Football: Wellington Phoenix don't fear competition from new Auckland side as A-League readies for two Kiwi teams

With excitement building over the arrival of a second Kiwi A-League side, Wellington Phoenix welcome the presence of another New Zealand entity as a boost to football in Aotearoa.  

Announced last week, a second New Zealand-based men's side will enter the league from the 2024/25 season, after American billionaire Bill Foley and his Black Knight Football Club group acquired the licence to bring a new team to Auckland.

Another women's team will enter the competition from the 2025/26 season. 

While Auckland has struggled to maintain a professional football team in the past, Foley - who is also affiliated with Premier League outfit AFC Bournemouth and French Ligue 1 side Lorient - hopes to bring that expertise to build a successful club.

Wellington Phoenix celebrate.
Wellington Phoenix celebrate. Photo credit: Getty Images

While Kiwi sides playing in Australian leagues have traditionally been a one-stop-shop for New Zealand fans, Auckland's introduction could pose a problem for the Phoenix.

Since 2007, the Phoenix have largely had the monopoly of local football fandom in New Zealand, competing only with semi-professional outfit Auckland City FC.

While Auckland City might have more global reach, courtesy of their presence in FIFA's Club World Cup through the Oceania Champions League, the Phoenix playing in a televised league every week has gone a long way to them being the more established presence in New Zealand domestic football.

On Saturday, the Phoenix enjoyed a historic doubleheader, with both men's and women's teams winning at Auckland's Go Media Stadium Mt Smart - the last time either will take the field as the home side in the City of Sails.

In the past, the Phoenix have enjoyed strong support from Auckland, with games at Eden Park in particular seeing fans turn out in force to see live, professional football.

That loyalty will now be tested, with Aucklanders forced to choose between sticking with the Phoenix or supporting a new side in their own backyard.

Kosta Barbarouses.
Kosta Barbarouses. Photo credit: Getty Images

Phoenix general manager David Dome insists that competition is not something to be feared, with Auckland's arrival in the A-League only beneficial for New Zealand football. 

"The reality is anyone who wants to invest into sport in New Zealand has to be welcomed," he told Newshub. "Bill Foley has got deep pockets.

"Our ownership group Welnix has done a lot of heavy lifting for the last 10 years. They've done a lot for the development of young players.

"To have someone else come on board and help us develop young players is only going to be good.

"Of course, we'll get a great rivalry out of it as well. I'm genuinely excited about what the future can hold."

Now, as the unnamed Auckland side prepare to enter the A-League, recruitment looms as the biggest challenge for Foley and his ownership group.

The nature of global football sees New Zealand very low on the list of desired destinations for players, who view breaking into the European club game a higher priority.

The Phoenix aren't immune to these challenges, but have somewhat mitigated that this season by handing contracts to academy graduates to build a core group of locals to grow together.

So far, that strategy is working for both men's and women's sides, who are second and third in their respective leagues.

Auckland's arrival will offer competition for players wanting to play professionally at home, either full-time or as a potential steppingstone to attract an offer from overseas.

While the new Auckland side will have Foley's billions to help speed up any processes of building a club from scratch, Dome is confident in the plans the Phoenix already have in place.

"We've already signed a lot of our youth players to very long contracts - the longest in our history," he added.

"That's generally going to be the strategy going forward. We've got a very good and strong academy.

"We're developing really good young players and signing them to long contracts is the future strategy."