NZ Soccer struggling to keep Knights in A-League

New Zealand Soccer has until 15 January to report to Football Federation Australia whether sufficient financial backers have been found for the New Zealand Knights franchise to remain in the neighbouring country's professional A-League and until 31 January to confirm the funding package. NZS chief executive Graham Seatter is quietly confident. "Around 18 people have contacted me with a view of supporting the Knights," he told Terry Maddaford of the NZ Herald. "I have three or four promising leads including a couple who are talking in the region of a million dollars. I feel if I can go back to the FFA with assurances of at least $2 million ... I'm sure they will agree to a prospective licence. We could then look for more finite dates and details and go back to them with a three-year plan to ensure the Knights' survival."

He said the FFA's insistance that NZS is involved in the cub was appreciated. "Once we have the funding and other matters in place, New Zealand Soccer would step back. We will not, and do not, want to run a professional football club. But we have to ensure the right people - from the chief executive, board members and management down - are in place. [FFA CEO] Ben Buckley has said the granting of the licence is dependent on on-going New Zealand Soccer involvement. That could come in the form of perhaps a NZS presence on the board," he explained.

Proposed A-League rules changes for 2007/08 would work to New Zealand's benefit. "The expansion of future A-League squads to 23 players, including three under-20s, allows some flexibility but it appears the stipulation from A-League operations manager Matt Carroll that there must be a greater presence of New Zealand players in future Knights squads will be met," observed Maddaford. "All Whites Jeremy Brockie, Vaughan Coveny, Stephen Old, Tim Brown, Leo Bertos, Jeremy Christie and Adrian Webster, playing for league clubs [in Australia] are obvious targets especially as they are regarded as foreigners and come under scrutiny with the imposition of no more than three non-Australians in A-League squads."

The NZ Herald's Michael Brown noted that in only two seasons, the A-League has proved to be a quality competition attracting good crowds and TV audiences in Australia and a "closet football community" in New Zealand. "The fact 9827 curious individuals turned up for the Knights' first home game last season and then 7304 attended the opening game this season is an illustration of what could be. Sky TV figures also show that Knights games do surprisingly well. About 35,000 viewers tune in despite poor results, which is more than watch any English Premiership game in New Zealand (timing has an influence)," he wrote.

He added that while Seatter has identified an initial investment of $2 million, supplemented by $1.5 million from the FFA "this would serve only to ensure the club ticked over. The previous administration proved that isn't enough. If it's not done properly, they might as well shut the doors now."