Sport

A-League looking at new marquee player fund to target stars like Tim Cahill

The chances of watching stars such as Tim Cahill play in the A-League next season could receive a major boost with clubs, broadcasters and Football Federation Australia deep in negotiations to establish a marquee fund.

High-profile players could become affordable options for A-League clubs once again with stakeholders in discussion to set aside an annual sum of money from broadcast revenue solely to subsidise clubs' costs of signing marquee players.

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Fairfax Media understands talks are at an early stage but a potential game-changing model could be introduced in 2017 in conjunction with the broadcast deal where a combined fund of up to $10 million could be provided annually from the FFA, Fox Sports and a free-to-air network to assist clubs in pursuing star players.

Details are yet to be determined but the proposal will see broadcasters — via the fund — match or contribute to the costs clubs incur in signing marquees that raise the profile of football, such as Alessandro Del Piero during his two-year stint with Sydney FC. This will come in exchange for greater access to the players for marketing and promotional purpose.

While much of that will rely on the next broadcast deal, sources suggest a condensed model could be introduced as early as next season with a small pool of about $1 million. Under this proposal, all 10 clubs are considering setting aside a small portion of their broadcast revenue for a fund supported by the FFA and other commercial partners.

The proposal was put forward collectively by clubs, the FFA and broadcasters aiming to raise the profile of the league by signing more household names. The competition suffered a stagnant start to this season as clubs struggled to attract marquees due to the falling Australian dollar, financial instability and competition from other football markets.

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The notion of each club parting with a small portion of revenue is to soften the blow for one club's hefty investment in a marquee that benefits the entire league. When Sydney FC paid nearly $8 million over two years for Del Piero, rival clubs — in particular those interstate — enjoyed significant spikes in attendances for home games against the Sky Blues while TV audiences also grew across the league.

More than $10 million has been spent on players outside of the salary cap this season whether it be marquees or other allowances and cap exemptions. The fund is aimed at allowing clubs more flexibility on expenditure while also providing incentive and ambition to compete with other more lucrative leagues, such as China, USA and the Middle East.

Marquee attractions: Michael Carrick, Tomas Rosicky, Luca Toni, Francesca Totti, Tim Cahill and Emmanuel Adebayor.
Marquee attractions: Michael Carrick, Tomas Rosicky, Luca Toni, Francesca Totti, Tim Cahill and Emmanuel Adebayor. Photo: Getty Images

Aside from Central Coast Mariners signing former Liverpool winger Luis Garcia as a guest player, the A-League hasn't boasted a genuine big-name marquee player since the departures of Del Piero, Shinji Ono and Emile Heskey two years ago. What were already expensive outlays and loss-making exercises for the respective clubs worsened with the value of the Australian dollar falling in conjunction with the rise of the MLS in US and Chinese Super League.

Should clubs, the FFA and broadcasters strike a deal for next season, it could encourage A-League clubs to pursue ageing stars coming off contract. Roma legend Francesco Totti would be one of the most in-demand having confirmed he won't retire but will leave the Serie A at the season's end. Others such as Michael Carrick, Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta and Emmanuel Adebayor face uncertain futures in the English Premier League. Italian striker Luca Toni was linked with Adelaide United previously and could be open to a move to the A-League as he is off contract this season while Bundesliga veteran strikers Claudio Pizarro and Ivica Olic are also in the final years' of their and likely to continue playing.

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