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What will a National Second Tier mean for the NPL?

As the concept of a National Second Tier becomes a reality in Australia, there are questions on what the removal of the biggest clubs will mean for the State League competitions.

Football Australia are still discussing and workshopping the format of the concept, and how it operates and coexists with the National Premier Leagues (NPL) is one of the biggest questions.

When the NPL was created in 2013, the aim was to standardise the State League competitions across Australia and serve as a second tier to the A-League. The competition has been the top division in each state outside the A-League, with the winners playing off against each other at the end of the season.

The NPL hasn’t managed to bridge the gap between the State League clubs and the A-League, shown by the push for a true National Second Tier.

We know that the current NPL clubs would jump at the chance to join a National Second Tier, however, what would this mean for the State Leagues moving forward?

There is certainly commercial value to having South Melbourne and Melbourne Knights play off in the Victorian State League. Without the traditional powerhouse clubs in there, the Victorian NPL would struggle to attract sponsors and fans that drive the clubs, allowing them to perform at a semi-professional level.

Determining what the value of the NPL is without traditional clubs is a question that will be asked across every state competition if a National Second Tier drags them away.

Football Australia has previously floated a Champions League-style competition idea, with 32 teams competing in a group stage format followed by a knockout stage.

The allure of this concept is to reduce the cost of travel and the financial burden on the clubs at the league’s inception while allowing the clubs to continue to play in their respective state NPL competitions.

However, this is a stop-gap solution to get the competition off the ground, with the intention of easing into the transition from semi-professional into a fully professional second tier with promotion and relegation down the track.

There are certainly positives to this structure. Using the Champions League-style format to get the competition off the ground and running before evolving into a traditional league format could be the best way for a National Second Tier to launch.

The reality is that the first few years in a National Second Tier will be difficult for the clubs if the competition is a complete home and away league featuring at least 18 games. It is a distinct possibility clubs will fold, or flee back to the relative safety of their state competitions.

This isn’t a reason not to proceed with the competition, however, it is a danger that the clubs must recognise. To alleviate this danger, clubs can play in their state competitions while featuring in a parallel Champions League-style competition.

Some of the NPL’s biggest clubs would prefer a traditional style home and away season. South Melbourne President Nick Maikousis outlined in an interview with Soccerscene that a National Second Tier could mean some of the biggest clubs depart the State Leagues.

“We don’t agree that a Champions League-style competition is a National Second Division. Our views are that it needs to be a stand-alone competition. The challenge for the state federations is potentially losing some of their biggest member clubs,” Maikousis said.

“If you take South Melbourne, Melbourne Knights, and Heidelberg out of the NPL Victoria competition, it becomes a different conversation.”

He also pointed out that reluctance to lose these clubs from their respective state leagues by some stakeholders is similar to arguments raised against the formation of the National Soccer League in the 1970s.

Fears of losing the State League’s biggest clubs aren’t new. At the NSL’s inception in 1977, the Victorian Premier League forbid its clubs from joining the new competition. Mooroolbark SC, an unremarkable Eastern Suburbs club, broke the deadlock, paving the way for South Melbourne, Heidelberg and Footscray just to follow in their footsteps.

Mooroolbark unfortunately found themselves relegated out of the NSL in their only year in the competition, before ending up in the provisional league at the bottom of the football pyramid by the 1980s.

Eventually, any national second tier competition must become a stand-alone league if Australian football is to have a proper pyramid of competitions featuring promotion and relegation. The state NPL competitions will lose their biggest clubs to this, but it creates opportunities for other clubs to forge ahead and take their place.

Australian football needs to be brave in its attempt to create something that will outlast us all. Countries like England, Spain, and Italy have built their football not only on heritage, but also a deep talent pool developed playing in the leagues below their top division.

Promotion and relegation must be the end game for football if it’s to reach its full potential in Australia. For a club to climb from State League 5 to the A-League, from amateur to professional, is the ultimate expression of the beautiful game.

