Come fly with me: Saving the Nix in 2016

@hamishneal

C’mon
I wanna fly
Makes everything alright
Way up in the sky (Yea, yea)
Got to feel alive (hey)
Show me the place I wanna see
I’m gonna make my dreams reality
Oh take some time I don’t care what they say
Go reach for the start and take it on way

Jon Stevens – Fly

 

2016 hasn’t started as the year of the Phoenix on the field, with Ernie Merrick’s side only managing a draw on Sunday against Brisbane (albeit a gallant result given the players that were missing) and that came after a 3-1 New Year’s Eve defeat in Gosford. Off the pitch, the club’s future still remains up in the air, however a resolution should be known within weeks according to David Dome, CEO of the Wellington A-League club.

 

During an extensive chat on Radio Sport on Friday, Dome outlined the status of the licence negotiation, including some bizarre queries from Football Federation Australia, and outlined that he expects the saga to come to a conclusion (one way or another) very soon.

 

For those new to the topic, the Wellington Phoenix were not offered a ten-year licence in late 2015 and their current licence expires at the end of the 2015/16 season. The four-year deal the Welnix (Phoenix ownership group) were offered late last year in response goes against developing a sustainable, long-term business, and is not the same as all other A-League sides who are operating on 20-year licences. Since late October, Welnix have been locked in negotiations with the FFA but news of any rapprochement has been thin in the ground over the holiday season. Dome’s comments bought some clarity to the scenario but also offered up some bizarre negotiation tactics.

 

“It’s quite a complex negotiation,” stated Dome of the process, which has been led by Welnix chair Rob Morrison. “We are a long way further down the track then we were in December,” Dome noted of the two-month plus old saga.

 

As the FFA continue to list more demands, one of the more odd ones in the latest negotiation noted by Dome was a request for Welnix to put on charter flights for all Phoenix away games.

“Exorbitant, we can’t afford that sort of thing” was Dome’s response to the thought bubble, and it’s worth remembering that’s the idea he mentioned in the interview. What other half-baked ideas were suggested which Dome didn’t outline in his near hour-long segment?

 

It would be fiscally irresponsible for any A-League club, not just the Phoenix, to do that. Even if the concept didn’t run at a financial loss (which it almost certainly would), the process would take staff time away from core business operations and other more beneficial activities. In terms of return on investment, it would be low and fans who are keen enough to head to Australia already are more than capable of arranging holidays and other activities around away games as they see fit.

 

By way of comparison, North Queensland Cowboys fans paid AU$1,045 for seats on a chartered flight to the NRL Grand Final last year. Similar packages for their opponents, the Brisbane Broncos, cost between $800 and $1,200 depending upon what level of seat on the flight fans wanted. The margins on these were reduced to get fans to the games and for the purposes of goodwill. One would assume Welnix would have to do similar with this idea to get any traction on this concept. Given no professional side does this on a regular basis, it’s hard to fathom how A-League officials thought this was a sensible idea. Having worked in the NRL and knowing the New Zealand Warriors have only undertaken such initiatives during finals games during his tenure there, it is strange FFA CEO David Gallop would think this would work during a regular season of the A-League.

 

As a negotiating tactic, this sort of offer to bargain back to the position you actually want is common practice but this idea doesn’t seem sensible, it seems like a time-wasting tactic.

 

Hearing concepts like the above continue to be a punch in the face to fans who only weeks earlier had been slugged $35 for a ticket in the away section and made to pay around $8 if they wanted to purchase warm beer sitting in an away section facing directly into the sun for much of the game.

 

As an exercise in customer service, hearing about charter flight comments only weeks after a very reputable possible expansion franchise in Canberra is dismissed only just after they hosted a Socceroos game continues to make one think what will the ‘kick the fans theme’ be next week. It’s worth noting the total population of Leicester means it wouldn’t be an A-League franchise. But expansion is not the core of this piece. If it’s not bans following due process what next?

 

Chartered flights aside, a key sticking point is the contribution the FFA sees itself as making to New Zealand Football (the NZ governing body), via their support of the Phoenix and the grant of AU$2.5 million each A-League gets from the Fox Sports broadcast deal.

 

“There is certainly tension between those two organisations,” Dome confirmed. “The FFA want more out of New Zealand Football… they want NZF to make a greater contribution to the Phoenix… and to the A-League.”

 

As I have pointed out previously, the Phoenix operate at a competitive disadvantage – can’t win the Asian Champions League, can’t stage FFA Cup home games etc – which offsets any perceived subsidy the FFA sees it is paying to grow the game in New Zealand. But supporting the game in other countries only runs as FFA policy when a World Cup is on the line as we have recalled previously. That this line continues to be peddled months down the track doesn’t paint A-League authorities in a good light.

 

Dome conceded “without that (grant) money there would be no Phoenix.” However, that is also the case for other clubs including, for example, Central Coast Mariners, whose owner Mike Charlesworth admitted on the Yellow Army podcast early this month that the Mariners use approximately 90 per cent of the grant (the whole sum is meant to pay 100 per cent of the salary cap) with the other 10 per cent used to cover operational costs. Of the other nine A-League clubs, it’s worth remembering Newcastle, Adelaide, Brisbane, and the Mariners had superannuation issues recently. On time payment/superannuation issues were an issue with the previous Phoenix ownership under Terry Serepisos, but it’s not now. Paying players on time are the sort of financial issues which should be a higher priority for the A-League.

 

Stable franchises are barely in the majority in the A-League as the above point illustrates, and other clubs realise this in their support of the Phoenix. Dome reiterated that the Phoenix have ongoing support from the chairs and owners of the nine other A-League franchises. Speaking about the support from other clubs when the licence saga escalated, Dome commented “there is rarely disagreement between clubs” and that the Phoenix are “extremely well valued” by the clubs but not perhaps the FFA.

 

Among the other points Dome noted in the chat included that the Phoenix, without promoting from the FFA, said they would “absolutely love to have a women’s team in Australia.” Again, this is something not all A-League clubs do.

 

Dome’s specific comments about a resolution were hopeful with the Nix representative stating “all things being equal hopefully it will get done very soon” and “it’s not months away.” However, the final negation points whilst not being insurmountable are “not inconsequential.”

 

Whilst Dome’s remarks give some confidence to Phoenix fans, they don’t exactly represent an endorsement to go out and buy a ‘Nix shirt for your niece whose birthday is in June.

 

A fair-minded person interpreting the charter flights idea would seem to indicate those with the decision-making power over the A-League are content to strangle the Welnix with financial demands they know the organisational can’t viably meet. That doesn’t exude confidence that priorities are what they should be.

One thing is for sure – if the Nix are turfed out, I’ll be on a flight, charted or otherwise, for their final game, wherever that may be.

 

I wanna fly
Come on and fly
Makes everything alright
Way up in the sky (Yea, yea)
Got to feel alive (hey)
I wanna fly!

 

This piece first appeared on https://hamishneal.wordpress.com/2016/01/11/come-fly-with-me-saving-the-nix-in-2016/

About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.

Leave a Comment

*