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A-League looks to expand in Asia

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A-League chiefs are forecasting a bigger, better-attended and more widely broadcast season than ever before. But their focus is well beyond the confines of the 2013-14 campaign, when Central Coast Mariners will seek to defend the title it richly deserved after becoming champion for the first time in last season’s grand final, with its win over debut sensation Western Sydney Wanderers.

A-League boss Damien De Bohun has a blue-sky vision of expansion well beyond Australian shores when the next television deal is negotiated, with matches regularly taking place in Asian cities.

Longer term, Asian clubs might become part of a multi-country expansion program for Australia’s premier competition.

The former could become a reality as soon as next season as the Football Federation of Australia seeks to turn the challenge of hosting the Asian Cup in January 2015 into an opportunity.

Because of the narrow window in which the A-League needs to be contained – the sport’s governing body is keen to keep the season kick-off in early October, when the rival football codes have finished, and its finals in May, before the AFL and NRL hit their straps – A-League officials are not keen on the idea of suspending the competition while the Asian Cup takes place.

But the FFA would like ”clear air” for the Socceroos and the cream of Asian football in the host cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Newcastle – in which matches will be played, hence the idea of shifting A-League matches overseas.

Melbourne Victory hosting Brisbane Roar in Jakarta? Sydney FC entertaining Perth Glory in Singapore? It could happen, and soon.

”Next season is unique with the Asian Cup in the middle of the season from January 2015. We are looking creatively at where we can play fixtures and there’s a couple of places in Asia, Singapore in particular, Indonesia being another one, who have approached us about hosting fixtures. We are looking at that very seriously,” De Bohun said.

Embarking on such an adventurous strategy would allow the A-League to keep to its six-month schedule and not go deep into the winter, when it could be overshadowed by other footy codes.

Singapore and Malaysia are the most likely countries to host new teams if FFA looks to extend the A-League footprint. ”We have a precedent with Wellington, who play in our league out of New Zealand. Forget being in a different country, they are in a different confederation. It’s something we will explore.

”When Central Coast played Guangzhou in the round of 16 in the [AFC Champions League] there were 49,000 people watching that game in Australia and 49 million in China so it gives you an idea how big football is in some of those markets.”

In the short term, the clubs’ financial viability is the most important priority – and with the extra revenues generated by the new TV deal with Fox Sports and SBS and increased memberships the clubs are in a stronger position than before.

”We are matching, for the first time in the FFA’s history, all the players’ salary cap costs through our distribution. That’s $2.5 million we are paying to each club out of the TV deal.”’

Negotiations over the sale of FFA-controlled Western Sydney Wanderers are continuing, with a price as high as $15 million being touted.

© 2013 The Age | This article was written by Michael Lynch and first appeared in The Age on 9 October 2013.

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