When the Federal Government contributed the final $36 million towards the construction of a new 25,000 Carrara stadium to be the brand new home of the AFL’s 17th club from 2011; it did more than confirm a Gold Coast expansion that many thought would never happen.

With Federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese on hand yesterday at Carrara to talk up this Commonwealth largesse which represents the largest single allocation from its $800 million Community Infrastructure Program; this went well beyond the icing on a stadium cake that’s been baking interminably. It was the real beginning of a Gold Coast field of dreams that reinforces just how lucky the city has been to dodge a bullet.

Not the one Queensland premier Anna Bligh evaded after her promised $60 million share of the total $126 million construction became a huge political football during the recent state election, when Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg said he wouldn’t play ball with the AFL. Nor the fact it took the Gold Coast City Council’s original pledge of $20 million to kick start the city’s bid for an AFL club; or the AFL getting by with just contributing $10 million to this construction before it really has to dig deep in the years ahead.

The fatal bullet that could have sunk an AFL Gold Coast team came from the unsuccessful league attempt to try and cajole the perennially financially besieged North Melbourne to permanently relocate to the Glitter Strip. It was never going to work in engaging the locals, and by the stubborn refusal of the Kangaroos to quit its Melbourne suburban base — the Gold Coast sporting public or the city’s corporate base were never really put to the test.

The poor response to the Kangaroos half-hearted attempt to call Carrara its home away from home that pulled dismal crowds to equally dismal fixtures was never the litmus test for why the Gold Coast was incapable of providing a viable business case for a new club built like a re-born Carrara, from the ground up. Now it gets that chance.

For the proof in the pudding of a new era for the AFL even before the 17th club gets its provisional licence speedily made into a full license by the AFL Commission, you need look no further than tomorrow night at the presently decrepit Carrara. The stadium might have started life back in 1987 as an improbable love child of Christopher Skase and his ill-formed Brisbane Bears — a geographical misnomer if ever there was one! But now the new boys behind the GC17 licence have already done enough to stroke local enthusiasm for its future; that Carrara at tomorrow night’s Carlton v Fremantle clash is in danger of being sold out.

Better still even if it can’t fill the last standing room or cheap seats — all its corporate boxes and function rooms (that together host more than 900 people) are sold out with more capacity being added. For a city supposedly now over-supplied with national franchises in three of the four footy codes and a local economy like the rest of the country on the back burner; this corporate show of strength sends the AFL exactly the sort of message it requires. That unlike its misinformed critics who see the Gold Coast and West Sydney as some massive financial black hole; what most fail to take into account outside the AFL board room, is something like the following scenario?

By adding two more clubs and expanding the home and away season to 24 rounds from the current 22, the AFL from 2012 with the next round of TV rights; could over a five year period put an extra 210 games on the table (if my quick sums are correct). Throw into that mix the ability to offer that extra game a week from nine fixtures each round; as a stand alone Monday night game — and anyone who doesn’t think that’s not going to put a whole lot of additional money into the league’s TV rights pot is kidding themselves.

Another feature of the new Carrara as Demetriou has explained is the ability to scale up the ground to a 40,000 to 50,000 future capacity as and when required.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey