A New Professional Team in Auckland,

with another franchise slated for Christchurch in the future?

Football in this country is about to enter a brave new world.

Whether it is too early – or too late – is up for debate – but the sport is set for its biggest upheaval in decades.

In October this year the new Auckland A League club will play its first match, after being confirmed last November as one of two expansion clubs.

The recently named franchise, Auckland FC,
will field a men’s team in the 2024-25 season, with a women’s side added for the following campaign.

Behind the scenes, there is a strong push for a third A League operation in this country, based in Christchurch with matches played across the South Island.

There are believed to be two local groups interested, while New Zealand Football is doing plenty – publicly and privately – to bang the drums.

The biggest stumbling block will be money, with at least $15 million required just to secure the license, though there is likely to be significant overseas interest, given football’s global nature.

That was seen with the Auckland franchise, with American billionaire Bill Foley, who owns three European clubs as well as the Las Vegas NHL team, swooping with a late bid to outflank
two local pitches.

The launch of Auckland FC is not without risk. Two previous iterations – the Football Kingz (1999-2004) and the Knights (2005-07) – failed in New Zealand’s biggest city and the challenge of attracting fans to live events, given the myriad of entertainment options these days, has never been greater.

But it should work. Thanks to Foley, there are strong financial foundations and long time Sydney FC mentor Steve Corica brings instant pedigree as coach. Auckland has a larger and more diverse population, with most new immigrants aligned with football. And as the Wellington Phoenix has shown, with the Yellow Fever fan group, the sport can offer a unique atmosphere by New Zealand standards.

From a marketing perspective the biggest challenge will be long term appeal, after the initial buzz. Unlike the NRL, with the Broncos, Roosters and Storm etc, there is limited interest here in the various Australian A League teams, though that may gradually build.

However, the local derbies with Wellington will be massive, with a genuine rivalry already developing between the two operations. That’s something that doesn’t really exist in domestic rugby, netball or cricket and will boost the profile more than anything. The new team have been wise in their venue choice, opting for the 24,000 capacity Mt Smart, rather than the cavernous Eden park (which has a dreadful atmosphere with a modest crowd) and the increasingly unpopular North Harbour Stadium.

Those behind the Auckland FC franchise are wrestling crazy timeframes. They need to put together a commercial team in a matter of months, while a new squad – built from scratch – will start pre-season training on July 1. But if they can get through that stretch, the payoff could be massive in the coming years, in one of the biggest cities in the southern hemisphere without a professional football club.

It will change the sport, doubling the pathways available to promising players and increasing the talent pool available to national coaches. Most of all there is visibility, as kids can see their heroes
up close.

That’s also the appeal of the proposed Christchurch team, earmarked for the new Te Kaha stadium. The Canterbury region has a proud footballing history – with numerous All Whites and Football Ferns – but few who have stayed in the city for long. Now they might.

Sports Writer