The Phoenix are here to stay

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The following is in response to Michael Cockerill’s recent article where he said that the Wellington Phoenix “are on notice” regarding their place in the A-League.

Licensing

Cockerill argues the Phoenix being the only side not to receive a 20 year A-League licence extension shows just how precarious a position they are in. This is not the case. The sticking point for any New Zealand team is the fact the country’s governing body, New Zealand Football, is a member of Oceania and not the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).

As such, any team from across the Tasman who wants to play in the A-League requires special dispensation from the AFC and FIFA to do so. This is negotiated by Football Federation Australia (FFA) and their current agreement with the AFC is due to expire after the 2015/16 season.

The reason the Phoenix were not granted a two decade long licence as the rest of the A-League was not because they are under-performing, or because there are potential new franchises on the horizon, or they don’t line the pockets of FFA sufficiently.

The only reason the side cannot be given such an extension is until the AFC agrees to allow it. It’s that simple. This was confirmed by Wellington Phoenix General Manager when contacted by Football Central.

“The FFA extended other club’s licences by 20 years unilaterally. The Phoenix’s was not as AFC has to be consulted and it is unknown at this stage what the AFC’s position on the extension length is.”

When asked if the FFA has suggested that the Phoenix’s licence to play in the A-League was under threat in any way, Mr Dome responded with an emphatic “No.”

The second point that should be made regarding licensing in the A-League is nothing’s permanent. The FFA reserves the right to revoke the licence it has issued to an A-League team for a variety of reasons.

Market size

 Estimates in 2014 put New Zealand’s population at over 4.5 million which is the largest market in the A-League outside of New South Wales and Victoria by a massive margin.

Given the FFA are conscious of maximising revenues and increasing the potential exposure of the A-League, there will always be a team in New Zealand if the AFC allow it. Cockerill even concedes this in his article, but then suggests the economic performance of the Phoenix is putting them in a position of jeopardy.

It is not the Phoenix’s fault Sky TV pay a pittance for A-League rights. After all, it wasn’t Wellington who negotiated the deal, it was the FFA. Sky TV currently pay $180,000 a season for the rights to broadcast the A-League into New Zealand, not just Phoenix matches.

If the FFA are frustrated by the valuation perhaps they should be looking inwardly, not at those in the Phoenix offices. Maybe it is their product as a whole that carries such low appeal, not just Wellington?

Crowds

It’s time to debunk a myth. Wellington do not get poor or disappointing crowds when the figures are analysed comparatively.

It might be somewhat of a letdown to have seen only 7,767 fans in the stands at Westpac Stadium in their opening match of the season, but for the last four seasons the Phoenix have punched above their weight in attendances.

From the start of the 2010/11 season to the end of the 2013/14 campaign, the Phoenix have averaged 7,900 in home matches. This may not seem like much but look at it this way – although New Zealand’s population is close to that of Sydney, the population of Wellington is estimated at 402,000. That’s 1.965% of the city of Wellington at each home game.

Once again, it may not appear to be fantastic but consider over the same time period, Perth Glory, Adelaide United and three time Champions Brisbane Roar have all had lower average crowds as a percentage of population. Perth’s average stands at 0.443% of their population, Adelaide’s at 0.792% and Brisbane’s at a hugely disappointing 0.555%.

One can argue other sports dominate in these cities but the fact remains that the Phoenix have outperformed these teams in attendance percentages while based in a city that is not only rugby obsessed, but a country that is too.

The belief the Phoenix need to increase crowds is a misnomer. Mr Dome recently told the New Zealand Herald the FFA has not made any mention of attendances being related to a licence renewal.

“The FFA are not linking a licence extension to our crowds. They’ve never said to us, ‘you’ve got to get your crowds up’.

“We need to get our crowds up because we want this club to be successful and we know, to be successful, we have to increase crowds.”

Finances and facilities

Wellington are not one of the A-League’s poorer clubs, they are backed by wealthy owners and are losing far less money than a number of other teams in the competition. The owners have reduced the club’s losses from around $1.2 million NZD when they bought the club in 2011 to just over $300,000 NZD last year.

The Phoenix have recently been granted a place in the ASB Premiership, New Zealand’s premier domestic competition. This will allow them to field a reserve/youth side, a luxury not previously afforded to them.

This is another step in entrenching the Phoenix within the Wellington community and ensuring there is a strong base of young talent for them to draw upon when hit with injuries, suspensions and the inevitable loss of players to international duty.

The club’s ownership group, Welnix LP, opened an academy in 2012 which allows for more personal coaching, tailored to how the Phoenix will play. Tom Doyle started at left back in the Phoenix’s last three competitive matches and spent time at the academy, and also made his international debut for the All Whites in September against Uzbekistan.

Due to the 2015 Cricket World Cup being held in New Zealand, the Phoenix will move three matches in February and March to the Hutt Recreation Ground, located 13.8 kilometres from Westpac Stadium. Temporary facilities will be constructed to increase capacity to 9,000.

The site also remains a possibility for a permanent stadium to be constructed in the future, should the Phoenix choose to leave Westpac.

Get used to them

Barring a monumental break down in communications between the FFA and the AFC, the Phoenix will be in the A-League for years to come. The New Zealand market is simply too big for the FFA to lose out on and whilst the Phoenix have not always been great on the field, they are performing well off it and outstripping expectations financially.

Long live the ‘Nix. And they will.

Andrew Cussen

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