APL and NSW Government scrap controversial grand final deal, announce Unite Round
The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) have reversed their earlier decision to sell the rights to host the grand finals to the NSW Government for $12 million, following a strong backlash from football fans.
In a joint announcement, the APL and the NSW Government announced the cancellation of the remainder of the three-year agreement, which had guaranteed Sydney as the host for both men’s and women’s A-League grand finals until 2025.
This decision marks a return A-League tradition, where grand finals are played at the home ground of the highest-placed team. The NSW Government will not be refunded its payment but has instead reached a new arrangement with the APL to host two special rounds in Sydney, featuring all 12 men’s and women’s A-League matches.
From January 12-14, Sydney will become the epicentre of Australian football, similar to the NRL’s Magic Round and the AFL’s Gather Round. The NSW Government anticipates that approximately 42,000 people will attend the inaugural Unite Round, which will include double-headers with women’s and men’s teams playing consecutively. These matches will take place at Allianz Stadium at Moore Park, CommBank Stadium in Parramatta and Leichhardt Oval in Lilyfield.
“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,” APL chief executive officer Danny Townsend stated.
“The Unite Round is a brand new experience which brings together all A-League clubs, fans and grassroots players together for the very first time in Sydney in an unprecedented celebration of football.”
NSW Premier @ChrisMinnsMP outlines the decision to revert the A-Leagues Grand Finals to their traditional format in favour of Unite Round.
— Isuzu UTE A-League (@aleaguemen) October 18, 2023
During the announcement, New South Wales Premier Chris Minns emphasised the preparedness of Leichhardt Oval to host these matches, confirming that an upgrade plan is in the works but won’t be completed by January.
The Inner West Council has long sought funding from state and federal governments to implement its masterplan redesign for Leichhardt Oval, with cost estimates ranging from $44 million to $142.74 million.
Matches during the Unite Round will feature Melbourne Victory v Perth Glory, Wellington Phoenix v Central Coast Mariners, Canberra United v Adelaide United and Brisbane Roar v Newcastle Jets. The Unite Round will coincide with the Socceroos AFC Asian Cup match against India in Qatar on January 13, for which there are plans to set up a viewing party in the Moore Park precinct.
The weekend will also include grassroots tournaments for junior boys and girls at various venues across Sydney. Premier Minns described the new deal as a form of “recognition” and “understanding” by the NSW Government and the APL of football culture in Australia.
The earlier decision to grant NSW exclusive hosting rights for the grand final, made under a deal with the former Perrottet government in December, was met with ferocious opposition from fans. Police charged 24 individuals involved in an AAMI Park pitch invasion and Melbourne Victory received a record fine of $550,000 following the flashpoint incident.
Speaking alongside the premier, APL Chair Stephen Conroy said that the league had received significant support from clubs and fans following the decision to revoke NSW’s hosting rights. While he didn’t directly acknowledge whether the earlier deal had been a mistake, he expressed that the current outcome is a win for clubs, fans, and the NSW Government.
Tickets for the A-Leagues Unite Round will be available for purchase from November 6.