The push for a national second division (NSD) has taken another step forward, with the Association of Australian Football Clubs (AAFC) delivering the most detailed report yet at how the long-sought-after competition might look.
On Monday, the AAFC - a collective of aspirant National Premier League clubs (NPL) from around the nation - released a preliminary report from an internal working group that detailed its preferred model of a national second-tier.
Describing their proposals as "affordable and feasible", the AAFC estimate that the price of running a second tier - which has been given the working title of 'The Championship' by the group - would reach up to $3.3 million.
Participating clubs, per the report, would be required to pay an annual participation fee of $200,000 on top of an annual budget of between $850,000 and $1.6 million.
Significantly lower than operating budgets in the A-League, the AAFC believe this figure to be eminently achievable, citing that some existing NPL clubs already operate on budgets of up to $950,000.
Under the plans, players would initially be semi-professional, with the intention that clubs would seek to rapidly professionalise once viable.
No salary cap would be introduced, with AAFC chairman Nick Galatas telling journalists that beyond meeting a stringent, minimum criteria, participants would be allowed to operate with the freedom to meet their own needs.
Earmarked as being centralised in nature, travel costs are expected to be the biggest expense for the prospective league but, having examined other models such as conferences or an extended NPL finals series, the AAFC believe the benefits of a national competition outweigh the higher travel costs.
The 12-team, 22-round national competition is estimated to generate $1.45 million in transportation costs (roughly $120,000 per club) and a targeted 16-team, 30-round competition will incur $2.62 million in travel expenses (around $165,000 per club).
Teams seeking entry to the competition - the 32 clubs that contributed to the report, not necessarily the pool that the AAFC envision initial NSD competitors being drawn from - would have to meet strict entry criteria.
These cover areas such as fan base, youth development, coaching standards, finance and facilities - with a stadium capable of hosting a minimum of 3,000 fans highlighted in the report.
A "comprehensive women’s programme" is also highlighted as a requirement for entry, with the possibility of a women’s iteration of a NSD that would be introduced in 2025 floated in the document.
Tapped as a 12-team competition at its birth, the AAFC envision the competition expanding to 16 teams via promotion from the NPL as soon as possible, preferably within the first four years.
Full promotion and relegation, the former contingent on minimum requirements being met, would then be introduced in the NPL.
Promotion and relegation in the A-League is not a formal feature of the proposal, though 2028 is mentioned as a hypothetical date it could be pursued in the report; placed within a broader vision of the league's introduction being an almost complete success.
"This report is about what our member clubs can contribute to Football Australia in establishing and operating a true national second tier," Galatas said.
"It is about the best possible, not about a notional 'best' or the merely 'possible'. It identifies the most viable and financially responsible model for a true national second tier to be able to both start and, as importantly, to grow."
The AAFC is now expected to begin a consultation process with the game's various stakeholders before finalising their proposals, with an April 2 target date for completion.
It will then be presented to the board of Football Australia - the governing body ultimately controlling the timing and structure of any prospective NSD.
"This report advances a national second-tier model, after considering available options, which is financially viable and, more importantly, financially responsible," Galatas added.
"It is supported by our Partner Group of NPL clubs, which developed it and is available to be deployed by Football Australia for the benefit of the game.
"The proposed model represents the best possible, financially viable and responsible true second tier which can be delivered.
"We understand it may disappoint those with more ambitious hopes for it from the start – that it might be immediately fully professional, for example.
"However, while our clubs share such aspirations for the notional best, they are also mindful that they will assume the financial risk.
"We think this is the best place to start if we want to quickly develop to a higher level."