Killing the goose that laid the golden egg?

In light of the future expansion of sporting teams in Melbourne I was wondering if the “sports capital of the world” may be starting to spread itself a little thinly and start to test the capital’s reputation for turning up to anything including the opening of an envelope. Mondays night’s attendance of 55,000 to what apparently a fine display of grass growing certain attests to such claims. I’m sorry Ian. I tried to embrace the world game but it feels like a hug from your mother in law.

While I doubt that the arrival of the new soccer and union teams will have the AFL shivering in their boots, it might have CEOs at the Storm and the Victory more than a little nervous. Not that the CEO of the Storm could really be more nervous at this point in time. Let’s look at the position of the two existing club, and I’d like some comment from my esteemed almanacers, who have far greater insight into the Melbourne psyche and the machinations of individual clubs. Hopefully the Storm, post apocalyptic fall out, manages to increase their attendance at the new stadium to say an average of 15,000 per game. Several weeks after the start of the season, the new rugby team kicks off and it turns out that 7,500 Storm followers are actually union supporters (fare chance given the number of Kiwis in Melbourne) who dump the Storm in favor of union during the Super 16 comp. Will News Ltd continue to prop up a side that is burning money on increased ground rental before less people than showed at Olympic Park. Will the average Melbourne person’s dollar stretch far enough to support both codes?

The same applies the Victory. Does the crowd that turns up to their games support the team or the code. The Victory has the highest average crowd figure by miles but what if again half those supporters jump ship the Heart (stupid name by the way. I have this image of the Heart Foundation mascot running up and down the sideline). Is there sufficient interest in the game to justify a second team or do the new boys assume that if you build it, Melbourne people will turn up to it. Again, will the average Melbourne person’s dollar stretch far enough to support both clubs?

Then comes the question of how much the average punter in prepared to shell out the watch their sport live when all of these games will be on pay TV. I don’t get to the footy much in Melbourne but when I do I’m not really a thermos and homemade sango type of person. Hence the average spend for attending a game is approximately $120 including pre game aperitifs. Post game cocktails add considerably to the bill. So after I finish at the G, would I be likely to shell out a similar amount to watch soccer or union the next day. No siree Bob, particularly if I’m not a keen follower of the sport.

So the question I put to you almanacers is what is Melbourne’s tipping point? At what stage does it become unviable to support so many teams or are Melbourne people so cashed up that there isn’t such a point. Will the arrival of two new teams spark an interest in people who presently don’t attend games at all? Possibly. Or will we see the demise of 4 teams in the strong AFL heartland because there just isn’t enough money, importantly corporate money, to spread around. I’d welcome your thoughts

About Tony Robb

A life long Blues supporter of 49 years who has seen some light at the end of the tunnel that isn’t Mick Malthouse driving a train.

Comments

  1. Excellent school of thought here, Tony.

    I love Melbourne Storm to bits, and I love the idea of Melbourne Victory (I’m still of the unenlightened notion that soccer is something you ‘do’, not ‘watch’). I am against these expansions in the same way I am against the expansion of the AFL.

    It is not at all a case of “build it and they will come”. These news teams are being set up in regions where there is little enough support for the pioneering teams as it is, despite astounding success.

    Look at Sydney and their recent premiership – I went to a game there last year, and I kid you not, the apathetic crowd had only bothered to learn the names of four players. From a team of 22. Brisbane won three consecutive premierships from four consecutive GF appearances, but still the state as a whole is indifferent towards them.

    Most Melbournians were unmoved by Storm’s premierships (they still won them, regardless of who’s stripped what) and Victory, from my shallow understanding, are pretty awesome also. With a huge soccer-loving European (especially Greek) base in Melbourne, there is still no overwhelming love or passion for the team.

    I doubt the new clubs will steal a great deal of fans from the existing teams. More likely, I believe, is that lukewarm fans will revolt and turn away from the sport altogether. It’s too much like shoving medicine down their throat.

    “Drink up, it’s good for you!”

