Big sponsorship deals are a major part of football in Europe and the Americas. Often the money just goes to a few, but there's good news for football in New Zealand with another World Cup legacy. Fernando Battaglia reports.
Brushing aside for a moment the Wellington Phoenix’s lacklustre performance which led to their first loss of the season in the A-League, there was actually some quite good news for New Zealand football this past week.
The All Whites’ strong FIFA World Cup performance has not only brought some much needed prize money New Zealand Football’s way, it has also delivered a major sponsorship with the Auckland Savings Bank, one of the largest banking institutions in the country.
As a result, virtually every NZ football competition will be rebranded with the new sponsor. Tops among that lists are the international friendlies being played this year and the New Zealand Football Championship (NZ’s first division football) being renames the ASB Premiership.
Sounds fancy doesn’t it?
I haven’t spoken much about the NZFC here. It is the top football division in New Zealand and is made up of 8 teams: defending champions Waitakere United (near Auckland), Auckland City FC, Waikato FC, Hawke’s Bay United, Youngheart Manawatu, Team Wellington, Canterbury United and Otago United.
Waitakere United defeated Canterbury United in the final 3-1, on April 24. The new season begins next month on Oct. 16 with a match between Auckland City and Waikato FC.
The league itself is about as old as the A-League, having started in 2004-05 on the heels of several other economically unviable predecessors. The NZFC has struggled for the whole of its history to stay afloat and pay the bills, the ASB’s sponsorship is key to their continued existence.
ASB Premiership may sound a bit over-the-top, but there is actually quite a strong structure of club football that underlies it. Each year, the top local club teams meet in the Chatham Cup final. It’s not quite the FA Cup, but there is no lack of players and interest. A more professional first division could be a one of the greatest legacies of continued success by the All Whites.
And that legacy may be all the more necessary, if the Aussies kick the Phoenix out of their league.
Ask any Kiwi which continent they are in, and you’ll only find a few who’ll actually answer “Oceania”. The concept of a “continent” encompassing the Pacific Islands plus Australia and New Zealand is more a political construct than a geographic one. From a FIFA point of view, that’s a lot of little countries that need to fit in somewhere and the result is, by far, FIFA’s weakest conference, the OFC (Oceania Football Conference). And more so since Australia defected to Asia.
Since Australia's shift from Oceania to Asia -- in the footballing sense -- in January 2006, there's been a dark cloud hanging over New Zealand. It isn't so much the further weakening of the OFC, that may actually have worked in favour of New Zealand football, at least in terms of World Cup qualifiers. In some ways it's more important than that, and could have a significant impact on the development of football in this country at a time when the sport's future looks brighter than it's been in years.
The Asian Football Confederation has always wanted the Wellington Phoenix out of Asia. Just last year, the AFC -- concerned about the Asian Champions League, a highly lucrative tournament – threatened to block Australian teams from participating. The confederation told Football Federation Australia to outline Australian clubs will lose their right to participate in the ACL from 2012 if they don’t change the status under which the Phoenix participate in the league.
What does that mean? Essentially the Wellington Phoenix FC would be officially registered as a commercial entity in Australia under local law and the number of foreign players (non-Australian) in Wellington Phoenix FC should be the same as in other clubs participating in the A-League. It would’ve essentially been a team of Australians based in New Zealand; hardly a compelling drawing card for Kiwi fans.
Fortunately, things never went as far as that. The Wellington Phoenix and the Hyundai A-League agreed on a contractual commitment allowing the New Zealand-based club to continue to compete till 2016. And the AFC agreed to abide by that decision, but did not allow the Phoenix to compete in the ACL, even if they are A-League Champions.
Effectively, this shuts out the Phoenix from all international competition, since they also do not qualify for the Oceania club championship (the O-League), where NZFC (ASB Premiership) teams participate.
Unfortunately what is not being considered is the perfectly logical solution. Is it really that crazy to try to fold in the Oceania confederation into Asia and create an Asia-Pacific Confederation?
I can't imagine OFC officials being too happy with that, and AFC officials may balk at the geographic extension which could put teams like Saudi Arabia in the position of travelling 15,000 km to Samoa. But the fact is that Australia's move to the Asian confederation made this the only truly viable option for the development of football in Oceania.
It doesn't need to be that drastic. Perhaps the Asian Champions League and Asian FIFA World Cup Qualifiers could include some qualification method for Oceanian football teams. A pre-qualifying round where one or two teams from Oceania move to the main competition. The Phoenix could qualify directly by topping the A-League.
Until then, the Phoenix, the strongest team in Oceania, will never be able to represent the region in the FIFA Club World Cup. This year’s entry? Hekari United of Papua New Guinea (who beat Waitakere United in the two-leg O-League final). I’m sure the FIFA promoters are eager to promote such a major club.
- The Wellington Phoenix continued their historical inability to win on the road by losing 2-1 to A-League leaders Perth Glory. The match was shockingly close, considering that the Perth Glory controlled most of the match. A late goal from defender Ben Sigmund brought the Phoenix to within one and they had a couple of chances near full time to tie the score. A draw would’ve been a major shock. Midfielder Leo Bertos did not start but came on in the second-half to make the difference. So far this season, Bertos has been the most influential player on the pitch for the Phoenix, but he desperately needs some help in midfield to continue to provide decent service for Chris Greenacre, Dylan McAllister and Paul Ifill.
- Another Kiwi has made it all the way to Europe. This week, Shane Smeltz announced his transfer to Turkey’s Genclerbirligi for whom he’s signed a two-year contract. The Turkish Superleague is a physical and challenging league, and Smeltz should hopefully benefit from that experience. He was definitely among the top-class of strikers in the A-League and Gold Coast United will definitely miss his scoring. Hopefully his new club commitments in Turkey will not keep Smeltz from joining the All Whites for their October internationals.
Fernando will continue to provide first class updates from New Zealand for IBWM, but if you’d like to read more from him, please visit his blog.