Given North Melbourne’s recent history, it’s not surprising to see the club cop some criticism as the prospect of playing four home games a year in Hobart becomes more likely. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go ahead with it.
Assuming there’s a financial component on top of the usual membership and revenue boost associated with such forays, playing games in Hobart makes too much sense. The place is footy-mad, has a population bigger than Launceston – or Darwin for that matter – and is yet to really feel the presence of an AFL club.
That combination provides the perfect opportunity for a club like North to come in and try to emulate the success of Hawthorn’s Tassie push playing out of Launceston.
So long as it’s done right, with no mention of the move being a “short-term fix” and with a genuine commitment to Hobart, the potential is too big to ignore.
Naturally, though, North Melbourne’s involvement has irked a few people. A day after Jeff Kennett suggested any move into Tasmania would be a precursor to permanent relocation, Caroline Wilson yesterday wrote a particularly scathing piece in The Age.
“The truth is North Melbourne is pushing to move part-time to Tasmania because it cannot afford to sustain itself at Arden Street and Etihad Stadium – when it assured its members and fans that it could and would. It has taken less than three seasons of the new board to break that promise,” Wilson wrote.
To be fair, you can at least understand where she’s coming from.
Chief executive Eugene Arocca did say in February 2008 that the days of the “travelling Kangaroos” were over. President James Brayshaw did make a big song and dance about the club’s future being in Melbourne after rejecting the AFL’s Gold Coast relocation offer in 2007.
And yes, the Kangas have gone through three “second homes” in just over a decade, much to the disappointment of fans in Canberra and on the Gold Coast.
But this is more about the future than it is the past. And even then, it’s not like Brayshaw and Arocca have only just started to look beyond Melbourne for new opportunities – throughout 2008 and 2009 the club were pushing for an annual Subiaco home game, and the club are also building strong ties with Ballarat.
Their commitment to their fans was to have 11 “home games” in Melbourne. As the Hawthorn example shows, that’s still going to be possible.
The system of clubs being able to sell away games as part of membership packages has ensured the Hawks still sell 11 Melbourne games to their Victorian-based members, and the same will be true for North.
In fact, the Hawthorn example is able to dispel quite a few of the myths being put out there by those opposed to any games at Bellerive Oval. You don’t hear people question whether the Hawks are really “a Melbourne club” or if they are living up to the expectations of their Melbourne fans.
And why would they? Before playing out of Launceston you would hardly call Hawthorn a powerhouse club, or even a “big” club. Now, thanks to their Tasmanian partnership – and a premiership as well, it must be said – they are definitely one of the powerhouse clubs of the comp. They have over 50,000 members for the second year running, something no one thought possible not too long ago.
If anyone doubts whether Hobart can have a positive impact at North Melbourne, one look at what Hawthorn have done provides a handy reminder of what’s possible.
For some, though, that simply isn’t enough. Wilson’s piece contains several attacks on Brayshaw’s reign as president and the club as a whole since the Gold Coast offer was turned down.
She even goes as far as criticising the club for entering negotiations with the Melbourne Tigers over sharing their Arden Street facilities with the NBL club, despite shared facilities being quite common among AFL teams. (See the relationship between Carlton and the Melbourne Storm, and now Melbourne and the AAMI Park tenants.)
Meanwhile, Arden Street aside, she makes no mention of the promises that have been met by Brayshaw and his team. These have included increased football department spending (to the tune of $3 million), increased sponsorship (up nearly 200%), increased membership (from around 23,000 up to almost 30,000) and the dissolving of the shareholder structure.
There’s no mention of being on track for a third-straight profit, either. And when she presents the club’s average home game crowd figure for this year, there’s no mention of the horrible fixture handed down by the AFL, with six home games against interstate teams.
While several media outlets have hinted that an arrangement for North to play in Hobart is imminent, we can only wait and see.
The Tasmanian government have ruled out sponsorship as an option (they are the major sponsor of the Hawks) however that’s not to say they won’t be involved in any deal. Both Cricket Tasmania and the AFL are also pretty keen to get a deal done, which reportedly could see North pocket as much as $3 million per year.
Unfortunately, though, that money, if it does eventuate, will come with a hefty serve of innuendo.
“We are the North Melbourne Football Club, we are based out of Arden Street and that isn’t going to change,” Brayshaw said the other week.
“We are not relocating anywhere, and I don’t know how many times I have to say that,” Brayshaw said yesterday.
Judging by some of the reactions so far, he’ll be trotting out these lines for a while yet.