31 Oct 2015

Phoenix's crime is being NZ-based

6:58 pm on 31 October 2015

OPINION: For some reason, Australian football has it in for the Wellington Phoenix, who are now effectively The Walking Dead of the beautiful game.

Wellington Phoenix captain Andrew Durante (L), Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead (R)

Wellington Phoenix captain Andrew Durante (L) and Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead (R). Maybe... Photo: Wikicommons / Photosport

Football Federation Australia (FFA) seemingly intend to phase the Wellington club out of the A-League, in favour of another Sydney team - despite opposition from other Sydney sides.

"FFA has carefully evaluated the role and contribution of the Wellington franchise in terms of game development, player pathway, commercial factors, broadcast rights and the long-term strategic outlook," FFA chief executive David Gallop said in a statement on Monday.

"The application for a 10-year extension to the licence does not meet the requirements we see as fundamental to the future growth of the Hyundai A-League."

Excuse me, but that's nonsense. You just don't want a New Zealand team in your competition anymore. Why not just come out and say it? At least then you'd be being honest.

Football Federation Australia head David Gallopp

FFA CEO David Gallop criticises the Phoenix at Wednesday's press conference Photo: YouTube

After all, the other nine Australian-based clubs all have licenses that run until 2034.

What's really going on here?

Examining the arguments against the Phoenix

Let's look at 'commercial factors' and 'broadcast rights' first though, shall we?

I can only assume Gallop means the fans and the TV rights.

But if attendance at home games is an issue - last season the Nix's average home crowd numbers (8,689) beat out Central Coast Mariners (the lowest at 7,585), and were right behind the Newcastle Jets (8,968).

I haven't heard Gallop tell the Mariners and the Jets to lift their off-field game lately.

Phoenix fans at Eden Park

Phoenix fans at Eden Park Photo: PHOTOSPORT

And the average A-League crowd across the 10 clubs is massively skewed by the big two: the Melbourne Victory is hands down the biggest with 27,260 fans on average, followed by Sydney FC (18,050). Including those two's crowds, the average A-League home crowd in 2014-15 was 12,778, so fully SEVEN clubs fall below the average.

Take those two clubs out and the Nix are among four clubs below the adjusted 10,309 average, with Melbourne City only just above it too on 10,374.

So 40 percent of the A-League clubs' crowds are below the average, if we're being kind. And a whopping 70 percent are below average, on the straight numbers. And the FFA is singling out the Nix why exactly?

Wellington's Westpac Stadium also edged three Australian stadiums for average attendances.

Sure, our local broadcaster Sky Television probably needs to show stronger support for the Nix staying in the A-League in the long term, by shelling out more money for the broadcast TV rights here.

But surely, that's between you and your broadcaster Fox Sports and Sky? What's that got to do with the Nix and their Welnix owners exactly? How is it their fault that you and Fox negotiated a sum that's not enough to keep you happy? The FFA need to be talking to Fox and Sky, not lecturing the Nix.

And how do the FFA expect a third Sydney club to bring more money to the table? Won't that just cannabilise the existing Sydney FC and Western Sydney Wanderers fanbases? That's what Sydney FC chairman Scott Barlow thinks.

"A new team in Sydney, in the heart of arguably our most important region, would effectively cut our market in half," Barlow said. "It would be a devastating blow for our club and certainly not what we signed up or agreed to invest in 11 years ago."

Westpac Stadium improved it's 'atmosphere rating' in the A-League player survey.

The Yellow Fever, in an unfortunately almost-empty Westpac Stadium Photo: Photosport

Unsurprisingly, a spokesperson for the Nix supporters club Yellow Fever agreed with Barlow that there won't be any financial advantages to replacing the Nix with a third Sydney side.

"I think that's naive of them," said David Cross after the news broke on Monday. "They seem to think that adding another team in Sydney is going to somehow bring them more market share or something... when the reality is, the TV audience isn't going to change.

"They've got the Sydney market TV audience. They may get a few thousand more people along to watch a new Sydney team but the rest of those fans are probably going to come from the fanbase of the existing Sydney clubs," Cross, who certainly lived up to his name in this interview, said.

