Yesterday the CEO of the AFL, Andrew Demetriou, raised the bar on the hurdle that needs to be leapt if the Gold Coast is to gain the 17th AFL licence, but he forgot to mention an almost unsurmountable hurdle the AFL itself has to negotiate.

The Gold Coast consortium needs to put together around $5 million in sponsorships, identify 20,000 prospective members, 100 or more business supporters and have a team ready to compete in the 2009 Queensland AFL competition. A tough ask one would think.

But if the AFL wants a Gold Coast team to actually play on the Gold Coast, it looks as though it will have to fork out a lazy $40 million in “compensation” to the Queensland Government for breaking an agreement the AFL entered into with the Queensland Government when the Brisbane Cricket Ground (the Gabba) was redeveloped by the government at a cost of $182 million. The main beneficiary was the Brisbane Lions AFL team.

The Queensland Government has revealed a part of the agreement requires the AFL to have any new team in South East Queensland play at the Gabba until the end of the 2015 season. The cost of breaking the agreement is reported to be $40 million.

Today’s Courier Mail claims that Demetriou had already met with Queensland Deputy Premier, Paul Lucas, and had been told the government would strictly enforce the contract. This has been confirmed today by Sports Minister, Judy Spence.

Even if the AFL is prepared to part with $40 million to ensure the team is based on the Gold Coast, it will need to find at least $100 million more to upgrade the Carrara Stadium or build a new Gold Coast stadium. Having just spent $160 million building a new stadium on the Gold Coast for the Titans rugby league team, the Queensland government has no appetite to fund any more.

If, on the other hand, the AFL decides its Gold Coast team will play in Brisbane for its first six seasons, it is setting the Gold Coast consortium, which ironically includes a former Brisbane Lions Chairman, an impossible task. Getting 100 or more Gold Coast businesses as sponsors, and around 20,000 members, for a team to play in Brisbane would be impossible.

But today’s confirmation that the state government will enforce its agreement with the AFL raises the question why the AFL would be putting a deadline and conditions on the Gold Coast AFL consortium when it knew the state government would insist the team plays in Brisbane until 2015 – or get $40 million in compensation?

There is another hurdle the AFL will have to negotiate. The entry of the Titans into the NRL has been easily the most successful entry by a new team in years. The clubs sponsorship book is full, it is attracting better home crowds than any club other than the Broncos, and the mass circulation Gold Coast Bulletin gives the Titans coverage most clubs can only dream about. And, after five rounds, the Titans are on top of the NRL premiership!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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