Sydney: The eighth season of Australia's A-League season kicks off on Friday amid unprecedented interest sparked by the signings of overseas stars Alessandro Del Piero, Emile Heskey and Shinji Ono.
The prized capture of Italian World Cup winner Del Piero has stirred interest in his homeland with a pay television company to broadcast all of Sydney FC's games live.
The Juventus legend, with 91 international appearances, may now be 37 but Sydney FC has secured a coup with Del Piero opting to come to Australia's fledgling A-League rather than play for Liverpool in the English Premier League.
"I'm happy to have signed with Sydney and for the next two years I will play with them," Del Piero said.
"A lot of clubs contacted me, Italian teams too and I thank all of them. But now my new adventure starts and I thank Sydney for this opportunity."
Del Piero's signing triggered further interest from overseas stars with former England striker Heskey joining the Newcastle Jets and Japan's three-time World Cup star Ono signing with competition newcomers Western Sydney Wanderers.
Between them, Del Piero, Heskey and Ono have played at eight World Cup finals, with Del Piero on the winning team in 2006, and their combined wage bill for the coming season is Aus$3.8 million ($3.9 million).
Former Socceroo Tony Popovic, who will showcase Ono in his Wanderers team, said: "A few weeks ago no one could envisage having a Del Piero here, or a Heskey, and all of a sudden we have three big name players."
Australia's A-League has struggled to capture the interest of Australian Rugby League and Australian Football League obsessed fans, but the presence of the international trio could signal a turnaround in fortunes.
Coach Gary van Egmond said Heskey's arrival had helped push Newcastle's membership numbers over 11,000, giving the Jets the second-biggest member base in the domestic league.
"It's massive," he said. "This is the most interest I've ever seen in the A-League since the inaugural season.
"Football and non-football fans alike are all talking about it."
Brisbane Roar will be defending their title this season but their championship-winning coach Ange Postecoglou has left to take over at Melbourne Victory, who along with Sydney FC and Perth Glory are seen as Brisbane's main rivals this season.
Victory open the season against cross-city rivals Melbourne Heart on Friday while Del Piero is in line to make his A-League debut in New Zealand when Sydney FC travel to play Wellington Phoenix the following day.