Football: Women's team on backburner amid Auckland A-League expansion plans

Before a ball has even been kicked, there are already concerns for New Zealand's newest venture into the beautiful game across the Tasman.

American billionaire Bill Foley has been unveiled as the owner of an Auckland expansion into the Australian A-League competitions, beating out a group that - as first reported by Newshub - included a 'Who's Who' of Kiwi footballers, local identities and European heavyweights AC Milan.

The men will debut in the 2024/25 season, but at a time when women's football is arguably at its peak, that team won't be launched until 2025.

Hannah Wilkinson celebrates her goal against Norway at the World Cup.
Hannah Wilkinson celebrates her goal against Norway at the World Cup. Photo credit: Photosport

"The economic base will be the men's team, so we need to develop that sponsorship base and ticketing base, and introduce our team to the community," said Foley, who has already enjoyed success with Vegas Golden Knights, winners of the NHL Stanley Cup ice hockey championship this year. 

"The business mind in me is that you set up the men's first, because it does still drive the commercial engine, which allows you to build a better platform to leverage the women off," says A-Leagues commissioner Nick Garcia. "It's a sustainability thing."

That decision comes hot on the success of this year's World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, and NZ Football concedes it would have liked both teams launching at the same time.

"In a Utopian world, absolutely, but building one team in 10 months is an incredible uphill sprint," said NZ Football chief executive Andrew Pragnell.

Former Football Ferns captain Maia Jackson admits she is shocked and disappointed by the announcement.

"Foley said they wanted to do it properly and doing two teams together would be tough," she told Newshub. "Why not start with the women's team straight off the back of the Women's World Cup, which has been a global success?

"The women's game is a different product to the men's game and you have to do things slightly differently, when it comes to investment and commercialisation. Why not give it a crack and try something new?

Bill Foley and his Stanley Cup championship ring.
Bill Foley and his Stanley Cup championship ring. Photo credit: Photosport

"The Women's World Cup has changed perceptions of people on women's sport, so maybe we take a risk and start with the women's team, then bring in the men's team, I know that would get a lot of heads turning, but it's where football's going and it's getting such good traction."

Despite the decision around a women's team that Foley and the league have assured will happen, they insist community engagement is at their forefront.

Newshub understands Auckland clubs are concerned whether enough is being done to engage and get the local community on board.

For those who think they've seen this movie before, Foley is adamant this team won't be like the failures of the ill-fated Football Kingz and NZ Knights previously based in Auckland.

"We've already done it, we will not fail," he said. "This will be a very successful team."

Jackman agrees: "Sport has come a long way since those two failures and there's so much more in the game, both for men and women.

"It's just getting the right people in and making the right decisions. Bill Foley has been very, very successful. and I'm sure he will do a fantastic job getting this franchise up and running in Auckland.

"He's well known for doing that in his previous roles, so I'm really looking forward to seeing how he does do that."