Football Australia has earmarked March 2024 as its preferred start date for its proposed national second-tier competition, contingent upon the results of an EOI process its CEO James Johnson hopes to commence following its approval at a December meeting of the federation's board.
After previously declaring his intention to, at a minimum, lock in the participants for any new competition by 2023, it is hoped the EOI process will be completed by the middle of next year, with discussions underway surrounding the optimal timing -- pre or post -- of announcing the inaugural competitors in relation to the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup.
"[March 2024 is] the target date. That's the focus," Johnson told ESPN.
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"If an EOI process went well that could be a date that we could start. The focus is more on if it is a summer or a winter competition, and that would fit in as a good start of a winter competition.
"We need to differentiate this competition from the A-Leagues, it needs to be a different offer to the market. This would have a focus on developing homegrown players. It would also be a competition that is deeply rooted in the community.
"And naturally, our community football is played during [winter], so if it's going to be a competition rooted in the community then it should be played at the same time community football is played."
Though the model of the competition ultimately will not be settled until the completion of an EOI process, and Johnson declined to give specifics, it is understood that a home-and-away league format is the preferred option of Football Australia.
And while explicitly declining to comment on the specifics of how many participatory clubs an Australian second-tier might contain, Johnson observed that 16 clubs generally served as a sweet spot for the majority of competitions around the world.
What the executive was clear on, though, was that any new competition introduced by his federation would feature a clear focus on the development of young players and a preference for home-grown player rules -- be they club or association-trained -- rather than foreign quotas.
Individual clubs that have widely been tapped as potential entrants have already begun the process of capitalisation and preparation needed to earn the right to be tapped as a founding members. It's expected that there will be an annual licence fee associated with taking part in the competition.
The power to monetize a second tier, as well as what model it will adopt and when it will be placed in the calendar, rests solely with Football Australia. And Johnson believes his organisation will have plenty of suitors to parse through when the time comes.
"There's going to be a lot of interest in the EOI process," he said. "That's the feedback that we've received from clubs directly through the AAFC and member federations. We're expecting a high number. I don't know exactly what that number will be but there is a lot of interest for this competition to go ahead.
"There's a lot of clubs that have many years of history and are competing at the national level and there's a lot of clubs that are ambitious and want to grow and compete at a national level."
The EOI process, however, will not just be restricted to existing NPL clubs.
"We've had indications that there would be entities that would be set up for the sole purpose of competing in a second tier," Johnson told ESPN. "So there have been some inquiries made about that.
"There'd be no restrictions; there would be principles that we would set that would talk to what we would be looking for, but there'll certainly be no exclusions, if you like, of who could apply for an EOI. Certainly, there'll be more weighting put on certain criteria but that's something we'll work on and release the time of the EOI."
The executive also confirmed that his federation is already in discussions with potential commercial partners of a proposed second tier and over how the competition would be broadcast.
"The reality is that right now we're in the healthiest financial position that Football Australia has ever been in," he said. "And we're at a point where we can only sell so many Matildas and Socceroos sponsors.
"So, in order to continually grow as a business and grow the sport, we need to find new assets and invest in the future economy of the sport, and the second tier competition is a new property, it's a new economy for the sport.
"Naturally, as this is being brought to life we are putting commercial properties that would belong to the second tier into our discussions with potential commercial partners.
"We're debating [broadcast partners] at the moment. There's no fixed view. We're pretty open to traditional and new ways to broadcast this competition.
"What we've seen this year with the A-Leagues is a spike in interest, watching the competition, because of the A-Leagues All Access, which is a great consideration for us as a second tier to potentially look at.
"But nothing is off the table when it comes to broadcast, we're looking at both traditional and more progress means and, ultimately, we want the second tier to be successful. For it to be successful, the broadcast needs to work. So we'll take our time to get that one right."