League expansion theory
FOOTBALL: The A-League could expand to 12 teams within the next few seasons ahead of a two-tier promotion/relegation system being introduced.
That was the big revelation from Football Federation Australian chief executive David Gallop yesterday as he officially launched the 2016-17 season.
"It's the most eagerly anticipated A-League season and that fills everyone with confidence,” Gallop said.
After the success of the FFA Cup and National Premier League playoffs, the national competition expanding from 10 teams has been hotly debated.
The FFA has been excited by the growing popularity in particular of big-city derbies in recent seasons with Gallop not ruling out the possibility of second teams being introduced in the country's "big cities” such as Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
"We're obviously focused on big population bases, the ability to have relatively quick success, to be in areas where our commercial partners and broadcast partners are going to see a benefit,” Gallop said.
Regional centres such as Wollongong, Canberra, Townsville and Ipswich are among venues thought to be interested in seeking an A-League licence while former National Soccer League club Adelaide City has been mooted as a potential second team in the City of Churches.
Gallop denied the discussion of the possibility of expansion was in response to recent meetings with FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation, which have long held the view the A-League was too small and that promotion/relegation was required as part of Australia's membership of the confederation.
"Not necessarily ... Football has occasionally a restlessness to it,” he said.
"It's right that we be ambitious, but it's also right that we take a disciplined approach to these things.
"Importantly, people need to know that they are on the horizon, they're not being dismissed, and the groundwork that's being done at the moment will put us in a good position to make those things successful when they do happen.”
Gallop confirmed expansion would come before a national second-tier competition, with promotion/relegation between the two.
For the latter to take place the current 20-year licences with A-League clubs would need to be renegotiated.
"The ultimate prize - promotion/relegation - will happen in Australian football but there's a lot more that needs to happen before we can sensibly move to promotion/relegation,” he said.
"With the introduction of the NPL, the FFA Cup, you can see deliberate attempts are being made to close the gap between the A-League and the rest of the game.”
Gallop added there were no plans to allow the A-League full independence from FFA.
"A fully separated A-League is not on our agenda,” Gallop said. "We recognise it's the engine room for the whole game. We're in a very competitive environment. We see on a consistent basis that our commercial partners are looking for a connection from the top to the bottom of the game.”