Phoenix aren't going anywhere, insists chairman Rob Morrison
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Phoenix aren't going anywhere, insists chairman Rob Morrison

Wellington Phoenix chairman Rob Morrison is confident a new operating model for the A-League will confirm the club's long-term future in the competition.

Morrison was announced on Friday as one of five club representatives on the 'New Leagues Working Group', which will meet for the first time this week as it tackles a frighteningly broad remit.

Sticking around: Wellington Phoenix chairman Rob Morrison's presence on the 'New Leagues Working Group' is a huge boost for the club.

Sticking around: Wellington Phoenix chairman Rob Morrison's presence on the 'New Leagues Working Group' is a huge boost for the club.Credit:Dominion Post

The NLWG has been tasked with essentially mapping out the future of professional club football in Australia, starting with a long-awaited new financial model for the A-League and going as far as the thorny topics of a national second division and promotion and relegation.

Where and how Wellington fits into that puzzle is another key issue on their agenda, and Morrison's presence at the roundtable alongside state federations, the players' union, two Football Federation Australia directors and two women's council members is significant in this context.

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The Phoenix's A-League licence expires at the end of next season and under the terms agreed with FFA two years ago, it cannot be extended unless certain 'metrics' around TV ratings and attendances are met.

Despite a 28 per cent uptick in crowds this season - a flow-on effect from the success being driven by new coach Mark Rudan - it's believed Wellington are well short of hitting the required benchmark, and it's long been assumed that they would be axed by FFA and replaced by another Australian team in season 2020-21.

The [other] clubs have made it abundantly clear for some time now that the Phoenix are staying in the A-League.

Wellington Phoenix chairman Rob Morrison

However, the clubs are eager to move to an English Premier League-style model where they themselves would own the competition - doing away with the need for licences entirely and, in turn, making Wellington's future crystal clear.

With Morrison, a highly regarded figure amongst the owners, in the thick of those discussions and the other clubs firmly in his corner, it's hard to imagine the NLWG reaching an outcome that isn't positive for the Phoenix.

"It's certainly not a negative," Morrison told the Herald. "The clubs have made it abundantly clear for some time now that the Phoenix are staying in the A-League. There's never been any dispute from the other clubs.

"If you establish a structure where clubs would have, in effect, equity in the league, that is a very investible proposition. It changes (things) for all the clubs, not just for us.

Man with a plan: Mark Rudan has been a major factor in Wellington's A-League renaissance.

Man with a plan: Mark Rudan has been a major factor in Wellington's A-League renaissance. Credit:AAP

"There's obviously a lot of water to go under the bridge. We've got to reach a conclusion with the feds and the PFA.

"It's a joint process and everybody's going to have their views ... [but] the league's been starved of funds, it hasn't been invested in properly, it's had a very, very average corporate governance model. It should be an engine room for the development of the game in Australia."

The NLWG is aiming to complete their work by the end of next month. It's ambitious to say the least but Morrison said they weren't exactly starting off with a blank sheet of paper, with the clubs having done plenty of their own research on the topic over the last few years.

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"We don't have to go out there and say 'boy, how do you do this?' The clubs have already done this and looked at some of the best leagues around the world and said 'what are all the best bits of those leagues, what can we use and what would work here?'" Morrison said.

A new and favourable A-League model is expected to lead to greater investment from the clubs and the Phoenix are no exception. Morrison has flagged a significant expansion of their academy program as well as a return to the Hutt Recreation Ground, as revealed by the Herald late last year.

Known as 'Hutt Rec', the club built a boutique temporary stadium there during the 2014-15 season which played host to three matches while their usual home ground, Westpac Stadium, was unavailable during the Cricket World Cup.

"That Hutt experiment was great," Morrison said. "There's no question we will revisit that if we can see this way forward, because it's a great little ground, works really well, you have the right numbers in there and it is about the fan experience.

"You can't play games in those really big stadiums unless it happens to be a really big game. [It's like] a bloody tadpole in a 40-gallon drum, it doesn't work."

Morrison also believes there is room for another team from New Zealand, whenever the A-League expands beyond 12 teams.

"The largest population base in Australasia without a licence is Auckland," he said. "It's been tried before, failed - but failure in the past is not necessarily indicative of what can be achieved in the future.

"I certainly think that's well worthwhile, looking at Auckland as a possible base for an A-League franchise."

Vince is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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