LEICHARDT -- Australia's first-ever footballing national second tier (NST) will launch as a home-and-away league featuring Preston Lions, South Melbourne, Avondale, APIA Leichhardt, Marconi Stallions FC, Sydney Olympic, Sydney United 58, and Wollongong Wolves as its foundation sides.
Positioned as the division that sits below the A-League Men, Football Australia's NST will commence in March/April of 2025. The federation anticipates adding a further two to four clubs to these eight participants before kick-off, focusing on "ensuring a sustainable and diverse composition of clubs."
A 10-team competition will play home and away fixtures across 18 regular season games, plus finals, whilst a 12-team competition will play home and away fixtures across 22 regular season fixtures, plus finals.
"One of the crucial parts of the assessment process was to ensure that the clubs that are selected do have the financial capability to sustain this competition in the short, medium and long term," Natalie Lutz, Football Australia's head of professional football and competitions, said.
"We did a significant amount of work with the clubs and [consultancy firm] BDO to assess the financial status of each club with historical and future projections based on the second-tier information that we provided to them and our projections, our model.
"The eight clubs that you see here today have undergone a thorough process. The expectation will be that we provide the proposed costs, and they understand what that means for them in terms of participation fees, potential roster payments, and all the elements that go into a competition so that they now have 12 to 15 months to align with those projections to secure those sponsorships to increase those membership numbers increase, matchday ticket, sales, club, merchandise, etc."
Football Australia described the competition as "a pivotal feature" of its media rights deal that will commence in 2025, which it presently has in market, and which also features the 2027 Women's World Cup, Matildas games, Socceroos games, and the Australia Cup amongst the properties up for grabs.
Clustered around the east coast of Australia and all bar Avondale former members of the A-League's predecessor competition, the National Soccer League, the inaugural members of the NST were selected based upon a criterion of financial sustainability, facilities, growth strategies, and community connection.
Football Australia has confirmed eight clubs that will be involved in the National Second Division when it commences in 2025.— ESPN Australia & NZ (@ESPNAusNZ) November 20, 2023
The federation anticipates adding a further 2 - 4 clubs before the season launches.
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"There's an additional two to four positions available before the competition kicks off," said Johnson when pressed on the league's initial geographic spread. "We made a conscious and deliberate decision to ensure that the standard sat somewhere between the current NPL and also the A-League. So ultimately, the first priority was getting the best clubs together as we could. Those eight are here today and that was the priority.
"There are some very strong bids from outside New South Wales and Victoria, and we're very excited to see where those two to four clubs will be when the competition kicks off in 25."
All eight clubs announced by Football Australia on Monday have signed participation agreements and provided a bank guarantee to take part in the competition, understood to be $500,000. They will also be required to pay an annual participation fee that will cover the league's administrative costs.
The league's name and branding are expected to be unveiled in the early months of 2024, with it expected that Football Australia will seek to build upon the existing brand of its National Premier Leagues' property.
"If we talk about the business model of the competition, there's really three main revenue streams that we got to look at," said Johnson. "The first is sponsorship. So how can we sell sponsors as a league and then the clubs also need to sell sponsors locally?
"The second is broadcast; I don't expect the league to generate broadcasts to start off with, it's more about making sure that it's produced, it's visible and it has as much reach as possible and if we can get that right, it's going to help the clubs with sponsorship as well.
"Third area is its matchday revenue. So it's getting bums on seats or selling tickets. It's getting into the community and making sure that the community is engaged with the clubs."
Johnson said that Football Australia will encourage state federations to allow NST clubs to continue to field sides in their local NPL competitions in some form - A-Leagues clubs field youth teams in their local NPLs - and also flagged that the a Champions League-style competition for both the NPL Men's and Women's would also be introduced in 2025.
The league will initially operate without a system of promotion or relegation between itself and the A-League above it or the various NPL competitions around the nation below, with the latter the more realistic, medium-term goal.
"There are no immediate plans to connect the NPL to the second tier," said Johnson. "But I think one day there certainly will be.
"You can see by ... creating a Champions League, we want to grow that level of the pyramid as well.
"And if we can have three strong levels ... you have the NPL, which is your third tier, it's a regionally based competition that comes together at the end of the season, to compete at a national level. You then have a second-tier competition that's played 10 or 12 teams home and away.
"That conversation about connecting those two at the right time is much easier had than what it is right now. And given that the second tier doesn't exist, yet."