(or how not to start a football club 101)
It’s now official. The wheels are falling off the Gold Coast Football Club. This was going to be the ‘big thing’ in the A-League for the 2009-10 season. A multi-millionaire with loads of money, Jason Culina coming back from Europe to play in the team. The owner of the team, Clive Palmer even claimed that the team would go through the season undefeated.
It started promisingly, but what do we have now? Low crowds, a huge thumping of 6-0 by the Wellington Phoenix and now having to limit the crowds to 5000 because of stadium costs.
Gold Coast has become a textbook case of how not to start a football team. Especially in an area where the sport in question is not the major one.
People may come to see the new thing once, but then you have to somehow create some emotional connection with the team. With AFL and NRL which have been around for yonks, these have been established through generations. So even teams that haven’t tasted any success for years have a strong following. But this is not the case with a new team, especially as I said if it is in a sport which is not the major code, such as football.
It seems that Gold Coast thought that just pouring money would instantly create a success. But a football team is not the same as digging minerals out of the ground and selling them to the Chinese.
Fans and journalists of the other codes may enjoy this mess. However the lure of the rich person saving a club in hostile territory has been done before by other codes.
By the mid 80’s the Sydney Swans were going badly. Losing money and low attendances. So in came medical entrepreneur Dr. Geoffrey Edelsten in 1985. Edelstein instigated a marketing campaign based on razzmatazz, excitement and a carnival atmosphere. The doctor flew a pink helicopter and cheer girls waved their goodies at the crowd.
Of course, once the razzmatazz became old hat, the support dwindled and the club once more tittered on the edge of extinction. By 1988 the licence was sold back to the VFL for ten dollars. Losses were in the millions. A group of financial backers including Mike Willessee, Basil Sellers, Peter Weinert and Craig Kimberley purchased the licence and bankrolled the club until 1993, when the AFL stepped with substantial monetary and management support, draft and salary cap concessions.
The fact is that Edelsten, like Palmer seems to treat the team as a diversion, something to look good with rather than something driven by the passion for the sport.
As the football tragic rightly say:
The ticket prices at the club are obscene by Australian standards, and given that one of the promised benefits of membership (see here) was free public transport to the ground, members who will be deprived of this (to the best of my knowledge) under the 5,000 cap have the right to be mightily peeved.
It is another salutary lesson for the A-League as a whole: lone, messiah-style investors, particularly those with only tenuous links to the game, are a mixed blessing at best. Plenty of pundits were frankly fawning over Palmer only a few short months ago, but the demeanour of the man throughout has been that of someone savouring a new toy…one which might be dispensed with in short order.
The fans (small number as they are) are peeved and have threatened boycotting the next match.
My hunch about what is happening is somewhat confirmed by reports inside the club that the club’s lacks football culture.
Contrast this to the North Queensland Fury, which despite a horrible start has been able to build a reasonable attendance (if you take account of the total population of Townsville) and apparently from what I hear is attempting to connect to the local community.
And it seems that Gold Coast is not getting it. as seen in an interview with the
CEO Clive Mensink
So after ten rounds you ran up the white flag?
I don’t think we need to be negative about it. We want to be here for not just this year. We want to be here for the years beyond. We want to make sure football is successful. It’s a matter of re-grouping and minimising the cost. It does cost Clive Palmer in opening the stadium up. I think it’s unfair to judge Clive as giving up or suggesting he shouldn’t have got involved when you’ve got to ask why aren’t the people coming?
That’s not the fault of the fans surely?
Isn’t it? The team’s on top of the table, you had second versus third with Perth and we only got 4,000. So is that the fault of Clive Palmer? Why didn’t they come? They knew about it. The game’s on.
The whole interview is a bit like that. No insight why fans are not turning up.
Let’s hope that they change tack. Or maybe someone else should have a go.
Update: Good article by David Hall in The Punch