QLD needs another A-League team, but should it be in Brisbane?

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On the back of an historic run to the FFA Cup semi finals, the Brisbane Strikers last month announced major backing from a Chinese consortium as the club continues its push to reach the highest level of Australian football. 

The ‘million dollar investment’ will focus on growing player pathways and partnerships in China and Europe, and positions the Strikers as strong contenders for a future A-League licence. 

A-League chief Greg O’Rourke previously said Queensland would almost certainly nab a spot in the next round of expansion when the league grows to 13 or 14 clubs. 

“You would not put another team as your 13th or 14th team in Sydney or Melbourne, so by elimination, Brisbane would be one of the key markets we’ll look at,” O’Rourke said.

“The geographic location of the possibilities for the next clubs are pretty clear, and Brisbane is on the shortlist.”

But would a second Brisbane club be a success, given Brisbane Roar’s recent struggles to attract crowds? With Western United joining the A-League this year and Macarthur FC set to follow next season, is it premature to start talking about A-League expansion again? 

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When considering the off-field preparedness of the two league newcomers, there’s an argument to be made that the discussion should begin immediately and expansion clubs given as much time as possible to prepare. 

Despite their success in building a strong squad that defeated the Melbourne Victory on the weekend, Western United will remain stuck playing in the wrong city and without a stadium for the foreseeable future after extensive delays at their Tarneit site. 

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Contrast that with Macarthur FC and it’s clear that having extra time to prepare could be a recipe for success for future expansion clubs. 

Macarthur are set to move into their brand new training site and headquarters in 2021 and have already announced a number of lucrative sponsorship deals. 

The Bulls are also planning an impressive refurbishment for their new home base at Campbelltown Stadium, with the added bonus the club will still play all of its A-League, W-League and National Youth League matches out of the stadium during the refurbishment.

While Macarthur are yet to kick a ball in the competition, the extra time given to the club to prepare for their debut should be a model the newly independent A-League follows when considering further expansion.

With the A-League seemingly favouring expansion teams with concrete plans for boutique stadiums, a cashed-up Strikers would certainly be an appealing prospect for a league license, particularly as the Queensland state government has rejected the idea of funding new stadium infrastructure in Brisbane.

The club has previously released grand plans for a redeveloped Perry Park, and its inner-Brisbane location close to crucial rail links would certainly appeal to Queensland football fans longing for an improved match day atmosphere. 

But although the Strikers may potentially be able to afford a new stadium, is it a wise investment?

Similar to Melbourne Heart back in 2009, a second A-League team in Brisbane may struggle to differentiate itself from the Roar and may split an already small football market. 

While expansion has worked particularly well in the past with the Western Sydney Wanderers, part of their success came from exploiting existing geographic rivalries in the city between the east and west to create a true derby atmosphere against Sydney FC. 

As much as the prospect of a Brisbane derby may excite the football purists in the capital of the Sunshine State, there aren’t any ready-made geographic rivalries ready to exploit for an incoming club which may struggle to win over Brisbane’s sometimes fairweather sporting fans. 

Although the Strikers have plenty of name recognition and a passionate supporter base stemming from an NSL title back in 1997, would their proposed rebranding as Brisbane United really unite Brisbane behind them? 

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In all other codes and sports, Brisbane has remained fairly unique among the capital cities in Australia in that it has always had only one team to unite behind. 

While Melbourne and Sydney have a multitude of AFL and NRL clubs with historic ties to certain suburbs, the Broncos, the Lions, the Reds, the Firebirds and the Roar all have one thing in common in that they face no competition for sporting hearts and minds within Brisbane’s city limits. 

Even Adelaide and Perth’s much smaller sporting markets have been able to sustain two AFL clubs each.

For a new A-League club in Brisbane, any rivalry with the Roar would need to be manufactured through marketing, and that is a risky prospect in a city that’s always seemed to have room in its heart for only one team at a time. 

As much as a second Brisbane team makes sense from a market perspective, you only need to travel an hour down the M1 to see that just because a market makes sense it doesn’t mean that clubs like the Suns and the Titans will succeed. 

So the answer for A-League expansion into Queensland may not be for another Brisbane club, but to find existing geographic rivalries to exploit. 

The Gold Coast remains an obvious possibility, but while a club that doesn’t involve Clive Palmer would likely find greater success, it’s probably a city best left for now considering the AFL and NRL haven’t been able to figure it out after investing millions.  

Where else then? Similar to Western United and Macarthur FC, the A-League should consider investing in the rapidly emerging growth corridors in south-east Queensland, such as the Sunshine Coast, Ipswich and North Brisbane/Redcliffe. 

Super Netball has had considerable success with the Sunshine Coast Lightning, offering a fast growing region its own sporting brand to get behind. 

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With massive infrastructure projects set to transform the booming city over the next 20 years, including a potential fast-rail corridor to Brisbane, the A-League would be smart to get in on the ground floor of one of the few major untapped markets for professional football of any code left in Australia. 

Another possibility includes Ipswich, a city on the edge of Brisbane projected to see its population grow by 144% by 2036. 

In a similar vein to Macarthur’s partnership with Wests Tigers in the NRL, an expansion bid could partner with rugby league’s Ipswich Jets to share a redeveloped stadium at North Ipswich Reserve. 

The proposed stadium development already has the backing of the local council as well as the potential for state government funding as part of Queensland’s 2032 Olympics bid. 

An Ipswich club would generate the kind of parochial support and fierce rivalry needed to create an intense derby with the Roar, without merely being a ‘not-the-Roar’ team. 

Yet another possibility includes a North Brisbane/Redcliffe team based at Dolphin Stadium, a site the Roar are already using for three A-League home games this season. 

A North Brisbane bid with a ready made 15,000 seat stadium could establish an immediate point of difference with the Roar and cater to a rapidly growing population in surrounding suburbs. 

Although I have no doubt a second A-League team in Brisbane could be successful, it would need to satisfy the crucial requirements of a boutique stadium and a way to differentiate itself from the Roar without detracting from the club’s support. 

The Strikers would be an immediate success with enough cash behind them to develop Perry Park, but the key question is whether this new Chinese partnership represents the kind of funding required. 

With the Queensland government firmly opposed to supporting any further stadium development in Brisbane, any Brisbane bid needs the cash to front up a stadium on its own. 

While not outside the realm of possibility, it’s a risky investment in a league with falling viewership numbers and attendances. 

When looking at further expansion clubs, to get the local and state government support that was pivotal to Macarthur and Western United’s bids the A-League should look outside Brisbane at the rapidly growing greater South East Queensland rather than simply banking on a Brisbane derby.

 

Feature image credit: Brisbane Strikers FC

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Mathew Perry
Former snowmaker, TomTom salesman and subpar barista giving sports journalism a whirl. QUT Journalism student covering Brisbane Roar FC in the A-League and W-League.