Football Federation Australia (FFA) has hinted at delaying A-League expansion as it begins consultation with clubs about a "new ownership and operating model" this week.
In a statement on Tuesday, FFA claimed the addition of two A-League clubs would result in unsustainable net losses for the governing body over the next six years - the period of the next broadcast deal - and argued expansion of the competition plus the W-League will require "significant more capital investment".
FFA conceded the consultation process with existing clubs to identify the path forward for the A-League and W-League - including finalising the long-awaited expansion criteria - would take "months rather than weeks" and finished the statement with a hint of further delays.
"While it was too soon to predict when expansion might occur, it would not happen before the 2018-19 season," the statement concluded.
A joint working group including four A-League chairmen that was formed in October will meet on Thursday to begin the consultation process.
While the 2018-19 A-League campaign has been FFA's preferred deadline for expansion since discussions over growing to 12 teams became a strategic priority in October, interested parties such as South Melbourne and FC Tasmania have declared they would be ready for next season.
"We recently advised the clubs that we must explore a new model for the Hyundai A-League/Westfield W-League. We agree that we need to protect the value of the existing licences in which the current owners have invested," FFA CEO David Gallop said in a statement.
"We want to expand the leagues but this has to happen as part of a new structure. That's why we are now working with the clubs to determine the future structure of the leagues and the criteria for expansion.
"We will examine these issues in detail and expect this work will take months rather than weeks. We know that those consortia that have expressed an interest in joining the league would want to be part of something that is financially sustainable and attractive as a sound investment."
It was also revealed that FFA will work with a corporate advisory firm as part of the development process for the future of the A-League and W-League.
"The decisions we make around the future of the Hyundai A-League/Westfield W-League will have an impact on every aspect of football in Australia," Gallop said.
"That's why we want to work with the clubs and other stakeholders on changes that benefit the whole game."
FFA had initially indicated the expansion criteria for the A-League would be released in February.
Approximately nine separate groups and clubs have publicly indicated their interest in joining an expanded A-League.