A-League 2? National second tier to kick-off in 2025

Football Australia will launch its highly anticipated National Second Tier (NST) in early 2025, with participatory clubs and the competition's model to be revealed on Nov. 20.

The federation confirmed on Monday afternoon that it had completed the "Assessment and Review" phase of its plans to introduce a national second division into the Australian pyramid and is now entering its "Completion Phase" in which clubs will finalise and sign a club participation agreement.

Initially targeted to be introduced in 2024, Football Australia chief executive James Johnson said that the delay in the competition's introduction had been instituted to allow further time for the league's foundation clubs to prepare for the higher level, as well as give member federations certainty surrounding planning for the 2024 National Premier League (NPL) seasons.

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Sources have told ESPN that a 2024 commencement remained a consideration deep into the process, however the decision was made that a longer lead time was needed to help ensure the long-term sustainability and popularity of the competition.

The 2025 launch will also allow Football Australia to finalise its broadcasting agreement for the league, potentially as part of a package alongside Socceroos, Matildas and Australia Cup rights, which the federation is currently shopping to potential broadcasters. It is expected that the 15-month lead time will also give foundation clubs greater scope to source sponsorship and meet "logistical, regulatory, and operational aspects," of their entry to the competition.

"We're very excited about it," said Johnson. "It's happening."

Those that were both successful and unsuccessful in their applications to join the NST were informed on Monday morning with several reports and rumours immediately emerging on social media as to the identity of these parties.

In partnership with club representative body the Association of Australian Football Club (AAFC), several former National Soccer League powers have been active in lobbying for the introduction of a second tier for several years, with clubs such as Sydney Olympic, South Melbourne, Marconi, Preston Lions, and Australia Cup semifinalists Melbourne Knights all confirming that they were a part of the Assessment and Review phase.

Football Australia declined to comment on the identity or geographic spread of the clubs set to be announced on Nov. 20 but it's believed that the initial foundation of the competition will mostly be clustered around the Australian east coast -- it is already known that no Western Australian teams advanced to through to the federation's "Request for Proposal" phase in May of this year.

It's understood focus during the process -- during which advisory firm BDO Australia was sourced to provide independent advice -- has centred on sourcing clubs that are capable of meeting the higher standards of entering a competition that sits between the A-League Men and the NPL, establishing a foundation that other clubs would then be able to target in time. Teams entering the league would be expected to provide a bank guarantee to mitigate any potential risks and will also pay an annual participation fee.

The timeline or the method of linking the competition with the A-League above it and the NPLs below it is unclear, with the focus on sustainability likely to govern those timelines.

Johnson has long insisted that an NST will not be in competition with the A-League and instead complement the Australian top flight, which has operated without promotion and relegation since it was established in 2005 and is in the midst of its own expansion process targeting hundreds of millions of dollars in investment.

While the linking of the pyramid has long been a goal of Johnson -- part of the XI Principles mission document he oversaw the release of -- the introduction of promotion and relegation between the A-League and the rest of the pyramid are seen as long-term goals by the federation, with significant milestones to reach before that can become a realistic consideration.

In its role of regulator, however, Football Australia is ultimately in charge of competitions access and Johnson has previously confirmed to ESPN that A-League club licences do not protect them from relegation.