The Australian Professional Leagues (APL) have announced the award of a full A-Leagues licence to American billionaire Bill Foley. The full licence award confirms entry to the A-Leagues for the 2024-25 season, with the men’s team due to join for season 2024-25 and the women’s team in 2025-26.
Foley is the founder and general partner of Black Knight Football Club, which owns AFC Bournemouth in the Premier League and has a significant investment in FC Lorient of France’s Ligue 1. He is also founder and owner of the US National Hockey League’s 2023 Stanley Cup champions, the Vegas Golden Knights.
Foley said it was an honour to bring a top football club to Auckland.
“Building a championship team from expansion has been my most exhilarating professional achievement, and I aim to do the same for the fans of New Zealand and particularly the community on the North Island. It’s a special place and an area that I know will embrace this team.”
APL chair Stephen Conroy highlighted Foley’s track record and relationship with New Zealand.
“We are delighted to welcome Bill and his team to the A-Leagues and look forward to seeing the club in action next year.”
Chief executive of New Zealand Football, Andrew Pragnell, said the announcement of expansion of the A-Leagues into Auckland makes the leagues truly Australasian.
“A step change moment in the development of football in New Zealand. This is an exciting day and we welcome Bill Foley to the wider football system in this country. Bill has seen the potential of Auckland as a football city and is here for the long haul to help grow and develop the sport,” Pragnell said.
“The relationship between New Zealand Football and Football Australia has never been stronger and it has been great to see the benefits of co-hosting the Fifa Women’s World Cup 2023 spread far and wide. This expansion has been in part made possible by these positive transtasman football relations and we look forward to this continuing over the coming years. We are truly stronger together and the region as a whole benefits from football development when we are aligned.”
Football Australia and New Zealand Football will now seek final approval from the Oceania Football Confederation, the Asian Football Confederation and Fifa.
A-Leagues Ccommissioner Nick Garcia joined representatives from Football Australia and New Zealand Football in Auckland to formally award the licence to Bill Foley in Auckland.
Foley also confirmed the appointment of New Zealander Nick Becker, former Premier League and A-Leagues executive, as chief executive officer of the new club, which is as yet un-named.
Throughout the years, Foley has invested in New Zealand and owns multiple businesses here, including Foley Wines Ltd, which consists of five wineries, a restaurant group with venues in Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown, including the iconic Soul bar in Auckland, as well as luxury lodge Wharekauhau on the South Wairarapa coast.
As far as sporting ventures go, Foley is no stranger to parting ways with vast sums of money in order secure expansion rights or ownership.
Most famously, in 2016, Foley and his consortium Black Knight Sports & Entertainment group paid a reported expansion fee of $828 million for the National Hockey League’s (NHL) latest team, the Vegas Golden Knights.
In six seasons in the NHL, the Knights have had remarkable success. They were the fastest expansion team to win a Stanley Cup, doing so in 2022, and have made the playoffs five times in their six seasons. Foley’s companies also own a number of second-tier sports franchises in the United States.
If owning a successful franchise in one of America’s four premier sports doesn’t convince football fans Foley has what it takes to steer Auckland into professional football, perhaps his ownership of an English Premier League club will abate any fears.
In 2022, Foley and a group of investors purchased AFC Bournemouth from owner Maxim Demin. Reports indicate $248m was paid for the team through another company, Black Knight Football and Entertainment (BKFE).
Further, Foley and BKFE subsequently purchased a 33 per cent stake in French Ligue One team FC Lorient. Foley’s companies have also been linked to clubs in Belgium and Brazil. Like other multi-club owners, Foley will look to use vertical integration to take a pyramid approach, with Bournemouth at the top. In a short time, he has become a popular figure at the Cherries due to his willingness to invest in players.
Auckland football fans will be hoping following the announcement of Foley as the owner of the city’s first fully professional club since 2007, he’ll put into practice the same philosophy and expectation for success that he has in his other ventures.
Will Toogood is an Online Sports Editor for the NZ Herald. He has previously worked for Newstalk ZB’s digital team and at Waiheke’s Gulf News, covering sports and events.