Stadium plan gives Western Melbourne edge in A-League bid, says Horvat

Backers of the bid for an A-League team in Melbourne’s west are convinced their plans to become the first club in the competition to own their own stadium precinct outright makes their case for an expansion spot “utterly compelling”.

Western Melbourne Group (WMG) is one of eight hopefuls left standing - including Victorian rivals Team 11 and South Melbourne - in the race for a licence in 2019-20.

But their privately-funded model for a 15,000-seat arena and adjoining commercial and training complex provides a point of difference, as the group supported to the hilt by local authority Wyndham Council and a small consortium of business bigwigs seek to seize the moment.

Wyndham Stadium
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Modelled, in large part, on the Western Sydney Wanderers' bid which steam-rolled the A-League In 2012, WMG see themselves as boundary breakers.

“The key difference between our bid and any other is quite simply building our own private stadium,” WMG spokesman and former Socceroos defender Steve Horvat said.

“We’re not looking for government subsidies or funding. The stadium would be the first piece of real estate owned by a club at the elite A-League level.

“The existing model, whether it be at current A-League clubs or aspirants, involves them being one of many tenants.

“As we’ve seen in the past that often means being left with a pitch chewed up by another code or event leading up to a game, not to mention the high cost of renting these venues.

“Most A-League clubs, barring Melbourne Victory, lose money every time they play a home game.

“They don’t own the food and beverage sales, the car park and all the key revenue items go to the landlord, so you’re only left with the ticket receipts.

“Owning a stadium isn’t just about bragging rights - it’s about harnessing these crucial revenue streams.

“We talk about clubs being sustainable but it’s very hard to run a business when your customers, the fans, spend money and you only get to keep the gate receipts and merchandise sales.”

Stadium grounds
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The nominally named Wyndham Stadium is earmarked for completion just 21 months after WMG could get the nod for an A-League berth, when FFA dispenses two new licenses on October 31.

Melbourne’s west is home to one of Victoria’s fastest growing and most diverse communities with WMG claiming there has been a 43 per cent hike in the numbers of children aged five to 14 playing football in the region.

WMG boasts the likes of renowned match promoter and Tribal Sports Group chief Lou Sticca, KPMG partner Maurice Bisetto, his colleague Tania Orr (KPMG director, infrastructure and projects) and Andrew Zinni, another ex-Socceroo turned construction director at Probuild.

Should a licencee be won, the club - whose name, badge and colours will be determined by fans - will play their first two seasons at Geelong’s Kardinia Park before unveiling their own home in year three.

Team 11 is predicated on a similar model with one glaring difference: the reliance on persuading state government to provide a multi-million grant to fund a stadium in the city’s south-east.

“There are 1.2 million people in the west and while every bid will say they represent a fast growing sector, ours really does,” Horvat said.

“That’s what the Census says. It’s growing by about 800 inhabitants a week, and many of those are from countries where football is the most popular sport.

“People in the area don’t necessarily see themselves as Melburnians - it’s very parochial.

“There’s no elite sporting infrastructure there and not much for young people to do, and a club like ours could be a catalyst to embrace those youngsters. There’s a real relevance to this. And it’s part of a bid we think is utterly compelling.

“The place is a melting pot of everything that Australia represents. The community feedback has been phenomenal.

“We can replicate what the Wanderers did, there’s no doubt about it.”

And that's right down to hiring the design and construction team responsible for the re-model of Sydney’s Parramatta Stadium.

WMG claim to be in such rude financial health that they have more people “who have put up their hands” to invest that what they budgeted for, with the FFA likely to value a licence at up to $15 million.