World Cup boost has A-League eying new investment, expansion

Australia's World Cup run to inspire a generation (1:21)

The National Curriculum's Joshua Parish thinks the Socceroos will inspire a new generation of Australian soccer fans despite World Cup exit. (1:21)

Australian Professional Leagues (APL) chief executive Danny Townsend is "certain" that the A-Leagues will soon announce new investments and changes across the competition's ownership group, as well as finalise new ownership for the Newcastle Jets.

After going on hiatus during the tournament's opening stages, the A-League Men will return on Friday evening, less than a week on from the Socceroos being eliminated from the FIFA World Cup by Argentina.

The league is one of several bodies seeking to harness the lightning in a bottle that was the excitement around the Socceroos' unexpected run, however, Townsend said that one of the biggest potential benefits of the unexpected success wasn't tangible at all, but reputational.

"It's not as simple as flicking the switch and having those fans come out and support the A-Leagues," Townsend told ESPN in an exclusive interview. "What the performance of the Socceroos did was move us beyond this reputational question mark that has always existed around the game and demonstrated that our players can compete on the world stage.

"[It demonstrated] that the quality of our football is up there with some of the better leagues in the world and we should be proud of our league and focus on supporting the game."

As well as aiding its quest to continue to attract more fans through the gates and eyeballs to televisions/streams -- figures which the APL says are already returning to pre-COVID levels and demonstrative of the veracity of their strategy -- any reputational boost that the league experiences, either domestically or internationally, will serve to boost its efforts to source further investment.

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In October, Miami-based 777 Partners became the latest entity to buy into the competition when they took on a minority stake in Melbourne Victory, an investment that has the potential to grow, according to Victory chairman Anthony Di Pietro, into "a controlling interest at some point."

"That's the unique structure we've built that will enable us to ingest further capital into the growth of the sport," Townsend said. "Any great sport or idea needs to be properly funded in order for it to grow. And that's something that APL is very focused on getting the right investors to the table as part of that process.

"I'm certain there'll be some announcements over the coming months on the evolution to change across the ownership group and the investments that have been made into those clubs.

"And that's going to continue. That's not just a short-term thing. We've got a vision to ingest as much international football experience into our club landscape as best we can because it's not just the capital that can help grow the game. It's also the professionalism and the understanding of how to drive a professional football club forward that can add significant value."

The most obvious A-Leagues club in need of new investment is the Newcastle Jets, who have been without an owner since Chinese businessman Martin Lee was stripped of his licence for "clear failings" to meet the minimum requirements to operate an A-Leagues club in January 2021.

It has since been funded by a consortium of fellow APL clubs on a caretaker basis until a new owner can be found.

"We've been public about the journey that the Jets have been on with its current ownership and the fact that we've been looking for the right owner for that club," said Townsend. "And we're certainly pretty close to finalising that and when they're very ready that announcement, I'm sure, will take place."

Townsend, however, said that sourcing investment into existing clubs wasn't the only avenue of growth that the league was exploring -- flagging that the organisation would soon unveil further plans surrounding adding new clubs to the A-Leagues.

The last round of A-Leagues expansion came prior to the leagues' independence in 2018, when Football Australia tapped Western United and Macarthur FC to enter the league.

Post unbundling, it is the APL who would take the lead in identifying and tapping candidates for a licence but, as the regulator, Football Australia retains control of any fit and proper ownership tests and is required to provide final approval.

"[Expansion] is something that we've said all along is something that is part of the APL strategy," said Townsend. "I think we're getting closer to being able to talk in more detail around our plans there, so I'm looking forward to that in the next couple of weeks."