Texas billionaire finances new football club in rugby-mad N. Zealand

New Zealand Football celebrated Wednesday after a Texas billionaire established a new professional club, saying it would give the sport an “enormous” boost in the rugby-mad country.

Financier and sports mogul William “Bill” Foley has been granted a licence to set up a new franchise in New Zealand’s largest city Auckland, playing in Australia’s A-League competition from next year.

Foley is better known for financing English Premier League side AFC Bournemouth and helping found ice hockey team the Vegas Golden Knights, the reigning champions in North America’s National Hockey League.

“This is enormous,” New Zealand Football chief executive Andrew Pragnell told local media.

“It’s a watershed moment for the game in the country.

“It’s going to have a massive impact on our talent pathway, in terms of the quality of our national teams, but equally, Bill is bringing with him a lot of investment.”

New Zealand has been eager to capitalise on the renewed interest in football among its five million citizens, after co-hosting the women’s World Cup tournament with Australia earlier this year.

The men’s side is currently ranked 103rd in the world, according to FIFA, while the women’s side is ranked 26th.

In an open letter to Auckland, Foley, who has a net worth of US$1.6 billion according to Forbes, said he was “thrilled” to bring a professional football club to the city.

Foley, who also has a minority stake in French top-tier football club FC Lorient, has been investing in New Zealand businesses since 2008, including a wine company and a chain of restaurants.

The Auckland franchise — which does not yet have a name, playing kit or badge — will join an expanded A-League of 13 teams for the 2024-25 season. A women’s side will join the competition a year later.

It has been 17 years since Auckland last had a professional football team, when the defunct New Zealand Knights played in the city. (AFP)

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