A-League Grand Final deal with NSW government now in doubt

Julian Miller
By:
Julian Miller
14/09/2023
News
BettingTop10 News
A-League Grand Final deal in doubt

The A-League and NSW agreement to host the next three Grand Finals in NSW may be in doubt following recent negotiations. 

News Insights

  • Grand Final hosting rights had previously been sold to NSW for $20 million.
  • A-League officials backtracking on controversial deal.
  • Other changes to A-League men’s and women’s league structures are also being discussed.
  • APL boss Danny Townsend’s future is now uncertain.

After just one year,  Destination NSW and the A-League are considering backing out of their three-year Grand Finals hosting rights contract.  Reports claim NSW has reached out to the A-League about changing the deal. Due to the deal’s unpopularity, many within the league would be okay with scrapping the agreement altogether. 

Controversial A-League deal with Destination NSW explained

Soccer fans in Australia and fans of the A-League all around the world were blindsided late last year when the league announced an agreement to see New South Wales host the next three A-League Grand Finals. Prior to this deal, hosting rights were awarded to the team that performed best during the A-League’s regular season. 

Fans immediately protested the A-League’s decision to sell away the Grand Finals hosting rights for the next three years. Many clubs’ fans chose to boycott the final games of the season. Unfortunately, others took more aggressive action, such as the chaotic pitch invasion by Melbourne Victory fans at AAMI Park in December. 

Australian Professional Leagues (APL), Australia’s top soccer governing body, was unaffected by these protests and went ahead with the deal. Reportedly, the APL was in need of cash when it sold its hosting rights to NSW for between $10m-20m. 

Fan protests also did not have an effect on attendances. Last year’s final between Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne City was played at CommBank Stadium in Parramatta before a large crowd of 26,523 soccer fans. 

NSW and A-League both want out

Despite the seemingly successful first year of this deal, both sides apparently want out. Reports from the Sydney Morning Herald claim A-League officials and the NSW government have come to an impasse regarding other events to be held surrounding the A-League Grand Final. 

Reportedly, the A-League’s initial plans for their deal with NSW involved also having an A-League all-star game hosted in NSW featuring the best A-League players against a top European side, such as Bayern Munich, who was reportedly close to coming Down Under for such an event before NSW government budget restraints ruled off the possibility of an all-stars match. 

With no all-star match in sight, both the NSW government and the A-League are seriously discussing the future of their deal. Reports claim both sides are most-inclined to terminate the deal completely. However, other sources say the league and NSW government are considering a Magic Round alternative. 

Magic Round games originated in rugby and see every team play one match on one specific weekend at the same venue. Given fan outrage over the Grand Final hosting rights, it is likely the A-League, APL, and NSW government would also face significant backlash to any Magic Round proposal. 

However, reports surrounding the proposed Magic Round claim the Grand Finals hosting format would revert back to its original structure if a Magic Round were implemented. This could alleviate some fan pressure and maintain the league and NSW government’s deal. 

Top APL decision maker’s exit looming

It was widely reported at the time that APL CEO Danny Townsend was the biggest factor in the A-League-NSW deal. The 49-year-old former Manly Warringah Dolphins player and Sydney FC CEO viewed selling the league’s hosting rights as a quick way to raise funds during tough times for the A-League. Townsend became the face of the deal and regularly defended it. He repeatedly said the deal would allow for a week-long “festival of football' in the host city. 

Now, it appears Townsend is on his way out of Australian football. The APL CEO has been linked to multiple moves abroad. Townsend has not commented on these rumours. However, if they are true, Townsend’s exit may make it more likely that the APL will withdraw from their deal with the NSW government. 

Even if the A-League does decide to cancel their agreement with the NSW government, the league will have to do a lot of work to repair its relationship with the fans. This is especially important as the A-League looks to add two more clubs in the coming years.