Football Federation Australia has answered long-held calls to expand the A-League, but the official opening of the bidding process on Thursday was met with protests from existing clubs and scepticism from potential new entrants.
The FFA hopes to announce two new entrants to the A-League in October, after formally inviting bids to expand the A-League to a 12-team competition. However, it will be a process the organisation will likely undergo without the blessing or assistance of the existing clubs.
In a letter sent to FFA chief executive David Gallop and seen by Fairfax Media, the Australian Professional Football Clubs Association criticised the FFA board for embarking on the process of expansion while the governance of the FFA congress remains unresolved and before a new operating model for the A-League has been agreed upon.
While existing clubs desperately want the competition to increase to as many as a 16 teams in four years' time, they do not want expansion to happen until the game's governance has been resolved. The timing of the A-League's announcement was met with scepticism from the clubs, given the imminent ruling from FIFA on the congress review committee and on the afternoon before the Easter long weekend.
"[APFCA] does not accept the legitimacy of the process, whatever that may have been, adopted by FFA Administration and the FFA Board to expand the A-League competition. Unless and until the corporate governance issues have been resolved, any decision made by the FFA Board as to expansion lacks all legitimacy and will not be accepted by APFCA," the letter read.
Some bidders were quick to announce their candidacy, such as the Craig Foster-led Southern Expansion bid from South Sydney and another from Gold Coast. However, several other bidders known to Fairfax Media will not be submitting an expression of interest due to significant concerns over the state of the game and the administration of the FFA.
One bid, based in a state capital city and which has significant financial backing from Australia and abroad, will not consider lodging an application to join the A-League club before the FFA has established a new operating model for the competition, granting clubs full ownership over their trademarks and independence from the FFA. A source involved with that bid labelled the current A-League set-up as "a flawed model", suggesting they would not be prepared to lose money while the current FFA administrators remain.
It's understood several football companies from overseas interested in purchasing controlling stakes in A-League clubs are unwilling to bid for licences or financially commit support to other bids while the uncertainty over the FFA governance remains and before the A-League has independence from the FFA. Among those are Scottish giants Celtic, Dutch club Ajax Amsterdam and energy drink company, Red Bull.
Gallop said his preference would be to have a new A-League operating model in place as well as the governance crisis solved, however was not prepared to wait that long before opening the bidding process.
"Of course ideally the other issues such as congress and a new operating model would be resolved but most people in the game would also accept that we can’t just keep standing still and the evidence suggests expansion will be a shot in the arm to the competition," Gallop said. "It will be critically important that we take into account the impact on the existing clubs."
While the FFA has not involved the existing clubs thus far in the expansion process, Gallop says the organisation will include stakeholders.
“We are looking for new clubs that are going to not just be successful in their own right but make the league as a whole more commercially successful. It will be important that the existing clubs, Member Federations and PFA are given opportunities to make submissions on the impact on their own organisations and their views on the options as they unfold," he said.
The article was published and provided by the Sydney Morning Herald.