Derbies supercharge A-League ratings and generate an electric tribal excitement. Now, as the competition plans its future post-COVID, is a second A-League team in New Zealand a smart expansion play?
And if so, how would it work, where would it be based and what are the challenges to starting a second A-League in New Zealand to face off with Wellington Phoenix?
Like the gripping Sydney Derby, a prominent A-League media identity believes a New Zealand A-League derby fits neatly within the country's cultural framework.
"There would be some great story-lines – the traditional, established Wellington Phoenix from conservative Wellington against the brash, new kids on the block from flashy Auckland,” Jason Pine, a popular sports radio broadcaster, TV commentator, MC and writer based in Wellington, tells FTBL.
"Players might switch between clubs and go from heroes to villains.
"I think everyone in New Zealand would love to see it.
"This would really get the blood pumping and be a key plank in solidifying a second New Zealand franchise in the A-League.
"We all know the existing derbies in Sydney and Melbourne are some of the most compelling, exciting, and passionately supported games in the A-League.
"And there’s no reason to think a New Zealand derby would be any different," Pine adds.
There's little doubt adding a second franchise in a major city in Australia has boosted the incumbent A-League club, such as Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory.
Thus far, Wellington Phoenix has had to be content with “The Distance” A-League derby against Perth Glory.
Hardly something to excite viewers or fans.
However, there’s little doubt that "Derby In Day in New Zealand" has a ring to it.
"Football in New Zealand has definitely grown significantly in popularity and participation from a result of Wellington Phoenix’s introduction into the A-League in 2007,” Pine argues.
"After a couple of ropey years and doubts over their ongoing participation, Wellington Phoenix has come out the other side and are now - believe - rusted-on A-League participants.
"My only concern would be whether the body that eventually ends up running the A-League would be brave enough to hand another license to a New Zealand club while alternatives are still available in Australia.
"Wellington Phoenix’s inclusion is even now only grudgingly accepted by some Australian fans, so if an Australian club was passed over for a second New Zealand club, I’m not sure how that would go down.”
New Zealand’s football landscape has been boosted by winning the co-hosting rights to the FIFA Women’s World Cup with Australia in 2023.
Add to that, the development of an exciting crop of young Kiwi talents coming through New Zealand's age national teams and the burgeoning strength of Wellington Phoenix - the country’s only professional football club - in the A-League.
Perhaps the future is a second New Zealand club irrespective of how many new Australian clubs are brought in to an expanded A-League or mooted Second Division?
Certainly, if the second New Zealand club got its imports right - as Wellington Phoenix has done in recent seasons - found the best young New Zealand talent and employed a young, hungry manager, it could be successful on the pitch.
Auckland has other advantages, not just cultural ones, says Pine, as he envisions Derby Day with Wellington Phoenix.