"So they're turning their back on a 4.5 million TV audience for potentially, maybe, another couple of hundred thousand, potentially, in Sydney. The business logic just doesn't add up in any way, shape or form."

That's right: New Zealand is the third-biggest potential TV market for the A-League, after Sydney and Melbourne. How can ignoring us be good financial sense for the FFA's sponsors and other stakeholders?

"We're ambitious for the growth of the A-League," Gallop told reporters at his Wednesday press conference. "You can't expect to squat on a license."

Excuse me? How can killing off your third-largest television market help grow your competition?

Because no one here will bother to watch the A-League if the FFA cut the Nix.

Durante: "It would destroy football in my opinion"

Let's examine Gallop's other stated reasons the Nix are 'squatting on a license' (how insulting can you be?): game development, player pathway and the long-term strategic outlook.

To be honest, game development sounds like meaningless mumbo-jumbo to me. I don't even know how to begin to rebut that one.

Player pathway then: surely what Gallop is talking about here is Australian players' pathway. Never mind the Nix's Australian players such as Vinnie Lia and Manny Muscat, whose professional careers have mostly been spent at the Wellington club. And Nathan Burns' time at the Phoenix was a major plus for Australian football as it resurrected his international career and helped the Aussies in their world cup qualifying. Surely the Nix have helped those guys?

But for New Zealand players, the Nix is IT - the only professional club in this country.

Andrew Durante hugs Roy Krishna after he scores a goal.

Andrew Durante hugs Roy Krishna after he scores a goal. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Phoenix captain Andrew Durante put it best when asked about the effect canning his club will have on the game here.

"To see this club go under would be pretty shocking for kids of New Zealand, footballers, up and coming aspiring kids," Durante, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Andrew Lincoln, who plays Rick Grimes in the US zombie TV series The Walking Dead, said after training on Wednesday.

"It would destroy football in my opinion if the club was to go under."

That's right, a man who almost played for the Socceroos - Durante sat on the bench once for Australia before switching to play briefly for the All Whites - thinks the FFA's move will "destroy football" here.

https://twitter.com/KostaBarb7/status/659504688706904064

As for the long-term strategic outlook, refer above to my arguments around commercial factors and broadcast rights. Surely they're one and the same? Unless this is as close as Gallop is willing to get about the real objective here: sticking it to New Zealand football.

WE ARE FOOTBALL eh? Yeah, right #SaveTheNix

And if it's good enough for Australia's National Rugby League (NRL) and National Basketball League (NBL) to have the Warriors and the New Zealand Breakers in their competitions respectively, why isn't this sporting model good enough for the A-League?

https://twitter.com/NZWarriors/status/659530076917108737

Sure, the FFA allowing a Wellington club into their A-League is giving a helping hand to the game across the Tasman. There's no way a professional league can work with a population the size of New Zealand's. Witness what happened back in the day with the Rothmans League, a national professional competition run here from 1970 until 1987.

Have a look at this story from Te Ara: 'crowds of over 3,000 were regularly attracted to watch Gisborne City'. Wow. More than 3,000 paying fans.

Paying players basically bankrupted five-time champions Mount Wellington - now University Mount Wellington, my club.

So to slight the Nix for things such as club membership and attendances - which as noted above, are actually not that bad in the A-League - is to damn them for being a Wellington-based side. Heck, a New Zealand-based side.

https://twitter.com/WgtnPhoenixFC/status/659292930952163329

The Nix can never approach the record 25,000+ official members that the mighty Melbourne Victory boast. There probably aren't even that many football fans in Wellington.

Hey Welnix: here's an idea to boost Nix membership: sell much cheaper memberships to fans from outside Wellington. I'd buy one, and so would my mate who's coming with me next month to watch the Nix play Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium. We're taking a week off work to check out the city and see our team play in Aussie. We'll spend thousands of dollars over there, all because we really wanted to see our team in Australia. That sort of thing won't be happening if the club is forced out of the A-League.

No caption

Will the Wellington Phoenix flags keep flying? Photo: Photosport

But, assuming Welnix does not take up what effectively amounts to a four-year stay of execution offered by FFA, the club will cease operations at the end of the current season.

Why? For the crime of being New Zealand-based.

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