Almanac Soccer: Moving the metrics. Still saving the Nix.


Hotter than a desert

More subtle than a right hook

Yeah we’ve got something to say

Better than a statement

More meaning than a movement

Yeah we’ve got something to say

No-one’s listening anyway

But I hear you


The Feelers – No-One’s Listening


Statements at twenty paces have rolled on into November as the licence saga surrounding the Wellington Phoenix in the A-League speeds to a resolution with Football Federation Australia moving the focus onto what metrics matter.


The recent weeks have also seen meetings, thankfully, and now that the FFA has finally negotiated its collective bargaining agreement the national governing body can hopefully focus on its other primary elite level issue which is resolving the licence issues as the Phoenix owners seek a ten year licence extension as opposed the maximum four on offer from the FFA.


Outgoing chairman of the FFA Frank Lowy has specifically noted Asian Football Confederation approval is required which, as we mentioned in our recent column on this issue, flies in the face of what former FFA staff have said about agreements made when Australia joined the AFC. The move of allowing an Oceania Football Confederation side to compete in Australia was a concession for Australia abandoning the OFC when, in my view, they should have lobbied for the confederation to be merged with Asia.


As stated previously the AFC have identified myriad structural issues to do with Australian domestic football they wish to be addressed Lowy making ongoing AFC approval of the Phoenix (or more specifically a New Zealand licence) a big issue seems disingenuous. For the sake of transparency there should at least be a timeline put on the other matters such as promotional/relegation, and 3 plus 1 visa player rule. The latter matter is something which could easily be pushed and A-League clubs placing more emphasis on recruitment within the AFC is something we have written about previously.


As recent statements have confirmed, the metrics have moved again and it has very much become a case of what can we say this week to make the job of the Nix harder with the priority of each ‘metric’ unclear. Prior to the licence saga blowing up to kick off the season the Phoenix actually had more members than the same time last season, and subsequent to that they have passed the previous season’s total mark in the wake of the #savethenix campaign with now in excess of 4,400 members.


Another metric which is worth nothing is the TV deal which again seems to come up and Phoenix chairman Rob Morrison has conceded this is the current key factor. Sky Sport in New Zealand does have other football content, they commenced their coverage of ASB Premiership (New Zealand’s main domestic competition) on the weekend but it’s a service New Zealand Football pay for thus making is harder for NZF to provide more financial support to the Nix when they, rightly, want some form of TV coverage for their own domestic product. Maybe if the FFA approached Sky Sport jointly with NZF with a deal for both domestic competitions (think double-headers in Wellington or Auckland occasionally) to cut costs maybe that’s an answer. It’s baffling that the FFA have essentially sub-contracted their TV deal negotiations to a club. Morrison mentioned this when speaking to Simon Hill of Fox Sports and it seems something the Welnix are happy to do. Maybe they will do a better job. But it’s unique if nothing else.


Morrison also mentioned support from NZF for projects like the Phoenix Academy which NZF provided seed funding for. However aspects such as coaching links and recognition of the pathway Wellington provide for not just All Whites but junior national teams as well needs to be improved.


The issue of who exactly the Phoenix represents has come up in the latest Lowy salvo with the outgoing FFA chairman saying “if it is all New Zealand, I think New Zealanders will want to see them. If it’s only Wellington, I think it’s really narrow.” For a club that has taken A-League games to Christchurch, Auckland, Palmerston North, Napier and Dunedin plus numerous pre-season fixtures elsewhere in the nation it’s a baffling statement. Morrison has said the club are committed to games in Auckland and Christchurch as they will play this season. This is a sensible move to embrace the nation’s biggest population centres on each island but anything further seems folly.


As the Central Coast Mariners have shown us despite the fact games at North Sydney Oval service a portion of their membership taking away home games is fraught with danger in that it risks upsetting the fans a small club has tried so hard to woo. It’s hard to ask fringe/new fans to support a side in a city if you are going to take the team away more than twice a year. This weekend is a classic example, the A-League has essentially issued an ultimatum to Wellington fans saying ‘start showing up to watch your team’ whilst simultaneously robbing the game of their best players by playing it during an international window which sees five players, including lynchpin Michael McGlinchey, missing on All Whites duty for the home side. The next Phoenix home game is on Auckland’s North Shore on December 5 and fans in Wellington don’t get to see their team at ‘home’ and at full strength from October 24 until Saturday December 19. And Frank Lowy wants this to happen multiple times per year? This may spread the fan base across New Zealand but it risks a very large hit for local fans so you essentially replace on paying customer with another in another city but don’t add another new one. In fact it also risks devaluing home memberships. In the period the Phoenix are away from Westpac Stadium there will be four Georgie Pie Super Smash (NZ’s domestic T20 competition) fixtures in which the Wellington Firebirds will have time to develop brand loyalty. Yes it’s a shorter competition but this is the market Wellington is operating in and the FFA propose to make the job harder? Heading away from Wellington once or twice a season as the Phoenix currently do is great but more than enough. Not including just sporting events in Wellington but all the cultural offerings the Phoenix are in fragmented market and Lowy supposes slicing this up across New Zealand will work.


Now that there appears more clarity on the key metrics there is still concern deals could have already been done at a level above the Welnix but they must negotiate in good faith.


With the onus on the Welnix group to come back to the FFA in the near future with their licence plans my concern is “what’s next?” When Wellington had already over-hauled their membership figure to start the season memberships was still an issue. Taking the club to the nation, even though the club has already (at great financial risk) done so in the past, is the new ‘idea’? In February of last year the club again stated the commercial benefits of games in Auckland but were circumspect in committing to too many, whilst theorising that a second A-League side in New Zealand, based in Auckland, could be beneficial.


The spectre of the AFC approval aspect lingers over any movement on the licence but what essentially amounts to an order to re-brand seems to be a position to paint Welnix into a corner.


Welnix are successful businessmen and would have other ideas to take to the FFA and will now engage with television/other partners to at least bring them to the negotiating table but what sort of faith is this in? Morrison stated to Simon Hill “we didn’t think it was particularly well handled in the way it was done — being publicly released before we had the chance to have another look at things” and this is further concern about how the FFA go about these sort of negotiations. If the FFA are just going to drop in licence ideas (like the New Zealand Phoenix concept) into thin air via media outlets without previously articulating this to those it directly impacts (aka the owners) it becomes difficult for fans to digest and frustrating for Welnix who would prefer some of these aspects are kept behind closed doors. It also lacks consistency in terms of what is important. At least Morrison has been able to crystallise that television is a key component. It’s more than the FFA’s moving metrics.


I haven’t moved from my view that the Welnix will accept a further four years, but now that the goal posts have moved on the metrics perhaps one of the components of the future deal means Welnix are the local broker for TV deals and they get a percentage of the agreed deal to invest in the club over and above what other clubs get from the TV deal. After all they are essentially brokering the deal and in any such business a finder’s fee applies. Given the Phoenix already operate in a competitive disadvantage as we outlined last time with regards to no ability to generate revenue from Asian Champions League participation it would seem fair.


The metrics might have been moved but the Welnix are pushing on. Let’s hope their negotiations in coming weeks are successful and the Wellington Phoenix remain that, and in the A-League.


Hold one, don’t let it out

If you’ve got something to say

Don’t hold it in just let it out

If you’ve got something to say

No-one’s listening anyway

But I hear you.



This post first appeared on ‘From the sideline of sport’

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.

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