Two heavyweight international financiers behind Canberra’s A-League aspirations look set to withdraw their funding promise by June - unless the ACT is guaranteed a spot in the next round of expansion by Football Federation Australia.
Having lost out to Western Melbourne Group and South West Sydney in the A-League’s latest growth spurt, the backers’ patience is wearing thin.
They are demanding clarity at an FFA board meeting on February 11.
But, according to FFA chairman Chris Nikou, Canberra can likely expect to make little headway until a new operating structure for an independently run A-League has been established later this year.
The stakes are high for the bid team led by ATC businessman Michael Caggiano with the support of the pivotal duo hanging in the balance, and the existing bid officially dead in the water unless assurances are given by FFA.
Caggiano declined to comment when contacted by The World Game over the status of the ACT bid, or the identity of the overseas backers.
FFA is fully aware who they are, though both are seeking public anonymity until a timeline for entry into the competition has been established.
One is a sports investment group - believed to be based in the Middle East - with billions in the bank and existing football interests.
The other is a US-based conglomerate which owns teams across several codes and already has a controlling share in an English Premier League club, as well as other global football assets.
Both see Australia as a territory worth exploring and have been mystified at the failure - to this point - to establish an A-League foothold through Canberra, where the promise of building their own stadium is also thought to have been proffered to sweeten the deal.
Part of the reason appears to lie within the terms of Fox Sports’ TV rights deal with FFA, with the stipulation that $5 million due to FFA in the fifth and sixth years of the term is only payable if expansion has been achieved in Sydney, Melbourne and/or Brisbane.
With those objectives now achieved, Canberra looks well placed to be next cab off the rank.
FFA chairman Chris Nikou insisted that Canberra remains “an important area” but said their latest bid had been unsuccessful because it “wasn’t quite there at this point in time”.
Moving forward, he said FFA needed to work in unison with the clubs to get the new A-League operating model in place, as “the most important piece of the jigsaw”.
“At that point we’d encourage the clubs, in consultation with us, to go again (in terms of expansion) and I’d have thought that Canberra would be under serious consideration,” he added.
Nikou, who was reluctant to put a definitive figure on the perfect number of A-League teams, sees expansion as opening pathways to neglected local talent.
“It’s about opening those pathways, both for players and coaches, and expansion helps that equation, as would a second division,” he added.
“We’ve got to have a mature discussion about how we achieve that - it’s not just about adding teams. You have to be adding in something that benefits the sport.
“In fairness to the clubs who are waiting we need to have that dialogue about a stand-alone operating model.
“Until we get that right we can’t really discuss where to next for expansion.