only left the South Melbourne bid in the final shortlist to give the new Board a 'hospital pass' in delivering the bad news. 

It will be interesting to see if the South Melbourne bid can defeat the perception surrounding its history as a 'Greek club', but judging purely on footballing merit and how a club like South Melbourne can contribute to the A-League, one of the country's most successful and enduring clubs makes a compelling case.

Canberra

Vision and Strategy: Expansion into Canberra would represent a new journey for the A-League and the chance to capture a strong participation base and convert them into A-League fans. The bid's website lays claim to approximately 1.26 million people, in an area with over 100 community clubs and over 30,000 football participants in southern NSW. The bid has already signed up 7,000 foundation members. The population of the more immediate area of Canberra-Queanbeyan was around 440,000 at the 2016 Census. 

Proposed Locations: The club would be based in Canberra and would boost the chances of a new Civic Stadium being built with ACT government support. The club has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Wollongong Wolves which would see the new club take at least one home game per season to WIN Stadium. In the meantime it is likely the club would play at GIO Stadium at Bruce. 

Financial Capacity: The bid is based around a community funded model and it is hoped the model will allow for 51% fan ownership. The ACT government has also offered a financial contribution of $1.2million per annum should the bid be considered, and recent documentation from the bid team states that they have an unnamed overseas billionaire backer "with deep connections to the game". 

Persons Involved: The bid team is headed up by Chief Commercial Officer and shareholder in ON-THE-GO Sports Michael Caggiano. Joining him is revered Australian coach Ron Smith. Bede Gahan (MinterEllison), Jeff Williamson, Kacey Lam, Adam Castle (Volleyball ACT), Aaron Walker (Australian National University), Alex Belperio (Veritec), Russ Gibbs (ACT Brumbies) and Alberto Florez round out the bid team.

Broadcaster's Tick of Approval: This will probably be FOX Sports' least favourite bid. The idea of championing a new frontier, or rather a frontier that was tried several times in the NSL but never really took off, probably doesn't interest the broadcasters as much as big city derbies. It is unclear what marquee prospects the Canberra bid will have available to it, although they state that the guaranteed ACT government funding is worth more than many marquee player salaries.

Final Thoughts: The Canberra bid is an attractive one. A new market and a new frontier for the A-League and a communal club all provide reasons to be excited.

The population of Canberra-Queanbeyan has grown and the economy has diversified in the years since the demise of the NSL, but the bid team would need to assure those with any eye to history that they are in a different position today to make a success of taking part in a national competition than their predecessor NSL clubs - Canberra City, Canberra Arrows and Canberra Cosmos. 

Nonetheless, the club makes sense for football reasons. There's a stadium ready to go, there's local and government support and with more than 7,000 people signing up on foundation memberships, there's clearly an appetite for the club, not to mention that granting the licence to this bid would give professional football a spot in the nation's capital and help broaden the footprint of the A-League. The Canberra bid is likely to be seen as a safe back up should one of the Melbourne or Sydney bids fall through.


POLL:  Who do you vote for? Let us know in our poll on the front page!


Categories: Opinion | Analysis | A-League

a-league, a-league expansion, southern expansion, south west sydney a-league, canberra a-league, team 11, south melbourne fc, western melbourne group

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