For a game that is in the post season here in Australia, football sure knows how to grab a headline.

Following the FIFA gravy train rolling through Sydney and the Socceroos rolling Iraq in Brisbane, Football Federation of Australia (FFA) chief Ben Buckley announced that Australian football’s governing body had received ten expressions of interest from consortiums bidding for new A-League licences.

The FFA is seriously considering expanding its current eight team competition to 12 teams in the near future. Established clubs currently enjoy a five year moratorium in their existing markets which expires in two years’ time.

Despite the fact that there are as many as three consortiums bidding for a second licence in Melbourne, two in Western Sydney and propositions being put forward for Townsville and Wollongong, the FFA will be the first to get in the ring and do battle in Australia’s most hotly contested emerging sports market, the Gold Coast.

Enter one of Australia’s richest men, mining magnate Clive Palmer. In Palmer, the FFA have found a powerful local ally in the battle for sports supremacy.

The one time Gold Coast property magnate turned iron ore king has committed to pouring in plenty of his own cash to create a team to be known as Gold Coast United. The FFA has seen fit to provide Mr. Palmer with a provisional licence. Sources close to the consortium have told Crikey that planning for the new team is at an advanced stage. The first major announcement is likely to be the appointment of former Queensland Roar boss Miron Bleiberg to the coaching staff.

The news of Clive Palmer’s involvement has implications elsewhere.

For the AFL, it’s all bad. Its proposed Gold Coast franchise is hamstrung by contractual commitments to play games at the Gabba. That, along with the Queensland Government’s steadfast refusal to provide any money for stadium development for an AFL team on the Gold Coast means the AFL’s plans are still on the drawing board.

With the FFA and Gold Coast United certain of a stadium deal with the NRL’s Gold Coast Titans at the recently constructed Skilled Park in Robhina, the A-League will be well embedded in the community well before any cranes go up to construct a home for the proposed AFL team. If it’s all about the race to be first on the ground to win the hearts and minds of sports fans, the FFA is a mile in front.

And if it’s a battle for the future corporate dollar this latest development signals the awakening of Australian big business interest in the power of the World Game.

Many of Clive Palmer’s iron ore customers are in Asia. Having a football team of your own playing in the region is a conduit for opening doors and sweetening deals right across the region. They don’t put those fancy corporate functions on at the footy just for fun.

The whole notion of a Gold Coast United team playing in Beijing in an Asian Champions League fixture means big business. Not just for the fans, but for the man who pays so they can play.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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