Gold Coast United, an expansion team in Australia’s premier A-League, have already generated negative headlines it takes some teams decades to generate: “A-League may hit rock bottom thanks to the Coast,” says Adrian Musolino in today’s Roar, which also features another piece titled “Gold Coast “United” – How to lose fans and alienate people”.
The club is owned by local billionaire Clive Palmer, who when the expansion team was announced last year made some grand proclamations, stating that “We want to make this the soccer capital of Australia.” He spoke of the club winning the league in their first season, and the “great community support” they would tap into. Well, just weeks into their first season, and Palmer’s club has already managed to alienate that community support.
In a move that alienated and angered fans, Palmer limited the capacity at United’s stadium Skilled Park at the last game to just 5,000 in order to save on operating costs for the visit of North Queensland Fury and their glamour A-League attraction, Robbie Fowler (7,526 had shown up for the same match-up previously).
The response? Only 2,616 showed up, the lowest crowd in A-League history, and many of those that did protested against Palmer, Jim Morton reported:
The Coast’s most hardy fans, ‘The Beach’, protested the mining magnate’s plan to save himself $100,000 throughout a scoreless first half in an eery atmosphere.
Brandishing banners which read “Scrap the Cap”, “Fans Not Dollars”, “Cap is Crap” and “Want fans? Ask us how”, the supporters group, decked out in yellow lifesavers caps and shirts, also chanted “stop the cap” and pointed at Palmer’s private box.
The governing body, Football Federation Australia, also expressed concern over Palmer’s decision. The billionaire justified the decision because at a capacity of 5,000, the club only had to pay AUS $40,000 instead of $140,000 in rent for the use of Skilled Park.
But as Musolino wrote in the Roar, it seems awfully foolish of Palmer to alienate fans for his own poor business planning. He criticises the club for failing to engage with the local community Palmer had boasted so proudly of when the expansion team was announced.
Supporter bases are built through community engagement. And the Gold Coast has failed, badly, in this regard. The damage, sadly, may be too severe to repair.
Gold Coast’s approach seems to be an exaggerated example of the line taken by the FFA marketers regarding the A-League’s engagement with the public.
The “build it and they will come” mantra doesn’t work, not for domestic football in this country. Gold Coast has proven that it takes more than stars and results to build a franchise.
Other new franchises need to learn from these differing approaches regarding engaging with their communities. And the FFA needs to act on this disaster before the league hits rock bottom as a result of Gold Coast’s impertinence.
Palmer has a long and rambling defense of his decisions in an official release on the Gold Coast United site. He concludes by saying “the club needs support of, the media, FFA, State Government, Local Government, and most importantly, the fans.” He’s not doing well in earning that support.