Along with western Sydney, the Gold Coast has been seen as the go-to market, a growing area that is fertile ground for professional sports competitions.
The land of sun and surf, the Glitter Strip on Queensland’s south-eastern tip was supposed to be the lucrative place of success for Australia’s sports codes.
How wrong that has so far proved to be.
There are, of course, many positive factors about the Gold Coast. It is one of Australia’s fastest-growing cities, with strong interstate migration and a burgeoning population of more than half a million.
It a huge tourism area, pulling in visitors from both overseas and around the country. And it has an enviable climate and lifestyle, devoid of the traffic snarls or close density of other Australian cities, as well as a history of producing world-class athletes. But that’s where the positives stop.
The Gold Coast also has a lot of negatives about it – Queensland’s annual 2010-2011 police report showed it is the state’s crime capital.
In July last year the Queensland Police Union labelled the Gold Coast as Australia’s crime capital.
But the area’s underbelly goes further. Unemployment on the Gold Coast is rife. According to recent data unemployment numbers are growing, though other research disputes this, and unemployment is higher there than the Queensland average. Some reports put the Gold Coast’s unemployment rate at 6.4%, compared to the national rate of 5.2%, and on some parts of the Coast “unemployment is estimated to be as high as 13%”.
Despite it being a kind of mecca for retirees, the Gold Coast also has a large young population. This is estimated as being around 19% of the total population, and its close proximity to the large NSW town of Tweed Heads means there is an overflow.
The Tweed Heads area stretching down to Byron Bay faces a lot of the same issues – high unemployment, restless youth, terrible public transport. There is little for young people to do, and with few job opportunities, some turn to crime, drink and drugs.
But despite all this, a love of sport in the area remains strong. There is an abundance of beaches and fields for the sports mad to follow their passions.
Successful athletes from the Gold Coast (and Tweed area) in recent times include Sam Stosur and Bernard Tomic, Grant Hackett, Sally Pearson, Tommy Oar, James Brown, Sara Carrigan, Ky Hurst, countless NRL players and many, many more.
But this doesn’t mean that professional football, rugby league, AFL and NBL clubs can all prosper on the Coast at the same time. With a large working-class area where cash is tight, unemployment is growing and public transport is woeful, attracting large crowds is always going to be tough. Exorbitant stadium deals hardly help. Just having a rich owner to bankroll the club is not enough. The FFA has found this out the hard way with Clive Palmer.
Success on the Gold Coast needs strong grassroots connections, partnerships with local junior clubs, school programs and affordable ticket prices. It needs support from the local media, especially the Gold Coast Bulletin, and effective marketing. Winning on the field also remains paramount. Even with all that, there are no guarantees.
The news that the Gold Coast Titans are struggling – and could face the axe should come as no surprise. Gold Coast United has been a failure and although a savior may be found, the tough road is only beginning.
Relying on tourists from South East Asia to come to the football regularly is a bit of stretch.
The Gold Coast Suns are being propped up by the AFL’s endless cash coffers. Even with the AFL’s powerful backing, it is still very tough for the Suns. They cannot rely on draft picks, tourists from Victoria coming to games and novelty NRL cross-code players generating interest forever.
The Gold Coast has already seen many sports clubs die over the years. Rugby League’s Giants, Seagulls, Gladiators and Chargers. The NBL’s Cougars and Rollers have also gone under.
The city still has its fair share of top-line sports events with the annual NRL All Stars game, the Magic Millions and Rugby Sevens, not to mention the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the cards. The IndyCars were dropped back in 2008 but there are attempts to revive the event.
Rationalisation and consolidation of the Australian sports market is inevitable. The Gold Coast may be appear to be all golden but it remains a fragile market with hardly the sturdiest foundations.
Any sports body entering the Gold Coast needs to start small, get locals on side, know the city intimately and build slowly, otherwise they are doomed to repeat the failures of the past.