The A-Leagues, Australia’s top club soccer competitions, are set to have two teams from New Zealand for the 2024-25 season, with an Auckland-based side joining Wellington Phoenix.
The Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the commercial marketing body for soccer in the country and organizer of the men’s and women’s A-League, announced it had awarded a full license to American billionaire Bill Foley to expand the men’s competition to 13 teams next October, with the club launching a women’s side in 2025-26.
Foley is the founder and general partner of Black Knight Football Club, which owns English Premier League (EPL) team Bournemouth and has a majority stake in French side Lorient. He also founded and owns the National Hockey League’s Vegas Golden Knights.
In a statement, Foley said: “Building a championship team from expansion has been my most exhilarating professional achievement, and I aim to do the same for the fans of New Zealand and particularly the community on the North Island.
“It’s a special place and an area that I know will embrace this team.”
Auckland previously had a team, the New Zealand Knights, in the first two seasons of the A-League but the club folded in 2007 and was replaced by Wellington Phoenix.
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The official name, team colors, and home ground are yet to be announced. Its inclusion in the A-Leagues still needs approval by the Oceania Football Confederation, the Asian Football Confederation, and FIFA.
However, the team already has announced its chief executive Nick Becker, who previously worked in events and marketing roles with the EPL’s Manchester City and A-League’s Melbourne City clubs.
APL chair Stephen Conroy said: “In Bill Foley, we have a proven global sports investor and operator with a track record of building deep roots in the community, a passion for football, and a longstanding business and personal relationship with New Zealand.
“We are delighted to welcome Bill and his team to the A-Leagues and look forward to seeing the club in action next year.”
The A-Leagues first confirmed plans to add two new men’s clubs based in Auckland and Australia’s Canberra for the 2024-25 season in March, with the two markets beating 11 other contenders including north Queensland, Gold Coast, and Wollongong.
The expansion sides will pay fees of about AUD25 million ($16.6 million) each, which will buy the new owners a share in the APL.
Canberra’s bid is being led by Michael Gaggiano, who had his previous bid to enter the A-League in 2018 rejected by governing body Football Australia in favor of Western United and Macarthur.
Other shareholders in APL include the 12 existing teams, broadcaster Paramount, investment firm Silver Lake, which acquired a significant stake in the body for a final figure of AUD140 million, and FA, which owns a special ‘good of the game’ share that gives it control over key issues like foreign player allowances and expansion.
The APL said the ultimate goal was for the men’s A-League to feature 16 teams for a 30-round competition by the 2025-26 season.
It is the first expansion the APL has organized following their unbundling from FA in 2020 and sees a shift from the process that saw Western United and Macarthur FC join the A-League in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
The last two clubs were given A-Leagues licenses under an FA rationale that they would develop alongside the small but growing populations in western Melbourne and southwest Sydney.
However, both clubs have since struggled to gain a foothold in their communities due to challenges created by the pandemic, a lack of local facilities, limited fan engagement, and leadership issues behind the scenes.