$40 million upgrades announced for iconic Leichhardt Oval

Sydney’s historic Leichhardt Oval, home to the Sydney FC Women’s team, will be receiving a $40 million upgrade to its facilities, ensuring the safety and comfort for competitors and fans into the future.

The $40 million investment will draw on the Inner West Council’s Leichardt Oval Masterplan and includes upgrades such as:

  • New female-friendly change rooms.
  • Increased seating capacity of 3,000. (20,000 > 23,000)
  • A new northern grandstand.

The Commonwealth, State and Local Governments have formed a funding partnership to secure the future of Leichhardt Oval. The Commonwealth is committing $20 million to the project, with the NSW Government and the Inner West Council investing $10 million each towards the upgrade.

Leichhardt Oval required a big investment with the outdated, crumbling infrastructure becoming an issue for tenant teams and their local supporters.

The stadium is on track to host 120 sporting fixtures in 2024, including both men’s and women’s matches across various codes which underpins its importance on local sport in NSW.

Sydney FC Chief Executive Mark Aubrey expressed his excitement for the future of the ground and was also invited to be on the design phase committee of the project.

“It’s great to be involved in the design phase of the upgrade as we continue to build Sydney FC and our Women’s game, and work towards a stable home ground for Sydney FC’s Women,” Aubrey said in an interview.

“Our Women’s crowds last season totalled over 50,000 and our semi-final had 7,000 fans inside the ground which shows there’s a huge appetite for Women’s sport, so this injection of funds is very welcome.”

Sydney FC Captain Natalie Tobin also spoke during the announcement of the upgrade about how this will directly improve the women’s game.

“These upgrades are long overdue, and the facilities will help female athletes perform better and increase the growth of our game,” Tobin added in a statement.

“It will help improve the growth of our Women’s game at all levels and increase our ability to impact our local community and girls football.”

Leichhardt Oval has become a hub and home for women’s sport hosting the rugby league, cricket and football, and this upgrade is indicative of the long-term commitment by the NSW Government to increase the participation of women and young girls in sport.

Uncertainty looms around National Second Tier’s future

The highly anticipated National Second Tier (NST) in its proposed format is set to be postponed by Football Australia, with the body looking to find alternative ways to include these NPL clubs into a similar structure that would be more financially viable.

Vince Rugari of the Sydney Morning Herald broke the news on Tuesday claiming the highly ambitious second tier was likely going to be put on hold after the original plan was to have 10 to 14 foundation clubs forming a separate league, without promotion or relegation to start.

There was a very high financial threshold that the eight foundation clubs needed to reach in order to be granted a licence and unfortunately with rumours of some in the eight sceptical of its viability, other NPL clubs with a proposal in the original plan have backed away from the idea for the time being.

For what is meant to be a ‘national competition’, having clubs from NSW and Victoria only is quite restricted but the search for a financially strong club outside of the two states, willing to take that massive financial risk, is a task that is too difficult in the country’s current state of football affairs.

There has been a lack of a clear message from Football Australia across the past 12 months. The eight foundation clubs were left on standby about important information like the correct format, whether it was going to expand to 10 or 12 teams that Football Australia promised multiple times, or when the league would actually kick off in winter of 2025 or beyond that considering the shaky A-League finances being the main subject of discussion surrounding the initial success of the NSD.

After the A-Leagues controversial call to reduce initial funding of top tier clubs to $530k a year from its usual $2m a year, a properly run second division seems like a task too far down its priority list despite the positive feedback it has received from fans and clubs about implementing a ‘transformative’ system mirroring European football.

An idea being floated around as a possible solution to the unviability of a separate league is to add existing A-League teams to the ‘Champions League-style’ second division, which would essentially be a more exclusive version of the existing Australia Cup.

Football Australia CEO James Johnson told The Asian Game exclusively that “we will have a (national) second tier it will exist,” but the home and away format played during the winter is a long shot and the foundation clubs are left in limbo wondering what their immediate futures are considering the heavy financial investment they will have to make if it goes ahead.

This whole saga has been a case of Football Australia pushing away the problems that quickly arose from this ambitious idea and being too reactive when it comes to finding a solution that would be fair for the foundation clubs financially.

The NSD must wait and not force itself into a fragile Australian football landscape that has many more issues it must worry about in the top flight before building a second division that could financially damage some of the most historic clubs in Victoria and NSW.

In a world where Australian football needs authority and structure, the collapse of the original idea of the NSD proves there is a long way to go and communication towards the clubs and fans involved has to improve.

Newcastle Jets’ new owners add key pieces for upcoming season

Newcastle Jets’ new owners, Maverick Sports Partners, have hired Ken Schembri as General Manager of Football and Ben Hawes as General Manager of Commercial, Digital and Marketing for this upcoming season.

The appointment of Schembri and Hawes reaffirms Maverick Sports Partners’ intent to invest in high-quality resources, which should excite Newcastle fans for this upcoming season.

Schembri had previously worked with the reigning champions, the Central Coast Mariners, being an essential part of establishing the Central Coast Mariners Football Academy and their Centre of Excellence when he joined in 2014.

Schembri will manage the A-League Men’s roster, oversee player performance and development, and handle recruitment for all football departments.

The Mariner’s Academy has produced many young and exciting Australian talent including Garang Kuol and Max Balard who have all gone to join clubs in Europe after their time in Gosford. Schembri has most recently played a key role in Central Coast’s recent success as Head of Football.

Maverick Sports Partners Director Maurice Bisetto commented about the new additions.

“We are excited to have both Ken and Ben join the Newcastle Jets team. They will be integral to the strategy and direction of the Club’s New Era, providing expertise and support, on and off the pitch,” said Bisetto in a club statement.

These two joined the Jets after the club were bought by the Australian company only last month.

Hawes has prior experience in Sponsorship, Marketing and Content roles at the National Rugby League, Sportsbet, BlueBet and Sydney FC.

Hawes will focus on expanding and diversifying the clubs commercial revenue streams which includes growing the sponsorship portfolio. He will also deal with commercialising the club’s digital channels as well as implementing new marketing and fan engagement strategies.

Due to these recent moves, Newcastle have the potential to produce exciting Australian talent and grow its brand across the league which will help the club continue to improve both on and off the pitch and ultimately strengthen their stability for future seasons.

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