You're Not Singing Any More
Auckland Owl tells a cautionary tale of the horrors of franchise football.
Imagine this, footy fans.. let me take you back to the end of last season. Your team is rock bottom of the league. A terrible state of affairs - the goals don't come, the crowd doesn't come. You're supporting them in a more than half-empty stadium. Something has to give, and the coach is fired. A well respected figure takes the reins, and after a short while, the results start to improve. The last three games of the season are two wins and a draw. You're still bottom of the League, but hey, in this part of the world, there's only one professional division.
So there's hope for the future. You start to look forward to next season: imagine what your newly fired up team can do with a clean slate! Your stadium is an excellent one, all it needs is a few more fans, who will surely come along as results improve. There's plenty of room for redevelopment, the stadium was built that way initially. You're planning your visit to the club shop, and pondering that season ticket you always promised yourself…
And it all comes crashing down.
Because this is New Zealand, and this is franchise-based football. Because the results have been bad and the crowds didn't come, your team's slot in the Australian A League is up for grabs. The League bigwigs want more money from the gate. More local advertising, more Sky viewers, more, more, more. And your team just can`t give them that. And neither can the cash-strapped NZ Soccer authorities (well, can you imagine the FA forking out to keep a club afloat?).
Suddenly, your team doesn't exist. The players don't have contracts longer than a year anyway, so even if the money can be found to keep your team in the league at this late stage, the players are long gone: they need the certainty of a job, and your team can't give them that.
The coach is still around but he's waiting too, waiting to see if another city can step in with money, give him a job, and a place to build a team. If 'your' team is to be resurrected, it won't be at the stadium you used to visit. It may be in the capital, a day's drive away.
Or it may not exist at all. Another city in a different country may have a new team to support next season.
What's my point? Well, on Vital SWFC we've had plenty of chat lately about how we came to support the team we do, team loyalty etc. How can anyone approach being loyal to a team which, season by season, has no guarantee of existing? How can you build a football club, and indeed a league, with that level of uncertainty?
Furthermore, English football had a brief flirtation with franchising in (and out of) Wimbledon. OK, the MK Dons scenario isn't exactly franchising, but one team ceased to exist and another was created in its place. As commercial pressures increase, and television continues to dominate, we might find it happening more often. We might find that elite 'top 12' European League springing up, a-buzz with fancy words like 'demographic' and 'underwriting' and 'rights issue', driven by marketeers, and driven by greed.
If you're lucky, your team might be part of that brave new world. There'll be no promotion and relegation, it's impossible to organise across several countries and those top 12 teams won't want it anyway, they'll want to be guaranteed a slice of the pie. TV won't want it either, they'll want the 12 teams who give them the biggest revenue returns.
But I desperately hope that if they are a part of it, your team keeps winning, because if they don't, and attendance and interest in the team falls, they won't be of any use to a money-making machine. They'll be cast aside.. there'll always be another team to step into their shoes.
It it happens, fight franchising, you fans. I've seen it first hand, and it's not pretty. It's not football.
P.S. You're wondering what happened in New Zealand? Well.. tear up that old NZ Knights shirt and use it for rags, Knights fans. Memories of those final few games, where you really truly started to believe that the future was bright, are now just that.. faded memories. Your team is dead. A new team will be created, 400 miles away in Wellington.