The state leagues will survive losing their biggest clubs, like they did at the NSL’s inception. The question is what value these competitions still have without their biggest assets.

Manchester United gives update on Old Trafford plans

Manchester United has updated fans on modernising Old Trafford, with an assurance that they will be regularly consulted with the progress.

Manchester United has provided an update to fans on plans to modernise Old Trafford, with an assurance that fans will be regularly consulted with the progress.

Old Trafford is the largest club football stadium in the UK, with a capacity of 73,000 and one of the most iconic venues in world football with 111 years of history as United’s home ground.

Initial meetings have been taking place with multiple architectural and engineering companies in order to choose a potential partner that will allow the Red Devils to move forward with the project.

No decision has been made on the scope or budget of the project, and it is still up in the air as to whether or not the stadium will receive a capacity increase. The final plan would be ‘based on analysis and on consultation’.

Stadium redevelopment plans are expected to be a key focus of the Fans’ Advisory Board (FAB), which will hold its first meeting early this year.

Manchester United CEO Collette Roche:

“These meetings have produced exciting potential ideas, although it’s important to note that we’re still at an early stage and it’s premature to talk about timetables,” she said.

“We intend to involve the Fans’ Advisory Board in the process, and we will also keep this Forum briefed. The creation of the FAB was an historic step that will establish a new model for fan engagement in English football and, ultimately, improve the club’s decision-making.”

Roche also noted that the development will be a ‘complex piece of work’, because of the many legal and regulatory factors involved. However, Roche reminded fans that good progress has been made and talks are at an advanced stage currently.

Sport Republic acquires stake in Southampton FC

Sport Republic – backed by billionaire Serbian businessman Dragan Solak – have acquired a large stake in the club.

English Premier League club Southampton has confirmed that Sport Republic – backed by billionaire Serbian businessman Dragan Solak – have acquired a large stake in the club.

They have purchased the stakes that were previously owned by Chinese businessman Gao Jisheng, and will work in collaboration with Katharina Liebherr – daughter of Swiss businessman Markus Liebherr – who owns the remaining stake in the club.

Sport Republic are a London-based investment firm for the sports and entertainment industry. They were founded by Henrik Kraft and Rasmus Ankersen and headed by Dragan Solak. Their portfolio includes Tonsser – a football player app that empowers youth players to progress and unlock their potential.

Southampton CEO Martin Semmens:

“Over the last two years, together with the shareholders of our club, we have searched for the right partner to take the club forward. Today we have found the perfect solution,” he said.

“Sport Republic are experienced investors, but also experienced within the world of elite professional sports. That combination is very hard to find, and we are thrilled to have reached an agreement that secures our short and long-term future.

“We are grateful for the support of Mr Gao and Katharina that allowed us to take our time, turn away the wrong options and ultimately find the right partner for the future of this great club, its fans, staff and the people of Southampton.

Sport Republic Lead Investor Dragan Solak:

“My partners and I have experience in long-term investments in the sports and entertainment industry and Sport Republic has been founded to combine this expertise and deliver something unique to the market,” he said.

“Southampton has so many of the qualities we have been looking for in a major sports organisation. It has a great management team, excellent talent development, talented teams playing attractive football and a dedicated fan base. We are delighted to be able to complete this acquisition.”

Sport Republic Chairman Henrik Kraft:

“We will be an active and engaged owner, but we will not be starting any revolutions. We were attracted to Southampton because it is already a well-run club that follows a clearly defined strategy,” he said.

“Whilst Southampton is Sport Republic’s first acquisition, we expect more investments to follow over the coming years. Our ambition is to build a portfolio of high-influence stakes in football clubs and other sporting assets across the world.

“At the same time, we will also invest in early-stage sports technology companies and use our portfolio to accelerate the development of these companies. The acquisition of Southampton is a great first step and we are very excited about the journey ahead.”

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