A consortium backed by local and foreign investors has put forward a multimillion-dollar bid to Football Federation Australia for an A-League team in Canberra – potentially at the expense of the Central Coast Mariners.
Overlooked in the last round of expansion, the Canberra Region Football Collective (CRFC) has tabled a formal offer to FFA for a licence – believed to be between $5 million and $10 million – to join Australia's top domestic competition in the 2021-22 season.
Canberra A-League bid leader Michael Caggiano (middle) with Prime Minister Scott Morrison back in 2018.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
Bid director Michael Caggiano said the campaign was being funded by a "local high net-worth family" and a European-based investment group, which has a network of clubs and would relocate key staff to Canberra to help run the team – although he would not divulge the identity of those involved.
Asked why the investors would want to buy into the A-League at a time when the competition is struggling and its broadcast deal with Fox Sports has been written down by nearly $30 million, Caggiano said: "Smart businessmen and investors look for value.
"They don't look at the price of things, they look at the value of things. A licence that was worth between $14m-17m last year isn't worth as much any more. And they believe in Australian football and Australian footballers.
"The market for licences is soft in Australia and we've got someone ready to invest. Why would you turn them away, especially right now?"
FFA has been contacted for comment.
Canberra’s offer to join the A-League has landed on the desk of FFA boss James Johnson.Credit:Getty Images
Caggiano said he had been in discussions with both FFA chief executive James Johnson and Mariners owner Mike Charlesworth, who recently announced his intention to either sell off his majority stake in the club or hand his licence back.
CRFC's preference is to become the A-League's 13th team, but Caggiano said it was open to taking over Central Coast's licence and starting a new club in the capital to replace it.
The bid has an in-principle agreement with the ACT government for annual funding of $1.5 million in cash and payroll tax exemptions.
"Every other A-League club would kill for that right now … it makes us a break-even proposition from day one," Caggiano said.
Caggiano also said an A-League team in Canberra could present football with a opportunity to engage through "soft diplomacy" with government, foreign embassies and academic institutions in the region.
"Investors look at those things and say it's a city with no competition, and all these people playing football, who are interested in football, government willing to back the sport by giving it money, a large cohort of international students who might support the team, backed up by locals who are dying for a team … these things all add up," he said.
CRFC has also held talks with Capital Football over the possibility of absorbing or merging operations with Canberra United, the W-League team run by the local federation.
Caggiano said he had been given between four to six weeks to complete a deal or the investors would turn their attention away from Australia. He would not disclose the terms of the offer made to FFA but was confident it was one that could be accepted.
"It demonstrates the region's willingness to invest in the sport. It's an offer that uses the logic FFA used on us through the bidding process and since in valuing the licence," he said.
"This is an untapped, unrepresented region that's been promised for a long time that it's next. We have everyone behind us, and I think most of the football community outside of Canberra is behind us as well."
Caggiano ruled out the prospect of entering the A-League next season if CRFC was to take over the Mariners' licence.
"That's for the FFA and Mike to decide. We're only interested in acquiring the licence and starting afresh in Canberra," he said. "There's also a lack of clarity over what's happening with next season … we've waited almost 20 years for a team, we wouldn't want to rush in."
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