The A-League is facing a double whammy as it enters an era of intense financial rigour, with potential imports eyeing off alternative Asian markets and local talent targeting previously untapped destinations - with outposts like Bangladesh now even on the radar.
The little known Bangladesh Premier League, and equally unchartered Philippines Football League, now threaten to out-muscle the austerity-hit Australian market, as clubs tighten their belts in the face of fallout from the Fox Sports cutbacks.
With the salary cap poised to plummet to as little as $1.6 million after Foxtel’s annual investment in the game drops from $57 million to barely $30 million in the final year of its renegotiated rights deal, the landscape is looking barren.
Add to that a likely push from club owners to slash existing and future player contracts, and a scramble for the exit lounge is looming.
Clubs like Abahani Dhaka in the 13-team Bangladeshi competition can pay imports $180,000 net a season, equivalent to earning $240,000 in Australia when you account for tax.
Meanwhile, the average A-League wage - according to figures provided by the PFA - currently stands at $140,000.
However 40 per cent of players earn below the average Australian wage of $82,000.
Even the six-team Philippines league is beginning to look alluring with foreigners paid up to $20,000 net per month, with accommodation and a car thrown in for free.
Already the likes of the Thai League 1 has left the A-League - which ranks 27th globally - lagging far behind with middle ranking imports raking in $700,000 net per season.
Rio-based former South Melbourne NSL star Steve Panopoulos - responsible for bringing Fred to the A-League 15 years ago and multiple deals across Asia - says the A-League is becoming an increasingly “bureaucratic and difficult” market to traverse.
Not to mention far less lucrative than the growing list of alternatives.
“My biggest market has always been South Korea, which has money and exposure and can lead to even (more lucrative destinations) like China and the UAE,” he explained.
“Ten years ago any player in Brazil would have chosen Australia over Thailand but that’s no longer the case.
“Brazilian players will tend to follow the money. Ninety per cent know they have to maximise their earnings while they can.
“They also tend to be funding their entire extended families, up 20 or 30 people are dependent on them.”
Despite his reservations, Panapoulos still hopes to foster future deals into Australia.
“But expectations on foreigners in Australia are very high,” he added. “There’s also a feeling the league has stagnated a bit.
“Financially, a player in Thailand will earn around three times as much as Australia.
“Housing, car, commissions and the like are all part of the package in places like that also.
“When I start planning for each transfer window, we don’t concentrate too much on Australia because financially we’re going to struggle to get deals done.”
To provide further context, the average player wage in Saudi Arabia is $380,000, $400,000 in the MLS, and in excess of $300,000 in the J-League and K-Leagues.