Call to move Vic clubs to US as survival battle heats up
Monday, June 16 2008 @ 07:48 am ACST
Contributed by: Brett Northey
The battle to save some of Victoria's AFL clubs has created some resentment and attracted some extreme views. On one front new Melbourne chairman Jim Stynes has lashed out at non-Victorian clubs, and on another veteran stirrer of Victorian football, Graham Cornes, has written an article quoting a former Demons player suggesting the United States is the answer.
Cornes reports in "America can save doomed AFL clubs" that former SANFL and VFL player turned accessibility consultant Peter Yeo thinks that modern athletes can overcome travel issues and that the west coast of America is ripe for a relocated team such as Melbourne or North Melbourne.
Personally the concept seems far too radical and would run in to major issues such as:
1. Insufficient established supporter base in any given US city
2. Unlikely to be viable stadia for Aussie Rules on the US west coast
3. No support from the fans of these clubs in Australia
4. Major travel costs
5. Heads would roll from the top down if it failed
In fact the article could be called visionary but appears more like stirring the pot. If ever an off-shore move was to be made, and that is a big if, surely a club based out of Auckland would have more chance of being developed and viable in the medium term - though it would still require massive AFL support.
On a more serious note Melbourne's Stynes has essentially accused the non-Victorian clubs of contributing nothing to the game and existing only due to the Victorian clubs. His ire has been raised due to reported pressure from some clubs (even though it includes fellow Melbourne-based club Hawthorn) for the AFL to remove the special assistance handouts several clubs have been receiving over the last few years.
The Annual Special Dividend (ASD) scheme was always intended as short-term to get clubs through tough phases and was due for review in 2009, but Stynes has suggested it should be ongoing, while the Western Bulldogs president David Smorgon thinks the clubs will fold without it.
Adelaide Chairman Bill Sanders and the SANFL's Leigh Whicker have suggested Stynes needs a history lesson. Leagues across Australia had tried to get a national competition started for a long time but it was only when the then VFL and many of its clubs sank deep into debt that the VFL made the move to the AFL. In return the various state leagues slumped in importance, bodies such as the SANFL paid licence fees of $4 million each per club to enter the AFL, and the national television rights have sky-rocketed as a result. Sanders stated that "the non-Victorian clubs - with their licence fees - saved the VFL when it was effectively bankrupt" while Whicker said, "The Victorians seem to ignore everyone outside Victoria has made enormous sacrifices to establish a national competition, while very little has changed in Melbourne". Perhaps what isn't really appreciated by the general football public is that clubs like Adelaide, which are seen as very wealthy, make relatively modest profits as a percentage of annual turnover and much of that goes to supporting grassroots football in their state, hence there's a sense from such clubs that sinking extra general football money into a few struggling clubs in one city is unfair.
The article Shame on Jim Stynes claims that "the Bulldogs have collected $10.1m in ASDs since 2002, the Kangaroos $7.2m since 2003 and the Dees $6m since 2004". That's over $23 million with little sign that the clubs are any more viable. In fact Stynes, not the first white knight to "rescue" Melbourne, says the Dees' debt is out to $4.5 million.
The battle to maintain the ASD and keep nine clubs in Melbourne will be very interesting, with more than a little irony that two men leading the charge are an Irishman and a West Australian who got his break in South Australia (North Melbourne's President James Brayshaw). Perhaps drawing the battle-lines along state borders is a clever marketing ploy by Stynes, but what should not be overlooked is that the real key may not be what the non-Victorian clubs push for, but whether the big Melbourne clubs like Collingwood, Carlton, Hawthorn, Richmond and Essendon will look to support or covet their neighbours.