APL claims first with A-League ‘Unite Round’

Featured image credit: APL

Australian Professional Leagues (APL), operating body of the A-League Men and A-League Women competitions, has reframed its controversial hosting rights deal with the New South Wales (NSW) Government by launching a ‘Unite Round’.

In December, the APL agreed a three-year deal for Sydney to host its grand finals from 2023. The decision was designed to develop an engaging grand final experience for fans, and marked a move away from the A-Leagues’ traditional hosting strategy for the event, which saw the highest-placed team stage the match.

The APL agreed the reported A$12m (£6.27m/€7.24m/$7.64m) deal with Destination NSW (DNSW), the lead government agency for the New South Wales Tourism and Major Events sectors, but it provoked a strong backlash from fans, players and clubs.

Under the agreement, the 2022-23 men’s and women’s A-League grand finals were held at CommBank Stadium in Western Sydney and while neither match sold out, the women’s game did attract a record crowd of 9,519.

Under the Unite Round plan announced today (Wednesday), from January 12-14 Sydney will play host to all 12 A-League Men and A-League Women matches, as the A-Leagues become the first Australian leagues to hold a full men’s and women’s round in a single city. The weekend will also host a series of grassroots competitions and activities for children and teens. 

The Unite Round is being introduced for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 seasons, as the APL’s partnership with DNSW enters its second year. As part of the updated partnership, the hosting rights for the grand finals will revert to the traditional format with hosting rights awarded to the highest placed qualifier from the semi finals, starting from season 2023-24. 

During Unite Round, the double header matches will be hosted at Allianz Stadium, CommBank Stadium and Leichhardt Oval, and grassroots tournaments for junior boys and girls will take place at venues across Sydney. A live site at Moore Park will also feature a fan park and viewing party for the Asian Cup match in Qatar between Australia and India’s men’s teams on January 13. 

Danny Townsend, CEO of APL, said: “The Unite Round is a brand new experience which brings together all A-Leagues clubs, fans and grassroots players together for the very first time in Sydney in an unprecedented celebration of football.

“With the women’s domestic attendance record already broken twice on the first day of this season, we are looking forward to welcoming A-Leagues fans, old and new, to experience our leagues.

“We have worked closely with our clubs and fans to ensure that there are suitable constructive mechanisms for the voices of fans to be heard. Many of the resulting conversations have included the hosting of the grand finals, and the strong sentiments around that, and we thank DNSW and Premier (Chris) Minns for their partnership in creating a truly inclusive experience for our game.”

NSW’s Minister for Jobs and Tourism, John Graham, added: “This is a chance for fans and players from right around Australia to come together, be united and be part of something special right here in Sydney.

“The Unite Round is a win-win for fans, the game and NSW as it will provide more opportunity for all players and fans to be part of an inclusive football celebration in Sydney.

“Unite Round will also deliver strong economic and community benefits for the people of NSW – it is estimated Unite Round will attract more than 42,000 people to Sydney for the event and generate more than A$10.2m in visitor expenditure for the state’s economy.”

For the A-League Men, Unite Round will be an additional round – making it a 27-game regular season. The existing Round 12 fixtures are being moved to new dates and times. For the A-League Women, Unite Round will use the existing Round 12 fixtures, keeping the season as a 22-game regular campaign.