  2. Tony Robb says:

    Hi Susie,
    Thanks for your thoughts. Re Sydney Supporters. They are the original football Avatars, MCC members aside. It will be interesting to see how GWS goes. I think they might be better than thought(when they sack the headline hunter once he has served his purpose and get a real coach) as that will be a real Sydney team and not an Eastern Suburbs team forced unwillingly to move to Sydney
    Tony

  3. John Butler says:

    Authenticity versus commercial imperatives.

    Is authenticity just a product of history? Or can events serve to bind a club and its supporters?

    It will be interesting to see where the Storm go from here. Will the recent dramas create a bond with the community. Or will people forget about them as they recede from the headlines?

    I think the Victory will prosper as long as they’re successful. But what happens if a fallow period arrive?

    The AFL shouldn’t be too complacent about this. Should the TV bounty ever diminish, there are a couple of Melbourne clubs who still don’t look too flash.

    A good topic Tony.

  4. Andrew Fithall says:

    I am not a soccer fan, but believe the real risk to that game in Melbourne, with the introduction of a second team, is that fan allegiances take an ethnic line of division. Already fans are shepherded from venues to avoid inter-mingling. The need for even more segregation may stifle the sport’s opportunity to attract new fans.

    And Tony – not all MCC members are Avatars. But totally agree with you regarding GWS’selection of inaugural coach.

  5. Tony Robb says:

    Andrew, The MCC members I refer to are the ones that turn up for an event rather than supporting a team per say. My apologies for any offence.
    cheers
    Tony

  6. Pre-game ‘aperitifs’ and post-game cocktails – along with the failure to appreciate a beautiful game supported by million throughout the world and a gratuitous stereotype of MCC members – is something of a tipping point for me.

    More broadly (and perhaps a little more seriously) with the seemingly constant, small-minded and at times bigoted disdain of football (soccer), it appears the Jason Akermanis view of the world is more endemic in Australian Rules than I had hoped…

  7. As a devout Hibs fan I could never support the Melbourne Jambos. However I am in a dilemma; I’m returning to Melbourne after nearly three years away in September in time for the next season. However my mates have blocked booked about 15 seats together at the new stadium. I will be rejoining as a Victory member but will have to go it alone from now on; perhaps if it had a better name than the Heart I could countenance joining the new club instead.

    Let’s face it, expansion comes down to the male ego of empire building. Everywhere I’ve ever work I’ve seen it, expansion for the sake of it, often blowing budgets sky high. The AFL is certainly all for it, Rugby League was and now the A League is ploughing ahead with its relentless expansion plans.

    I actually think the Heart will do all right financially when compared to all the other soccer teams around the nation; most of them are on life support. Eventually the FFA and A League’s coffers will run dry and no longer be able to prop up these losing franchises.

    As for the Rugby League and Rugby sides, I don’t know quite how they’ll go. The Storm will probably be ok for at least another few years but like them the Rebels will only survive if the competition bankrolls them. Can’t see any decent rabid fan base developing as the Storm have managed to do; they really do have a genuine supporter base, you can’t deny them that. Certainly looks as though they’re (the Rebels) set for at least five years given their initial external support. The arrival of the one-time England saviour Danny Cipriani will give them decent crowds when playing away, which may be enough for the competition to justify their existence.

    As a lifelong Geelong supporter and AFL fanatic all round I find the attitude of the Aussie Rules set towards the world game quite offensive; I have made comments about this in other forums, in particular the attitude more recently of the AFL’s CEO, and a few years ago by the then-Melbourne Football Club’s boss.

    In summary I think there’s room for AFL and football (soccer) to survive but the rugby codes will find the going much tougher.

  8. John Butler says:

    There’s an obvious clash of aesthetics underlying some Aussie Rules comments on soccer.

    The random, go in any direction, no offside, oval ball nature of Aussie rules is seen to express something very different from the structures and principles usually attributed to soccer.

    The irony is that one impact of modern coaching in AFL has been to incorporate more soccer-type concepts.

    Neither can be claimed superior, just different. To each their own.

    But this is straying from the topic.

