All coming together in New Zealand

Wellington Phoenix might well get the 10 millionth fan through their gates this weekend, but whether they ever get a big-name marquee remains uncertain.

When the match between Wellington Phoenix and Western Sydney Wanderers kicks off on Sunday afternoon, there is a chance a person will walk through the turnstiles to attend an A-League match for the 10 millionth time.

The Phoenix game at Westpac Stadium is the fourth of five matches to be played in round nine of the competition this weekend and with just 59,088 more people needed through the turnstiles to hit the magic number, Wellington general manager David Dome hopes to see a Wellingtonian win the prize of a trip to the Grand Final.

"Hopefully someone will walk through the gate on Sunday afternoon and be the 10 millionth fan and get an all expenses paid trip to the Grand Final at the end of the season and it will be someone from Wellington which will be magnificent," Dome said.

Getting fans to matches is one of the biggest challenges facing A-League clubs, particularly in the current economic climate.

Sydney FC and Newcastle Jets have used the marquee signings of Alessandro Del Piero and Emile Heskey to raise interest levels in their teams, while Perth Glory, Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne Heart have shown a desire to sign superstar David Beckham once his MLS contract with LA Galaxy expires at the end of the year.

Even though they benefited from the Del Piero factor in the opening round of the season when 12,057 fans turned up to see the Italian star play in the New Zealand capital, the Phoenix have shied away from going down the marquee route to attract fans.

Instead they have chosen to concentrate on producing and promoting home-grown talent through their football school of excellence and making astute and affordable signings which they hope will resonate more with fans and provide long-term financial stability.

"As part of being general manager I have to balance the books and to be honest the dollars that you have to pay for these sorts of (marquee) players it's very, very difficult to recoup your investment," said Dome.

"There is no doubt that if Beckham came and played we'd get perhaps 20-25,000. But who knows how long you could sustain that. To be honest even those numbers would probably make the investment debatable and whether there would actually be a return on that investment.

"It's a very difficult equation in terms of balancing it. Do you pay the extra money for this sort of a player and hope you get some money back? Or, do you just carry on with our current business model which to be honest is a lot more sustainable.

"We'd rather just go with the current squad we've got. The Brisbane Roars, Central Coast Mariners have dominated the league in the last couple of years and they have both done it without huge marquee signings and have done it on the basis of a pretty sound football approach as opposed to heavily investing in marquee players which traditionally in the A-League haven't worked."

Results on the pitch also play a huge part in getting bums on seats and traditionally Wellington have performed well at home. They are now also starting to get results on the road such as the recent win over the Newcastle Jets and the draw with Perth Glory.

They have reached the finals for the past three seasons too.

Coupled with some more competitive pricing for ticket packages and season tickets the club has increased the number of season ticket holders from 2500 last season to about 3100 in the current campaign.

The club has also looked to improve their match-day experience for fans with the addition of a 'March to the Match' where fans congregate at a point along Wellington's waterfront, then march to the stadium.

"We have bands. We have performers and we have dancers. It's a big, noisy kind of way to get involved into the lead-up to the game," Dome said.

Even so, the Phoenix still need at least 10,000 fans at Westpac Stadium to break even.

So far in their three home games this season they have had crowds of 12,057, 9182 and 6568.

"We find normally that about anywhere from 2000 to 2500 of our members will turn up regularly," Dome said.

"They are the bread and butter of the club. Those are the ones that will come to every game, wind, rain and shine. They are magnificent those supporters.

"On top of that you get stadium members turning up and corporates and people who just rock up and buy a ticket on game day."

And in Wellington, the number of walk-up supporters - for rugby as well as football - largely depends on the weather.

"Weather has a huge input into the numbers we get at the stadium," Dome said.

"We know that for the Del Piero game we sold more tickets than people turned up because of that cold front that came through about 30-40 minutes before kick-off.

"We do get up on game day and hope that any bad weather holds off until after the game has started."

In the long-term Dome says the club is working at ways to make the pull of supporting the team and going to matches strong enough for fans to ignore the fickle elements.

"In England - which admittedly has 140 years of tradition - people turn up to football in the wind, rain and snow. We need to get to that space as well," he said.

"We're only five seasons old. We haven't got to that stage where we're so indoctrinated that people say 'I'm going to go to a Phoenix game no matter what'."

Part of that strategy is to build a stronger connection with the local community. This season new club mascot Nixie is visiting schools to promote the benefits of physical exercise, playing sport - in particular team sport - and playing fair.

"But part of it is raising the profile of the Phoenix amongst the kids and hopefully they will get along to matches," Dome said.

"You can't go from having an average crowd of eight-to-nine thousand, which is what we've had over the last couple of years, to 12, 13, 14, 15 thousand, which is where we want to get to overnight. It doesn't happen like that.

"You just have to keep working away. That's what the Nixie programme is all about. It's about building that bedrock of support in the community so people have a real affiliation for the club as being part of their community and people saying 'I'm so affiliated and committed to this club I'm going to turn up no matter what'."