The AFL have been keen to tap into the market on the Gold Coast which has embraced the new Rugby League franchise, the Titans, with instant money making fervour. Despite an embarrassing knockback from the Kangaroos to relocate to the Gold Coast, they are living the dream of establishing a brand new team, possibly named the Sharks, the Stingers or some other equally rapacious Gold Coast native icon, to share the sports market of Australia’s sixth largest city with the biggest population growth figures in Australia.

The headache for the AFL is that they have no suitable venue from which to play their home games with the current Carrara oval, whilst being a first class pitch, having poor grandstand facilities capable of serving corporate types and the modern day discerning AFL patrons. The Queensland Government, having just forked out $160 million to build the Titans’ NRL home stadium of Skilled Park and having all sorts of other debt problems building necessary infrastructure like water pipes, dams and roads, is an extremely reluctant player in the push to see AFL on the Coast by the year 2011.

In fact they have “remembered” a neat little contractual clause that the AFL signed before the Government rebuilt the Gabba in Brisbane that would tie any new second team in Queensland to playing out of the Gabba. That would be an immediate death knell for any Gold Coast team trying to play out of the Gabba just as it was a death knell for the old Brisbane Bears trying to play out of the Gold Coast.

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Getting the local Murdoch newspaper to heavily support the new AFL team coming to the Gold Coast was achieved by putting its editor Bob Gordon on the bid team. No conflict of interest there …

The Gold Coast Bulletin initially applauded Premier Anna Bligh only a week ago when she proclaimed on ABC that she would be happy to waive the clause if the AFL paid for its own grandstand upgrades on whichever site it chose to host the home team.

Did that prompt a frantic call from a former foxy entrepreneurial political type (being a well known lover of the league game) to “advise” the Premier of the financial risks to Skilled Park of a competing sporting franchise and the damage that would be done to the Brisbane Lions’ corporate support base for another team entering the Queensland market?

If not then one wonders what caused the immediate back-flip of Peter Beattie proportions by Bligh to the thought of letting the AFL out of its contractual commitment to playing any second team in Queensland out of the Gabba until 2015.

The AFL don’t want the Carrara Stadium as it is owned, free hold, by the Council and it’s doubtful that the AFL would want to share any of the Stadium income if they are the ones forking out for a massive stadium upgrade.

The AFL’s may be attempting to avoid coughing up $150 to $200 Million for a new stadium themselves by deflecting at least some of costs by including the new stadium as part of a proposed new $400 million dollar Gold Coast Council HQ. Smelling some money to be made, a couple of Very-GC developers have slithered in a proposal for a land swap of their flood prone land next to Nerang train station for a new stadium and Council HQ in exchange for the flood free river front Carrara Stadium land less than 1600 meters up the road.

The public are being told it would be a “good thing” because for a stadium to be successful it needs to be next to a train station. Of course the developers getting Carrara Stadium site will want certain development rights retained if they get the Carrara Stadium land in the swap from Council.

Will ratepayer interests be protected in such dealings with developers and the AFL? Clearly Council’s CEO Dale Dickson (who just happens to be an ex-Brisbane Bears player) doesn’t see any conflict of interest in his additional role as a member of the AFL’s GC17 bid team board.

One wonders who he is representing in discussions with developers on these Stadium matters: Council or GC17/AFL? Dale Dickson has a plan “B” if the Nerang land swap fails to come off, eyeing of a parcel of land near the Helensvale train station as a potential site for a new stadium however with an existing approval of around 1300 homes he hasn’t got much political support from Councillors for such a major land purchase on behalf of the AFL.

Ex Essendon player, Olympic sporting icon and current Mayor of the Gold Coast, 72-year-old Ron Clarke, doesn’t care where the new team plays or who pays for any stadium upgrade as long as it starts playing before 2012 when his expected last term of council finishes and his achievements of his time leading the city need to be written up.

With Ron Clarke’s rate freeze promise unexpectedly winning him a second term at the March Council elections, the Council is under all sorts of public pressure to cut the budget and spending $100 to $200+ million on a third sports stadium for the Gold Coast for a fourth national sporting team certainly seems off the agenda with a majority of Councillors.

The AFL are committed to install a new team in NRL heartland come hell or high water. However with no State Government or Council funding help on the horizon and the contractual obligation to play out of the Gabba until 2015, the new Gold Coast team may be called the Turkeys.

They may be stuffed before they’re started!

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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