With Football Federation Australia to begin assessing the merits of each of the Expressions of Interest during a meeting of its steering committee on Thursday, O'Rourke made it clear that there would be no elasticity in the expansion ceiling during this current round, with a likely two-year wait for the next phase.
FFA’s steadfast stance comes amid calls from some quarters to usher in four or even six new A-League entities in one fell swoop, so long as they meet the required criteria, to refresh and rejuvenate a 10-team competition which has suffered a significant downturn in its metrics.
“We won’t be looking beyond two teams at this point because we need to make sure this is structured properly from a player depth point of view and also a financial point of view,” O'Rourke told The World Game.
“The league needs to stay financially sound in respect to its current TV deal and the income available to it. So, the answer is no. We are only looking to add two teams and move to a 12-team competition in this round.
“There could very well be another round two seasons down the track … I personally see 16 teams as the limit. How quickly we get there I am not sure.
“But I feel that number is the right geographical split and also for the number of home and away rounds, which is important in respect of the scheduling.
“From a player depth standpoint, six additional teams would effectively mean 120 domestic players that are currently not in the league and that would need to be built over time.
South Melbourne, Team 11 and a purportedly lavishly backed Western Melbourne bid are leading the charge in Victoria, whilst Southern Expansion, Liverpool-based South-West Sydney, a proposal out of Campbelltown and Wollongong Wolves are knocking at the door from NSW.
All of which has led to fears of fan cannibalisation from the existing clubs and the suggestion from O'Rourke that amalgamating some of those bids might be a way forward.
“The challenge for us is to balance issues such as possible cannibalisation of existing clubs, local ownership versus international funding, and heat maps if you like, meaning where the grassroots pathways are,” he added.
“In NSW, for example, South-West Sydney has a concentration of NPL clubs and strong historical pathways. We need to have a good look at that because we want to connect the grassroots with the professional game in this next round of expansion.
“Some of the bidders may want to decide they are better together, especially where they are in close proximity as the crow flies.
“There are conversations that will be had by us and also between the bidders. It’s not unusual in business where people are bidding for a project and decide if they combine their resources they have a better chance of success.”
O'Rourke also made it clear that bidders with the financial clout and required approvals to construct their own stadiums would have a head start in what will be a cut-throat culling process, insisting also that it was incorrect to assume that a third team in Sydney or Melbourne, or a second in Brisbane, would necessarily be favoured over Tasmania, Wollongong or Canberra.
“Its easy to see why that perception exists but I wouldn’t say we’re of that mind,” said O'Rourke, despite the fact that the game’s biggest backer Fox Sports are thought to prefer applicants from the major population centres.
“Some of the bids have been very public in sharing how progressed they are in terms government stadium policy and financial support, and the conclusion might be for people to say ‘well the FFA will be definitely chasing those fish’. But all bids are at the same starting position.
“When too comes to stadiums, it will be a strength that over a reasonable period of time people will have their own home.
“Part of what were trying to build here, particularly in states like Victoria and Queensland which have a shortage of rectangular stadiums, is a legacy of multiple and improved facilities in those states.
“Those things don’t pop up overnight … you don’t necessarily have to have your own stadium, but if you have a strategy which suggests you’re moving to a position like that it would be a strength.”
FFA will make a decision on which, if any, will be advised that their bids do not meet the requirements to move on to the next stage within the next two weeks.
“We don’t want to be asking people to incur more time and financial cost if we don’t think they’re going to be a genuine contender,” O'Rourke explained.