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Guest Post – The future of the Phoenix

[The following is reproduced from Andrew’s excellent Facebook post by kind permission]

Fever 3

By Andrew Dewhurst

The long drawn out saga that is the Phoenix bid for a license renewal in the Hyundai A-League took another turn last week, with reports of a meeting of the league’s club owners with the FFA and Chairman Frank Lowy.

While the Phoenix won’t comment in depth about that meeting, there has been a fair degree of speculation arising from it, the most concerning being simply that the FFA does not want to issue a license renewal to the Phoenix under current conditions.

Here are some of the reasons being thrown around, along with my thoughts:

  • The club does not generate big enough crowds.

On the one level this is fair comment, crowds are not as high as the FFA nor indeed the Phoenix would like, but this can hardly be a determining factor. The Phoenix (coming into the game against Victory) averaged 8,330 fans per game. The Mariners 7,421 the only ones below them. Newcastle average 9,477. But consider that the cashed up and Manchester City supported Melbourne City case when it comes to crowds. In a city of over 4 million they average just over 10,000, but take away their season high crowd of 26,000 plus against neighbours Victory and their average falls to just over 9,000. Can anyone tell me that Melbourne City are any more impressive in their crowd figures than the Phoenix?

Here is some more logic around crowd figures that has to be considered in the conversation. When the Phoenix play at home the only fans in the stadium are their own – with the exception at times of 20 or 30 travelling supporters. In Australia there are derby matches to boost crowd figures (as per Melbourne City), fans travel with more ease and more often. Indeed it would be interesting to see how many ex-pat Kiwis and Phoenix fans go through the turnstiles in places such as Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne – in fact at every game in Aussie!

  • The club brings nothing to the FFA in regards revenue tied to broadcast deals

This is a clear reference to the SKY Sport deal in NZ. I do not know the figures but most estimations have that amount at less than one million dollars. This then is compared to the FOX deal in Aussie worth an estimated forty million a year (there is a much bigger deal that includes international games too). Sure, I agree that the figure paid by SKY in NZ is not huge, but surely that is market forces at work in regards the Hyundai A-League and not a reflection of the ‘value’ of the Phoenix in isolation?

And anyway, last time I looked the Phoenix were one of the ten teams in the A-League that FOX (and others) are paying the money for. The Phoenix play games throughout the season home and away that are picked up and covered by FOX – in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane etc the Phoenix contribute to that TV deal every time they step on the park. Why should they be singled out as ‘bringing no value’? What about the Mariners – how do they ‘rate’? Or perhaps Newcastle? Why is the A-League not happy that in the Phoenix they have a safe, stable, attractive playing club that promotes the A-League, its sponsors, players and characters into another international market at no cost to them? Is there not capital to be made from that (excuse the pun)?

I would hope that the comments of Frank Lowy and others in the FFA suggesting the future of the Phoenix is at threat are merely looking to appease those in Asia and that they have every intention of continuing to support the Phoenix, just as the Phoenix has supported the A-League. Since the demise of Terry Serepisos the current owners have steadied the ship, built a stable platform from which to launch into the future. They have established a reserve side, a youth academy and will soon venture offshore into Hong Kong (sevens), all the while taking with them the A-League brand.

They are one of the best footballing teams in the league with one of the safest ownership models for goodness sake!

They have provided some of the best players in the league. Paul Ifill, Albert Riera, Roly Bonevacia, Marco Rojas, Kosta Barbarouses and latterly of course they have provided a lifeline to Nathan Burns, helping him resurrect his career and go on to play for Australia.

The Phoenix bring a trans-Tasman rivalry to the league, one the FFA should play on, create some old fashioned Aussie v Kiwi intensity and play it to their advantage instead of finding ways to make public comment disparaging of the Phoenix and what they bring.

So what can improve?

TV Deal – yes, I think there might be more money there somewhere. Not a huge amount more but maybe some more. And I would love to see SKY Sport do more around the league. I have been commentating Phoenix games for some years now and through all of that time I have been pushing for more local content, a weekly football show, one that highlights the Phoenix, its players, its personalities and work being done off the park. Feed the fans, promote the A-League and increase viewing numbers. I will continue to push that case for as long as I am calling games. I would work on such a show for nothing, I have offered to do some of the leg work to get it up and running, to go and find sponsors and work on a format, all (so far) to no avail.

Crowds – not sure I have the answers, but I would love to see the Phoenix average over 10,000 a game. This might be pricing, it might be stadium related. That for me would be a benchmark, 10,000 average with 8,000 on your worst day and 15,000 on the really big games – 20,000 plus for the play-offs.

In summary, the Wellington Phoenix has supported the Hyundai A-League in tough times, it has supported this league when broadcast money was not forthcoming from either side of the Tasman, it has worked through tough times and changes of ownership to the point now where the current ownership group brings stability and planning the envy of many other A-League clubs (Newcastle springs to mind…).

Yes more can be done, yes other agencies need to figure out how much they want to ‘invest’ in the game in this country and look to bring it more to the attention of the wider public. Yes the Phoenix need to do things better and attract more to games if they can.

But the FFA needs to be at the forefront of bringing about that change, they have to do so by being the band leader, not the heckler from the stalls doing their best to disrupt the performance or worse still, cancel the entire season.

Categories: A-League

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Enzo Giordani

A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.

2 replies

  1. Andrew Dewhurst has produced a well balanced and thoughtful article summing up the major points in this saga. I’m wondering if AFF would react more sympathetically to the Phoenix debate if NZ was a member of the Asian Confederation?

    1. I don’t get the whole ‘join Asia’ thing. Every World Cup we are now a game or two away from qualification. A great target for young kiwi players. All thanks to Australia buggering off. In Asia we would be unlikely to be contenders surely. And then there is the Confederation cup…….

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