All that glistens is not on the Gold Coast

Matt Roberts/Getty Images

According to the Gold Coast City Council, “The Gold Coast is the sixth largest city in Australia and one of the fastest growing regions in our country.” The current population is 515,157 with growth expected to range from 13,000 to 16,00 people per year. Interestingly, the sub-tropical climate provides 287 days of sunshine annually.

There’s 70 kilometres of beaches, 270 navigable waterways, 2,245 parks covering 20,000 hectares, wildlife and theme parks, and tropical rainforest hinterland. Pretty attractive, right?

The Gold Coast has world-class sporting and recreational facilities. Robina Stadium, currently known as Skilled Park, cost $160 million to construct and is a purpose-built 27,400-seater football stadium with three football codes (rugby league, rugby sevens and football) taking up tenancy. Well, up until recently.

AFL, rugby league and football administrators have each sort to capitalise on the Gold Coast market. The sense of community, lifestyle and commercial opportunity in the region seemed like a viable option for growth across the board. The AFL launched the Gold Coast Suns in March, 2009. They play at Metricon (Gold Coast) Stadium located in Carrara which re-opened in mid-2011 after its redevelopment into a 25,000-seater stadium. The cost: $144 million. All part of the Gold Coast’s successful bid to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

A quick click through the club’s website clearly sets out their mandate:

“The club was born through the support and love of the people of the Gold Coast community. Our values and our aspirations will reflect this City. Gold Coasters love the Gold Coast. We believe in our community, we believe in ourselves and what we have to offer. We will be progressive, innovative, exciting and a little bit cheeky.”

Perhaps the AFL can succeed where both rugby league and football have failed. After all, they have the most enviable corporate backing and financial capital of any football code in Australia.

The Queensland Government planned to house the Gold Coast Titans at Robina for many years. Now, the ARL Commission have been told the Titans owe $25 million. ARLC chief executive, David Gallop, has stated, “We have received reports from our external accountants today that confirm the whole structure at the Titans is under considerable financial stress.”

I know of one Sydney-based insolvency firm that has submitted a tender for the job. This is serious stuff.

If you take a look at the employment status of Gold Coast residents, you will see that approximately 33% or one-in-three employees are employed on a part-time basis. Now, comparing that statistic with national data doesn’t represent any major discrepancy. However, the population is significantly smaller.

Furthermore, monthly housing repayments represent some of the highest in the country with approximately 19% of home owners paying between $2,000 and $2,999. Surely the correlation between the cost of living in today’s economic climate and discretionary spending has affected the attendance figures at football matches.

The Titans’ crowds have taken a nosedive with an average of 15,428 at Skilled Park in 2011, down from 21,489 in 2007 (their inaugural year). A wooden-spoon finish last season almost mirrors the plight of Gold Coast United in this season’s Hyundai A-League competition.

Professor Clive F. Palmer – resources magnate, philanthropist and owner of minerals giant, Mineralogy – has controversially lost the Gold Coast A-League licence. The question is: was it going to happen anyway?

Does the Gold Coast really have enough support? What about the average age of residents? One-in-three Gold Coasters are over 50 years of age. Has the “We are Football” ad campaign enticed them; the almost empty stadium; the lack of entertainment; the counter-attacking football?

Success on the Gold Coast has been ill-fated. Although, the club’s talent identification has been remarkable with Mike Mulvey (winner of two successive National Youth League titles) showcasing the best of the locals in the first team since his promotion to Head Coach after the colourful, Miron Bleiberg, was undermined and eventually sacked by Palmer.

Mulvey has certainly made a case for the grassroots pathway. His team ultimately determined the standings for the Finals Series this season. Not a bad effort.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) has stated, “[Gold Coast] United’s two NYL Championship wins have provided the building blocks for the future and a production line of young talent that is the envy of the country.”

True. So, why axe the club?

After the fiasco that surrounded the North Queensland Fury, maybe Palmer should have invested his money into a club with a broader reach. In hindsight, it looks to me that saving the Fury makes more sense now than ever before. But this was never about what makes sense, was it? It has been all about ego, power and money from the very start.

You can’t just go dropping a football club in an area with a small population, no real football history and a lack of governance, support and structure from FFA because a billionaire is prepared to pay for it. Look what’s happened.

Club captain, Michael Thwaite has come out and demanded answers. Like many of the players, he was made promises. He has made decisions based on his club contract which affect his family and his future playing career. He’s a loyal man but a frustrated one.

“I want answers. I want some people to start talking, [stop] hiding away and [start] taking responsibility for the rise and demise of Gold Coast United,” Thwaite said.

“I want to know why the club wasn’t run properly.”

So do the fans.

Palmer’s “Football Australia” body or National Commission of Inquiry led by former FFA Head of the Hyundai A-League, Archie Fraser, has put out a statement today calling for transparency on Gold Coast United’s survival terms. The club has a glimmer of hope to survive. Fraser is adamant that FFA must put out what is required to meet their parameters to grant another licence.

“There are business people out there who we know are interested in becoming involved in saving the club, and there may well be plenty of others who want to make a significant contribution. Making the criteria public could bring those people to the table, but keeping it under wraps certainly won’t,” Fraser said.

“The existing bid led by Tom Tate and Geoffrey Schuhkraft is one we fully support and through one of our directors, Clive Mensink, we have had ongoing contact with them.”

The Gold Coast has approximately 13% of Sydney and Melbourne’s population. Gold Coast United only managed an average attendance of 3,438 this season with their highest crowd being 6,927 in the derby against reigning champions, Brisbane Roar.

The statistics tell the story. Should FFA bother to save the Gold Coast?

You do the numbers.

3 Responses to All that glistens is not on the Gold Coast

  1. Terry says:

    Hey Anthony, i get the point of your article and agree with it mostly. There are inherent problems in getting a team up and then keeping it. RL found that out as did Basketball.

    The suns spent 3 years here before getting a team up and running. Clive said I’m a billionaire here to save football on the Gold Coast come and watch. And then did nothing. The FFA saw him as Daddy Warbucks and just let him stroll in. They learn t pretty early on that they had made a bad decision as did I and some other supporters.

  2. Kev berry says:

    The a league needs gold coast and more important a 2nd qld team. Crowds of 10000 can be achieved with community participation and involvement. Football will never be given any publicity thru media on coast. So let’s get every player registered with soccer and there family’s to become members of gcu. Build from the ground up!!!

  3. Great Article, there are alot of questions that need asking of both the FFA and GCU management.

    I can’t agree with the affordability argument though, The Suns have averaged 22,075 in their first season. That suggests that punters in that area can still afford tickets if they actually want to go to a game.

    I think it comes down to the age old participants to fans issue that Fooball administrators have struggled to grasp in Australia.

    First year marketing students learn that it’s far easier to increase your market share than expand your market. AFL and football have similarly sized participant numbers (which is your ready made market), AFL has just converted a bigger percentage of its participants into fans.

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