The A-League Stadium Situation
Moving the A-League to winter and introducing a second division with promotion-relegation would provide many benefits.
These would include end-of-season games being played during the relatively free sporting period of October, November and December, alignment with the NPL and Asia, avoiding playing games in intense heat, and less dead-rubbers due to teams battling relegation.
The biggest (non-financial) challenge is the availability of stadiums and quality of pitches. This is an analysis of the stadium situation in each region of Australia and New Zealand.
If the A(&B)-League begins at the start of March, at least one of the other three football codes will also be playing on 28 weekends from then until the start of September (their finals series in June and September could add weekends, but are unknown quantities). Remove the international football windows in March, June and early September, and the A(&B)-League will play on 25 weekends.
It would likely be less than 25, because otherwise the season would not go beyond early November, and there could be mid-season breaks for international tournaments and FFA Cup games at mostly suburban venues. However, for argument’s sake, let’s analyse the worst-case scenario where each club hosts 12 games over the 28 weekends.
Melbourne: Victory and City share AAMI Park with the Storm (11-12 games) and the Rebels (7-8 games). In 2020, there was due to be at least one form of rugby on 15 of 28 weekends; although 6 weekends involved a sole Saturday game, meaning Friday was free before rugby affected the pitch. Scheduling 24 Victory and City games around this would be the most complex fixture juggling for the A-League, but it is possible.
Victory could also play some games at Marvel Stadium. In 2020, it was due to host an AFL game on 23 weekends, but only 5 times on Friday night.
Western United’s stadium in Tarneit will be available all year when (or if) it is built. If they continue to play a few games in Geelong and Ballarat, they could easily work around the 9 AFL games at GMHBA Stadium and 2 games at Mars Stadium.
If South Melbourne and Melbourne Knights enter a second division, they come with their own stadiums. The “Team 11” bid requires a new stadium in Dandenong, but they would be the main tenant. Any other new team would also likely need a new stadium.
Perth: In 2019, the Glory shared HBF Park with Western Force, who competed in the new Global Rapid Rugby after their exit from Super Rugby. The future of Global Rapid Rugby and the Force is unclear, but if they do continue to play at HBF Park, Perth will want to avoid those 5-8 games. Regardless, the stadium has room for a second Perth/Fremantle-based team.
Adelaide: All hail Hindmarsh - the sole, major football-only stadium in Australia and New Zealand! There is room for a second Adelaide-based team, too.
Tasmania: A new team would face little competition for stadiums, with only 2 AFL games in Hobart each year and 4 in Launceston. An appropriate stadium is the greater issue, with a new rectangular stadium or modification to an oval required.
Auckland: A new team has a few options which ensure sufficient availability. In 2020, the Blues were due to play 5 games in 28 weekends at Eden Park; while the domestic rugby union team Auckland hosts 5 games there each year from around July to October. In 2020, the Warriors were due to play 10 games at Mt Smart Stadium. There is also North Harbour Stadium, where the domestic rugby union team North Harbour hosts 5 games from July to October.
Wellington: The Phoenix could easily avoid co-tenants the Hurricanes, who in 2020 were due to play 6 games in 28 weekends at Sky Stadium, and the Warriors, who were due to play a single game. From July to October, they could also avoid the domestic rugby union team Wellington playing 5 games there.
Christchurch: A new team could work around co-tenants the Crusaders at the 18,000-capacity Orangetheory Stadium, who in 2020 were due to play 6 games there in 28 weekends. From July to October, they could also avoid the domestic rugby union team Canterbury playing 5 games there.
Sydney: Sydney is temporarily complicated, as three stadiums are being redeveloped from July 2020 to around early 2023.
During this time, Sydney will share Netstrata Jubilee Stadium with the Dragons (5 games) and the Sharks (11 games), who are temporarily away from PointsBet Stadium. In 2020, an NRL game was scheduled at Netstrata Jubilee on 15 of 28 weekends. Sydney could avoid this easily enough; particularly as they also have Leichhardt Oval, where the Wests Tigers host only 3 games.
In 2023, Sydney FC will likely return to the new Sydney Football Stadium, where they should be able to work around co-tenants the Roosters (11-12 games) and the Waratahs (7-8 games).
Normally, the Wanderers share Bankwest Stadium with the Eels (11 games) and Wests Tigers (4 games). In 2020, these teams were due to play there on 14 of 28 weekends (4 times solely on Sunday and once solely on Monday), which would provide enough clear space for the Wanderers.
Until around 2023, however, the Wanderers will have to also share Bankwest with the Rabbitohs and the Bulldogs while ANZ Stadium is redeveloped, and the Waratahs for 3 games while Allianz is rebuilt. This would be a fixturing headache for the A-League, but hopefully the modern stadium would ensure a higher pitch quality. Otherwise the Wanderers could host the odd game somewhere like Penrith or Belmore, or insist their temporary co-tenants take some games elsewhere.
Macarthur would be fine as they share Campbelltown Stadium with the Wests Tigers, who only host 3 games there. Additional Sydney teams would have these ample stadium options from 2023 onwards.
Newcastle: The Jets could work around the Knights hosting 12 games over 28 weekends at McDonald Jones Stadium. In 2020, this was due to include 5 games on Saturday and 6 games on Sunday, meaning the Jets could play a day before them some weekends if required.
Central Coast: The Mariners would want to avoid 2 annual NRL games at Central Coast Stadium. Otherwise it is all theirs.
Wollongong: If the Wollongong Wolves enter a second division, they could easily avoid St.George Illawarra’s 6 games a year at the 23,000-seat WIN Stadium.
Canberra: A team from the nation’s capital should be able to avoid likely co-tenants the Raiders (11-12 games) and the Brumbies (7-8 games), either at GIO Stadium or a proposed new, centrally-located stadium. In 2020, GIO was due to host at least one form of rugby on 14 of 28 weekends; 4 times solely on Saturday and 6 times solely on Sunday.
Brisbane: The Roar share Suncorp Stadium with the Broncos (12 games) and the Reds (8 games). In 2020, at least one form of rugby was due to be played there on 17 of 28 weekends, which provides room for football. However, the Roar are reportedly seeking to build a new boutique stadium, which should provide exclusivity. In the meantime, Dolphin Stadium is available for some games alongside Suncorp. Additional Brisbane-based teams would also face this situation.
Gold Coast: A new team could avoid co-tenants the Titans at the 27,000-seat Cbus Super Stadium. In 2020, the Titans were due to host 11 games there; 5 Saturday games and 3 Sunday games.
Sunshine Coast: A new team would have close to exclusive access to Sunshine Coast Stadium, which in 2020 was scheduled to host 2 NRL games. It has a capacity of 12,000 (1,000 seated), but the local council is seeking state and federal funding for an expansion.
North Queensland: A new team could work around sharing the new 25,000-seat Queensland Country Bank Stadium with the Cowboys in Townsville. In 2020, the Cowboys were due to play there 12 times; 7 times on Saturday and once on Sunday. If Cairns was used for some games, Barlow Park has a capacity of 18,000 (1,700 seated).
Overall, each region in Australia and New Zealand has its unique advantages and challenges, but it is possible to fixture A-League and second division games from March to September in suitable stadiums and on quality pitches. Bring it on!