  9. Ian Syson says:

    Tony, If you are judging soccer by what happened on Monday night then I’m surprised you think the game is as sexy as a hug from your mother-in-law.

    That was always going to be a shit match and if the game were run by people who know the game instead of by someone biding his time for Demetriou’s position then we may well have had a better send-off organised.

    But Tony, “tried to embrace”? Come on. Just how hard did you try?

    Ben, soccer is hardly expanding into new territory — as is the case with the two rugby codes. Surely it is merely trying to turn already existing club cultures into franchise-based ones?

  10. Tony Robb says:

    Litza,
    The thread of this discussion is not about the merits of any particular sport and in no way reflect any bigoted attitude towards soccer or it supporters and shouldn’t be taken as such. My failure to embrace soccer is not based on ethnic grounds but rather the spectacle. That I choose not to watch the game with any passion is my choice and not some from of mortal failing. I don’t listen to the Beatles either but it doesnt mean I don’t appreciate their role in modern music.
    Back on Topic:
    Im just interested to hear what folks, paricularly, Melbourne folks, feel about the viability of the new teams. I agree that the ARU will prop up the new francise but will it be deplete support from the Storm.
    Susie’s point about the large Europeon base of soccer supporters is interesting and what I was seeking opinion on. Will they support a team (based on the theory that Melbourne people will throw their support and money behind any sporting event) or do they just support the game and therefore choose the ignore the local offering and watch the bigger league on the box.
    cheers
    Tony
    Tony

  11. Tony Robb says:

    Ian,
    I literally embraced it last Saturday giving my daughter a big hug after her debut for the BelSouth u14s and will do so again next Saturday lol Slightly off subject but after coaching her for 6 yrs in AFL, and dealing with a lot of parents, it was interesting that I was one of 4 fathers/spouses at the game while the rest comprised 12 mums/spouses. Is soccer’s popularity at junior level being driven by mums/spouses because of the perceived reduced risk of injury while the dads are still following AFL Rubgy etc. In turn, the kids playing soccer arent as committed to the game because there isnt that constant reinforcement that say a kid in Richmond might receive from his Tigers loving parents. and In turn again, that the love of a sport, that normally goes with participating in it, does not flow into ongoing support of the game at senior levels.

    Ian,Im not totally anti-soccer and loved watching the EPL highlights each week on SBS. Where has that show gone? to ESPN or fox? It provided the viewers such as myself with a great summary of what was going on in the league. But after years of watching games that were effectively over after the 1st goal, it can be frustrating to endure (ie off side traps and total defense). I turn off AFL games that are played in that fashion as well. But, I will as a gesture to yourself and other soccer supporters, make a genuine attempt to “embrace” the world game during the World Cup so that I might make semi-informed comments which you can then shoot down with your brilliant statistical knowledge. And I wont embrace it in a channel 7 type of way which was simply embarrassing over the past week.
    cheers
    Tony

  12. Dave Nadel says:

    There is room for two A League clubs. Many of the old NSL fans refused to follow the A League. They may also refuse to follow Melbourne Heart but I would have thought that the fact that the expansion team is another new “non-ethnic” team might start to convince supporters of Hellas and Croatia that their teams are not going to get into the A League in its current form. Perhaps some of these fans might get behind Heart. Perhaps some current Victory fans whose primary allegiance is to Man United or Liverpool will forsake the Blue team for the Red team. Perhaps some AFL fans (like me) who dislike all blue teams (except Victoria) regardless of which sport they play may feel a little more sympathetic to Heart than we did towards Victory.

    Tony I think has a point about Melbourne Storm. I have never seen a survey done but I would assume that most Storm fans who are native Melbournians rather than transplanted Northerners or Kiwis, are probably Union fans. Union is the only form of Rugby that is played at all in Victorian schools. You would have to assume these followers will transfer to the Rebels. The fact that Storm have ended up in so much trouble over their salary cap (and the duplicitous role played by News Ltd) doesn’t help League’s credibility either. I will be surprised if Storm exists in Melbourne by 2015. If it does, it will be a heavily subsidised basket case.

