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Aug 21, 2006

A-League 'Version 2' set to entertain

Australian soccer supremos have promised a "bigger and better" A-League at the season launch, but without the crippling cost.

Under the banner of A-League Version 2, Football Federation Australia chairman Frank Lowy and chief executive John O'Neill, along with the eight club captains and coaches, officially opened the second season of the competition at Sydney harbour.

After the stunning success of the inaugural A-League, and the Socceroos' superb performance at the 2006 World Cup, both FFA chiefs believed the second season of the league could further build on soccer's rapid rise in Australian sport.

And they were confident the competition would do so without a repeat of last season's massive financial losses - where all eight clubs recorded deficits of between $1 million to $3 million.

"Fox Sports' seven-year $130 million broadcast deal has enabled us the board of the FFA to change the economic model," O'Neill said.

"About $10 million a year will be going into the eight A-League clubs, and that really does make their life substantially easier.

"The (club) owners, the players and coaches now have that level of financial stability that we only ever talked about."

Sydney FC suffered the heaviest loss of all clubs, the inaugural champions reportedly recording a $3 million deficit.

Lowy, whose family holds a major stake in Sydney, said there was no way the club would again operate with such loose financial controls, even suggesting it may break even for the season.

"It wasn't a pleasant experience, let me put it that way," Lowy said of the club's first-year losses.

"The expectations were higher and the controls were looser.

"No doubt (that won't happen again). Money is a scarce commodity, particularly in football.

"We have to cut the cloth to the measure that we have. I don't participate at all, but I understand there's a lot tighter controls, and our losses will be a lot lesser this year. We may even break even."

Several clubs still receive financial help from FFA - most notably Perth Glory which the FFA is currently controlling while it searches for a new owner.

Lowy, though, is hopeful all clubs will be in the black and operating successfully without the need for FFA assistance within a few years.

The move to Asia will likely offer great assistance in that goal, with two Australian clubs - the minor premier and grand final winner - to play in the Asian Champions' League from 2007.

"Asia is a big population, has a lot of supporters, a lot of fans, and I'm sure we will be able to cash in there," Lowy said.

O'Neill said the A-League was the "shopfront" of Australian football.

"The A-League is incredibly important to us in continuing to build soccer's mainstream place (in Australian sport)," O'Neill said.

"We've always had large participation numbers ... but what we've missed at the top end is entertainment.

"The Socceroos have provided that entertainment in spades, and now the shopfront of football, the A-League, is open for business.

"We are sitting here on the verge of something very, very special.

"The foundations set are so world class, it would be very hard to mess it up. And one thing we won't do is not take this opportunity to achieve bigger and better things."

Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United kick off the competition on Friday at Olympic Park.

Queensland Roar host Perth Glory on Saturday, while on Sunday the New Zealand Knights play Newcastle, and reigning champion Sydney FC face Central Coast in a re-match of last year's grand final.