Like any bully keen to maintain their status, the AFL has acted quickly to punish North Melbourne for its disobedience in snubbing a Gold Coast move and opting to fight on. The AFL announced yesterday that North Melbourne would not be playing Brisbane in the NAB Cup at Carrara and their Community Camp would be shifted from the Gold Coast to Bairnsdale.

Everything at the AFL happens very quickly, and often with little explanation.

In fact, while willingly offering a $100 million-carrot to North Melbourne to move to the Gold Coast, the AFL has provided virtually no legitimate explanation to the public as to why a team on Gold Coast is actually a good thing. The closest came from Andrew Demetriou last week when he noted that:

There’s absolutely no doubt [that the Gold Coast] is the fastest-growing market in Australia, plus in western Sydney. [And that the AFL has] spent probably the best part of two years work on this, it’s not something we’ve just jumped into.

Crikey contacted the AFL questioning whether a detailed financial analysis for the Gold Coast expansion had been prepared. AFL media chief, Patrick Keane, claimed that the AFL had spent several years working on various financial models, but refused to provide any additional information, noting that “the AFL doesn’t detail every part of its operation”.

What is known publicly is that some time ago, the AFL commissioned a “Gold Coast Advisory Group” to investigate the feasibility of a Gold Coast team. Given the size of the AFL, and the importance of such a decision, one might expect that the study may have been conducted by the likes of McKinsey or Bain. Alas, it appears due diligence is not a concept which the AFL is overly familiar with.

Instead of appointing an expert independent body to investigate such a move, the AFL stacked the advisory board with people sympathetic to the Gold Coast cause.

The “Gold Coast Advisory Group” was headed by local lawyer and business advocate John Witheriff. Witheriff, is the managing partner of Minter Ellison’s Gold Coast office and holds various appointments on the Gold Coast, including Director of Commerce Queensland and Chairman of the Advisory Board to the Indy 300. Given his pro-Gold Coast and business links, it is inconceivable that Witheriff would find against a Gold Coast side.

Another member of the advisory group, former Brisbane Bears Chairman, Graeme Downie, is a director of Surfers Paradise Central Management, which, according to its website, is the “official management and marketing authority for Surfers Paradise”.

The third member, Ross Oakley, had such a poor grasp of the passion of football fans that he received death threats and required armed guards during his tumultuous period as AFL CEO.

As expected, the Advisory Group recommended in late September that a team would prosper on the Gold Coast, ideally, if it were relocated from Melbourne.

If it exists, no financial evidence of the feasibility of a Gold Coast side has been made public. All that has been told to the public is that the Gold Coast is the fastest growing region in the country.

The problem with the “fast growing” claim is that it ignores the salient fact that the Gold Coast has a very low population base. In the last five years, the Gold Coast population has increased by 80,000. By contrast, between 2001 and 2006 Melbourne’s population increased by around 210,000. If population growth is the primary criteria for a new club, perhaps the AFL should consider moving the Lions back to Melbourne’s fast-growing Docklands.

A detailed analysis of the Gold Coast plan might be possible if the AFL releases its financial modelling, which of course it hasn’t. Cynics might suggest that the AFL is keeping the information private because any such modelling is scant and doesn’t necessarily prove a compelling case for the Gold Coast.

Meanwhile, the AFL has seemingly based its decision on the advice of a clearly biased and self-interested group which has not publicly released the reasons for its findings.

Peter Fray

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