    I think Western Sydney AFL will be in a similar position. You can have Kevin Sheedy, Ron Barassi, Harry Houdini and even Harry Potter as manager and coach but no amount of wizardry will disguise the fact that there is no grass roots support for AFL in Western Sydney. Gold Coast is another matter. I expect the expansion team there to do well – especially if they can acquire a couple of marquee players like G. Ablett jnr. I think the eighteenth team should be in Tassie, but even a third team in Perth is far more viable option than GWS.

    Just in case you thought that there wasn’t enough crowding of the sporting scene…. Basketball is trying to get back to something like the number of teams they had a few years ago, a whole new semi-professional Baseball competition starts this summer and cricket is reorganising the 20/20 competition into an eight team comp based on cities rather than states.

    To go back to your original metaphor Tony, The Goose is going to die of egg-laying fatigue!

  13. Tony Robb says:

    Dave, you loathing of all things Blue is a concern lol
    cheers and thanks for your comments
    Tony

  14. Ian Syson says:

    Dave, there’s a feeling among ‘old soocer’ that the A League is not here for the long haul and that supporting teams like South is a holding operation. We are constantly on the look out for ways to play higher level soccer given that we’ve been rejected by the FFA. You might be interested to know that South recently won its first round game in the Singapore Cup — winning the comp would get us through to Asia’s version of the Europa Cup.

    In relation to Heart. I think it has a Trojan Horse aspect to it. I’ll be getting a membership — only partly because they play in red and white stripes.

  15. Rocket Rod Gillett says:

    Tony,

    A good thought-provoking piece.

    I’m of the view that the Storm will wither with the entry of the Melbourne Rebels Super rugby franchise – in the same way that the Raiders have slipped down the perch in Canberra and that’s now virtually a rugby town given all the strong support for the Brumbies. The Kiwis – which you point out make up roughly half of the Storm’s following – will revert to type and follow the raa-raa. I agree with you – its just a question of how much longer News Ltd is prepared to bankroll them…?

    As for the Hearts – I’m not sure they’ve got a natural constituency – it seems to be that they’ll be tramping on the same turf. There appears to be no differentiation to the Victory…?

    On the hand, I think the FFA (sic) have made a good strategic decision to locate the new soccer franchise, the Rovers, in western Sydney. What’s more, if Australia get the soccer World Cup they’ll get a great new stadium at Blacktown. Interestingly, they’ve not chosen to use the word “West” in their nomenclature.

    I don’t think the Gold Coast AFL team is going to necessarily find it that easy. The Titans have made a strong impact and have been quite successful on the park. On the other hand the Gold Coast soccer team which has had a rocky start and I think it is highly doubtful that they will flourish.

    GWS is a long-term venture that will ensure the prosperity of the AFL. I firmly believe it will be successful, eventually. The leaguies out west will adopt the GWS Whatevers to stick it up the Swans and the big teams from Melbourne. Especially the Swans! Bring it on!!!

  16. Ian Syson says:

    Rocket, I used to share your view on the Storm losing punters to the leather elbow patch brigade. About ten years ago I went to a Storm game and chatted to a kiwi women on the tram. She said that her preferred game was rugby but league was at least a decent second best.

    The thing is a lot of the Kiwi Storm supporters will be bi-codal and happy to support both codes. I reckon the women on the tram might also have shifted in her view. Ten years is a long time for a brief affair. She’d see herself as more wedded now I think.

  17. Tony,

    To answer your question Re. the EPL highlights show, it moved from SBS to Fox Sports many moons ago (2004 I think, as the next year I bought my own house and got Foxtel).

    At the time I wrote to the likes of the English FA, Premier League and some other bodies. Each said well we don’t give a hoot, or it was someone else’s problem. I explained that the game was on the verge of really taking off down under and by denying even simple highlights they were really cutting off future income streams. (The Clowns).

    Having said that, if you’re a true sports fan, you should have Pay TV ;o)

  18. Tony Robb says:

    Cheers Ben.
    Ill look for it on Fox and hit the IQ button next season
    Tony

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