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A-League expansion bids line up

AAP logoAAP 22/11/2016 Ben McKay and Vince Rugari

The race is on to catch Sydney FC at the top of the A-League table, but the biggest battle in domestic football this season isn't to win the league - it's to join it.

FFA's decision to begin a formal process early in the new year for teams to enter the A-League has set the pulses racing.

As many as a dozen expansion markets exist around Australia and New Zealand, contending for what are likely to be two vacancies.

Brisbane, southern Sydney, Tasmania, Auckland, South Melbourne, Canberra and Wollongong are all candidates, among others.

And why wouldn't they be interested?

Crowds are up, broadcast audiences are up and playing standards are up.

Since the admission of the Western Sydney Wanderers in 2012, football dreamers have looked forward to the next entry to boost the 10-team competition.

FFA bosses have opted for consolidation over the past five years, only toying with the idea of changing the line-up at crisis moments with existing teams; most notably in October last year at Wellington's expense.

But with the Phoenix's investors backing the New Zealand side for at least another three seasons after this one, the focus now is on expansion and not replacement.

A-League chief Greg O'Rourke gave a timetable for possibly two new teams in the 2018/19 competition in a statement last week.

"A framework for expansion will be completed early next year which will allow (interested consortia) to submit expressions of interest in a framework which focuses on the viability of the the proposed franchise and its ability to provide benefits to the A-League and the game," it read.

In other words, it's game on.

As it stands right now, the A-League aspirants are at varying states of preparedness.

A well-financed Tasmanian bid, which has already met with FFA, believe it just needs the tick-off from head office to start investing and hit the ground running.

National Soccer League powerhouses South Melbourne have a champion second-tier team, a boutique stadium and a burning desire to be back among the big boys.

In Queensland, former Gold Coast United coach Miron Bleiberg believes fellow NSL winners Brisbane Strikers could be a viable force in the A-League, and is working with investors to plot a pathway into the top tier.

Further afield, Oceania powerhouses Auckland City are beginning an exploratory process that could lead to a bid.

Chairman Ivan Vuksich told AAP the club was in the "very early days" of looking at raising the capital.

"We'd obviously like to be involved," he said.

"We've made some tentative enquiries but it's very preliminary."

Had the Phoenix not continued in the competition, FFA was ready to introduce a third Sydney team encompassing the Sutherland, St George and Illawarra regions.

Despite Sydney FC's opposition, it remains a favoured option for the governing body - but it's unlikely FFA will drive the concept this time around, meaning external investors will be required.

All three associations are still keen to come together and former A-League chief Lyall Gorman, now the chairman on NRL club Cronulla, is eager to accommodate a team at Southern Cross Group Stadium.

It's expected any southern Sydney franchise would also play games at WIN Stadium but the Wollongong Wolves, back-to-back NSL champions in 2000 and 2001, believe the South Coast should have its own team and will consider putting forward a bid once FFA releases its criteria.

"If guidelines come out in January or February, of course we're going to look at those guidelines very, very closely," new Wolves CEO Chris Papakosmas told AAP.

"We have some very, very significant contacts and connections within corporate Australia, right across the country, and we intend to leverage those when it's most appropriate and suits everyone involved."

The choices for FFA extend further afield, with Geelong presenting a regional alternative for another Victorian franchise, while second teams in Adelaide or Perth are long-shot contenders.

No bids are expected from the Gold Coast or North Queensland, two regions burned badly by the A-League's disastrous first attempt at expansion in 2009.

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