According to a Gold Coast City Council report, released on Monday as the council was meeting behind closed doors with AFL chief Andrew Demetriou, the city will enjoy an economic benefits totalling $1.45 billion over the next decade by entering a team in the country’s biggest sporting league from 2011.

With a $60 million funding promise towards construction of a redeveloped Carrara stadium, premier Anna Bligh was boldly going where the Borg refused to go during the recent Queensland election. Springborg’s LNP showed a complete lack of understanding of just what an AFL license means to the region, simplistically arguing that this was somehow a free-kick for the AFL, ignoring the benefit to other major sports like cricket.

Although the bid presented a straight-forward $34 million annual tourism impact when the team is up and running, the council’s estimate takes a much broader view of what a third national football franchise will mean for the city when all the paperwork is signed off.

It throws into the pot not only the jobs created by stadium construction and the club’s own burgeoning payroll when it hits Carrara, but the wider employment and business income and expenditure created byservicing this latest addition to the Glitter Strip’s sporting landscape.

The council report figures the club will turn over $75 million a year, but this will probably be news to every other club in the competition. Regardless, there’s absolutely no doubt of the benefit in terms of the local economy. When Anna Bligh and Andrew Demetriou swapped signatures, broad smiles and handshakes, it was clear a Gold Coast Football Club will have a huge impact way beyond the financial stimulus.

Yet there’s no shortage of sceptics questioning the financial wisdom of AFL expansion right now. They see a depressed global economy as hardly the time for the league to be flexing its financial muscle to head up the Coast team, but also refusing to back away from a second Sydney team in 2012. I can’t speak for the long-term viability of the Sydney licence; but what some media in Sydney and Melbourne fail to fully appreciate is the level of AFL support on the Coast.

You could be mistaken for believing the Coast is a rabid Rugby League town with not a remotely comparable AFL following. This is hogwash and while it suits the NRL to inflate its opinion of its own stature locally — irrespective of the decades-long migration of already converted “Mexicans” who now call the Coast home; maybe the NRL should worry about its own housekeeping when it seems the likes of Newcastle struggle to pay the rent.

Also the Titans are a privately owned commercial entity, just like Clive Palmer’s A-League Gold Coast United. But can anyone enlighten Crikey as to who actually owns what regarding the Titans individual shareholding? There were existing sports marketing interests helping drive the Titans creation, unlike Palmer who altruistically answered the call to save a club threatening to die before it even got to first base.

The point of this is to clarify that when someone like Searle takes pot shots at AFL, he speaks out of an understandable commercial necessity to protect his own business interests above any other considerations. When he talks of representing a point of view, he’s under no illusion the AFL is his greatest threat as they go head-to-head over winter. But the AFL also brings to the Coast, beyond all the benefits trotted out by the council’s economic report, the fillip of a local club for its fans to stand alongside the NRL and A-League.

Assuming the AFL franchise will be standing on its own two feet within a few years, without the need for league subsidy and oversight, it will be a genuine community asset, potentially owned by its members. Given all that, why wouldn’t the vast majority of Gold Coast people eagerly embrace its newest club and join with Anna Bligh who declared yesterday as a Coast old girl she’s behind it 140 per cent?

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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