Football in Australia is expanding, but what lessons can we take from America and translate to our own backyard?

Since 2015, the MLS has expanded to include clubs in New York, Orlando, Atlanta, Minnesota, Los Angeles and Cincinnati. By 2021, Austin FC will join Nashville SC and David Beckham’s Inter Miami CF to become the league’s 27th franchise.

Western Sydney Wanderers, our youngest club, joined the A-League in 2012.

To clear things up, a comparison like this doesn't hold a whole lot of weight when we consider the fact that whilst the MLS and A-League are alike in their salary-capped, franchise structure, they are separated by, amongst other things, millions of fans and millions more dollars.

So if making direct comparisons is futile, how about taking lessons from the smaller stories in each country's expansion situation? 

The topic isn't nearly exclusive to America's top flight, as the inaugural season of the third-tier USL League One exists to prove.

This league, in which 5 of the 10 inaugural teams were founded in 2018, is the competition in which Wisconsin-based club Forward Madison FC will play their first-ever league match in just over two weeks' time.

They’ve got flamingos on their kit, their crest and just about everywhere else, as well as a fun, flamboyant, incredibly-entertaining social media team who are definitely worth the follow.

They’ve got a vibrant, active supporter group, quite aptly named ‘The Flock’, who are community-focused and liaise with sub-groups to ensure that every fan can support the team in their own way.

Then, there’s Peter Wilt, who is a self-proclaimed ‘compulsive soccer team starter’, the club’s current Managing Director and, to my initial surprise, a keen Melbourne Victory supporter and avid A-League follower.

Wanting to take some of Forward’s most attractive, successful elements to provide new insight into our own expansion situation, I was able to speak to Peter, as well as Andrew, Konner and Kyle from The Flock, about some of the vital cultural and fan elements which define the identity of their brand-new club.

Having spent decades in the American pro sports scene, Peter Wilt has always maintained a transparent approach to communication which has reinforced his great reputation amongst fans.

Peter said: "I speak to fans in person. I listen to them and give honest answers, explanations and insight. This communication gives fans the sense that they have a direct path to the top of the organization and knowledge that their concerns and questions were directly addressed.”

This sentiment is one which is shared by the supporters themselves too, including Konner and Kyle from Forward Madison’s main supporter group, The Flock. 

Konner, in particular, appreciated Forward's inclusivity, explaining, "From day one, FMFC’s goal has been to keep its supporters in the forefront of decision making and as an integral part of its DNA. It really does feel like a club by the city and for the city.”

In fact, giving fans this sense of involvement and inclusion is the very key to making fans feel as though they are the core of the club.

From the name to the colours to the crest, much of the creative process involved in constructing an identity for Forward Madison was entirely dependent on the input of fans.

Peter explained, “It’s about making them CARE about the team – creating emotional connections to the organization, the players and the staff. That starts by giving the fans a role in building the team.


While A-League fans keep a close eye on the development of Western United as they edge closer towards their debut season, it raises the question of what really differentiates the club from its existing Victorian counterparts. 

Despite being founded as Melbourne Heart almost ten years ago, questions still remain today around exactly who and what Melbourne City stand for in comparison to their bigger, older rivals Victory.

What's the glue that represents the soul of the club? What makes supporting Melbourne City something genuinely special? Is there anything? What happens if Western United hit that certain exceptional-something that resonates with conflicted fans?

Struggling to come to a conclusion, the question was posed to Peter about what exactly it is that forms the core of a club and which gives it some sense of life.

The answer? Give your club an identity which fits with the people it represents.

Peter said: "In Madison we developed a personality that fits with and reflects this market. It’s fun, progressive, edgy, light-hearted and a bit whimsical.”

“As an aside, we are also launching a USL League Two team in Green Bay, Wisconsin this spring. That market is different than Madison – conservative, blue-collar and less transient.

"Our brand identity in Green Bay is much different than the brand identity in Madison, but we tried to go about developing it in a similar way."

The next issue discussed was one which has plagued football in Australia for years.

In order to avoid the media congestion which comes with our winter codes, the A-League has been played through the summer months, where it still has to compete primarily with the Big Bash League and the Australian Open in January.

On a different scale, Forward Madison is a small fish entering a big pond in its own right, with Wisconsin playing home to some pretty noteworthy sports teams in the form of Milwaukee Bucks (NBA) and Green Bay Packers (NFL).

As Peter explained, “We aren’t asking people to switch allegiances, but rather to add a new team to support. In some cases, this will be with people who care about those teams and in other cases, it will be with people that don’t care about other sports teams."

"In either case, the challenge is convincing them that Forward Madison is worthy of their time as well as their money.”

Peter was also quick to point out that whilst there are more prolific sports, they can never quite offer the same experience as their world-game counterpart.

"Supporting a soccer team is different than supporting traditional American sports teams. Supporting soccer is more active. Fans tend to be more involved in support through social media and in-game experiences," he expressed.

This fan involvement serves as the lifeblood of clubs around the world; fans bring the colour, the culture and, well… the crazy.


Andrew Schmidt is the president of The Flock, Forward Madison’s enthusiastic, community-focused main supporter group which Konner and Kyle are also a big part of.

As the three describe, the incredible fan organisation has worked to forge relationships with community businesses – at which fans will receive discounts – whilst also fundraising for charities and organising volunteer efforts.

Andrew said: “Organising events and fundraisers for causes important to our city just shows that the goal here is so much more than football."

"[We] plan to have every single pre-match event work to benefit local charities. Being able to get the word out and do our part to help these charities will be just about the biggest thing we can do as a group to leave a lasting impression beyond supporting the club every matchday”

Beyond this, Andrew explained how the establishment of the city’s first-ever professional soccer team has proven an incredible unifying force within the community. 

“I think FMFC is in a great position to bring everyone in our mess of a soccer community together. As a small-ish city in the Midwest, soccer is not the biggest sport here, not even close," Andrew said.

"Yet it’s hard to go too far when you’re downtown in the summer without seeing somebody’s European team getting repped. All these soccer people, though, never had a place to get together – it was always a distant game."

For Konner especially, the opportunity to start new traditions and build the cultural foundations for a long-lasting heritage is a special kind of privilege which he’s particularly looking forward to, and this is the point at which the two leagues don’t seem so far apart.

Supporters who are getting behind Western United are about to have all the same opportunity as Forward Madison fans. They’ve heard the new name, they’re seeing leaked crests, they’ve got the announcements of kit releases and player signings to look forward to.

Fans of the A-League’s newest club now have another opportunity on the horizon; they get to contribute towards making the club into whatever they want it to be and to create a culture that they can identify with.

For Forward Madison and The Flock, the club’s incredible character and unity are pretty well summed up by Andrew:

“After all, if we and the players can’t have fun watching and playing a game, what are we doing this for?”