(From Rugby League, to Basketball, AFL and Soccer, all codes and forms of sport have struggled to endure and survive on the glitter strip – Photo courtesy of http://www.sportal.com.au)
Beautiful one day, disastrous the next? No it’s not a new slogan or marketing campaign for Queensland tourism, but one could be forgiven thinking it’s the catch cry of the Gold Coast Titans. After enduring hit after hit, knock after knock, blow after blow, the Titans finally raised the white flag on Tuesday, surrending themselves at the hands and mercy of the NRL. The Titans, the youngest NRL expansion franchise placed itself into administration, unable to financially commit to growing debts. This had many thinking that now the NRL can once and for all euthanize the ailing football club and set up a new franchise in Brisbane effective immediately. However, contrary to what many experts, media commentators and lounge chair and bar stool warriors want to happen, the NRL reaffirmed its support and its unwavering commitment to both the Titans brand and persisting with Rugby League on the Gold Coast. NRL CEO Dave Smith personally flew to the tourist strip on Wednesday to meet with Titans officials and the executive to suggest as much and show solidarity towards a club that’s sustained more hits than Elvis in recent times. But why would he?
Three decades of failure. The Giants, the Seagulls, the Gladiators, the Chargers have all tried, tested and failed. The Gold Coast in their new life as the Titans seemed on course to join them. That did not seem to matter to the Games fearless leader. Addressing the media with a robust determination. Fielding multiple questions about the future, about the debt, about taking over the club, new structures and of course the allegations of drug supply and trafficking with it all being linked back to the impending death of the Titans as a Rugby League club. Smith and the NRL know how important the Titans are to the Gold Coast and how important Rugby League is in this part of the world. Giving up and walking away would virtually hand the AFL with a monopoly of the region. When you consider the Gold Coast junior nursery and catchment begins at Coffs Harbour and ends at Logan, just south of Brisbane, the Titans have one of the largest junior bases and pathway systems in Australian sport. 7,000 plus juniors playing ‘The Greatest Game of All’. But beyond the turf war, there is a much bigger battle the NRL and the Titans have to win, that it still hasn’t won over the community at large.
Rugby League is yet to capture the hearts and minds of its inhabitants of South East QLD’s Gold Coast. By leaving, it will be a region lost to the sport forever with Queensland as a whole not being able to shore up the entire east coast without it. The demographics, the second fastest population growth in the country, the juniors, the business community and dare we say, the tourists. They are all variables and in somewhat vital participants in the Titans and Rugby League’s long term future, viability and success. Success. Something that has been few and far between for the Gold Coast for far too long, which is not entirely their fault. Poor management both by the club(s) and the Game has resulted in mixed results and an ability to fend off continued uncertainty. No other sporting franchise has had as many brands and name, colour and jersey designs. It has been shambolic to put it bluntly.
Coincidence? Just bad luck? Or was it always destined to fail? – Photo courtesy of http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au)
Although, with the NRL now effectively owning them, there is air of optimism and renewed faith that the Titans wont follow suit of its predecessors who have been and gone before them. The NRL had to act. It had to step in. Whilst the NRL endeavours to have all of its licensed NRL franchises sustainable going forward into the future, the Titans is a perfect example of the difficult of how hard it is to keep an organisation prosperous in a volatile market and a weakening economy. But that does not mean it can never or will never work. It takes a tremendous amount of hard work and a little bit of luck (which could also be deemed as on field success) The Game could not sit back, idly by and see the Titans sink for two main reasons. The first, the $1.025 Billion Broadcast deal. Channel 9 and Fox Sports forked out huge biscuits for a product that it demands to show a minimum 8 Games a week via free to air and subscription television. If a 16 team competition suddenly becomes a 15 team comp, the contract is null and void and the NRL’s bank account is looking extremely dubious. Smith knows he couldn’t dare risk that. The Game depends on its broadcast rights deal as a fundamental revenue stream which all various stakeholders, departments and tiers benefit from as well as participant NRL clubs rely on as funding.
The second, the Gold Coast just like Nth QLD, Brisbane, Melbourne are a vital element in the game’s long term strategy. That strategy is seeing the ‘National’ in National Rugby League actually come to fruition. Franchises like the Titans, the Cowboys, the Storm are crucial for Rugby League to have a strong national footprint, securing market share, capturing new audiences and continuing to see generational growth in these respective markets long term. The Gold Coast shores up the NRL’s presence along the east coast of Australia. Which spans from Townsville to Wollongong. No other sporting code in the country covers as much ground and territory. That is a lot of terrain and with it comes a lot of interest, fans and members which keeps the sport salient. Salience is the key. Being pertinent and visible is half the battle. So whilst the naysayers and pessimists will death ride Rugby League on the Gold Coast, the NRL won’t be turning off the life support now, nor in the future. The Gold Coast are here to stay, as in the lifeform of the Titans, remains to be seen, but Rugby League will persist, it will endure and it will succeed with the right plan, the right strategy and with the right people in place to take the club and the game forward.
The legion of loyal Gold Coast fans and its growing community deserve a successful Rugby League team of their own – Photo courtesy of http://www.couriermail.com.au)
Despite the skeptisim and many death riding Rugby League and the NRL’s continued perserverance of having a Rugby League presence and representation of the Gold Coast citing failure and comparing it to urinating in the wind, the Gold Coast were actually building towards a stable, successful future during the Super League war. Aligning itself with the ARL and taking on new ownership as the Chargers in 1996, the Gold Coast made the Finals in 1997, with a no name roster compared to their counterparts. However, a political compromise ended its lifespan with the News Corp owned Super League killing off the Hunter Mariners, Perth Reds and Adelaide Rams whilst the ARL pulled the plug on the South QLD Crushers and inevitably the Gold Coast Chargers. The history of first-grade teams on the Gold Coast is indeed a chequered one former Gold Coast Chargers player, son on South Sydney’s legend John Sattler, Scott Sattler who soon would call Penrith and Wests home, was quick to point out the reasons behind the demise of the Chargers, and insisted the area can run a successful club. “Everyone keeps saying that the Chargers was a failure, which it wasn’t,” Sattler said. “It was collateral damage from Super League and was a club that financially finished with money in the bank, which a lot of clubs can’t hang their hat on.”
Should the Chargers have not been killed off, one tends to think “what might of been?” and if they would have been able to build on what they were developing and establishing both on the field and off it. Future Origin players, a future Dally M player and a clubman who pulled off one of the greatest tackles in Grand Final history for the Panthers in 2003. Throw in strong financial and commercial viability moving forward with money in the bank in an era where NRL clubs were leaking money and being propped up by News Corp and the ARL’s benefactor of Optus. No one disputes that the history of Rugby League on the Gold Coast isn’t pretty. But the Game was responsible for turning away fans, members and the community for ending the Chargers life as a Rugby League Football Club. It must accept the blame for that. The NRL owes the Gold Coast for making the wrong call, a horrendous strategic decision which deprived the region of Rugby League for 9 long years and it is indebted to not let the community, fans and members of the Gold Coast Titans ever feel abandoned and that their support for the club and Rugby League is not valued ever again.
Former Charger Scott Sattler knows how important a Rugby League ‘presence’ and representation is needed on the Gold Coast, now and in the long term – Photo Courtesy of http://www.nrl.com)