Canberra United given lifeline following serious financial concerns

Michelle Heyman of Canberra United celebrates scoring a goal
Michelle Heyman of Canberra United celebrates scoring a goal during the A-League Women match vs Wellington Phoenix at McKellar Park, on March 24, 2024. (Photo by Mark Nolan/Getty Images)

The future of Canberra United looks to have been secured, for now at least, after the ACT government stepped in to increase funding.

According to The Canberra Times, a one-off payment of $200,000 has been pledged in addition to the advance payment of the annual contribution of $250,000.

On the back of the most successful FIFA Women’s World Cup ever and the Matildas Mania that ensued as co-hosts Australia finished fourth at the tournament, it was announced over the weekend that this season was the most-attended season of any women’s sport in Australian history.

But amid the excitement of Finals football and the post-World Cup surge in interest, there are serious concerns that the League’s most unique club may not survive much longer.

A temporary fix

Even with the announced increase in funding, this is still only a short-term solution for the two-time A-League champions and three-time Premiers. 

Canberra United boasts a litany of stars among their former players — Mackenzie Arnold, Ellie Carpenter, Lisa De Vanna, Hayley Raso and Emily van Egmond, to name but a few.

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The club is an outlier in a few respects. It stands alone as the only professional football club in Australia’s capital. There isn’t a corresponding men’s side as there is with the other 11 A-League Women sides, so therefore, they don’t have a traditional ownership model.

The club is operated by the State FA (Capital Football), again unique to the league, and this has been the case since both the team and the league started in 2008.

So why is a team in the capital with trophies to their name and a bonafide Matildas legend in Michelle Heyman on their books at risk of disappearing into the abyss?

Well, as with most things in life, the answer is simple. Money.

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Financial issue breakdown

When the A-League launched in 2008, it consisted of eight teams with a 10-game regular season and a two-game Finals Series.

The number of teams and matches has steadily increased over the years, bringing us to where we are today. Now, 12 teams play a 22-game regular season capped off with a four-game Finals Series — consisting of an Elimination Final, a two-legged semi-final and the Grand Final.

This season was the first in the league’s history to have a full home and away season.

That gradual increase in games has also increased Capital Football’s costs of running Canberra United. A statement on the Federation’s website revealed they have invested $2.5 million (about £1.2 million) over the past two seasons alone, with the club’s annual budget doubling since the 2020/21 season.

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That’s a significant outlay for anyone, but for football in Australia, operating in a hostile media environment and therefore struggling for column inches and dollars, it’s completely unsustainable.

Capital Football originally announced they are seeking investment of $500,000 (£257,000) to ensure the club can compete in the league next season. Efforts are well underway to meet that target, and hopefully surpass it.

The statement on the Capital Football website revealed that the ACT Government “have offered a 50 percent advance payment of our existing funding agreement to assist with the upfront running costs of Canberra United.”

Save Canberra United

In a statement on the club’s website on April 5, the Federation said it is “working on a range of initiatives to raise funds including new merchandise, alternate membership options, sponsorship packages and direct investment.”

The Federation is also in discussions with the Australian Sports Foundation about setting up a crowdfunding exercise that will offer tax deduction status on donations made.

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Canberra’s fans, however, aren’t wasting any time by setting up their own crowdfunding page. Since launching less than two weeks ago, it has raised $72,000 (£37,000) so far, with Capital Football eager to work with the crowdfunding organisers ‘Save Canberra United’ to create solutions.

You can donate or share to help support Canberra United here.

The next few weeks are crucial for Canberra, and finding a long-term solution is a must. Success comes at a price, but it’s a bill that Canberra United shouldn’t have to foot on their own.

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