The NRL's Gold Coast Titans are believed to be suffering from severe financial difficulties. The Titans franchise is the fourth incantation of a rugby league franchise hosted by the famous holiday strip that began with the inaugural Giants, then the Seagulls, followed by the Chargers. The Gold Coast is also home to the A-League's Gold Coast United, which has recently had its licence revoked by the FFA. It is also home to one of the newest AFL franchises, the Suns. It is considered a strategically important area by many major sports in Australia, and the AFL are believed to be supporting the Suns franchise to the tune of A$20m annually to help them compete not only within the AFL but also against rival codes in the area.
The Titans are in debt primarily because of massive investment in their Centre of Excellence, a state of the art training facility, gymnasium and conference facility. It was recently trumpeted as one of the major attractions for NSW and Australian centre Jamal Idris signing a lucrative deal with the club. Now they want to offload the facility to pay down debt. Meanwhile they have signed Queensland forward David Taylor to a sizeable deal and are believed to be targeting boom Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk in a three year deal rumoured to be in the vicinity of A$800,000 a season. They are going cap in hand to the newly formed Australian Rugby League Commission pleading for help while they turn things around.
Sound familiar? Well, while the Gold Coast and Otago rugby stories are different given their contexts, they also show a remarkable similarity in the continued belief that teams in severe financial trouble will somehow trade their way out of debt, but only with handouts from the games governing body and hopefully the local council. I struggle to understand why this can continue to happen. To me, if you can't make it work, then it needs a major overhaul, and maybe even considering closing up shop. The problem lies with the involvement of local government in stadium investments. Once the government is involved in a facility project, it is not in their best interests to have a major tenant of the facility is about to go under. The Otago rugby debacle showed this all too vividly with the Dunedin City Council admitting that they would be worse off without a rugby team than with a heavily indebted one. I'm not too sure of the ins and outs of the Skilled Stadium on the Gold Coast, but I suspect the strategic importance of the Gold Coast to the NRL will see them take a supportive stance.
Lets not forget also the reaction from rival clubs too - and the precedent that is now being set. Getting into financial trouble? No worries! The NRL will help! The CEO of the NRL was on record this week as saying that he believed saturation of teams within Sydney was important to the League's long term viability. What message does that, combined with the Gold Coast situation, send to Sydney clubs? Will we see more clubs facing financial pressure in future? There have always been clubs in financial trouble, as it is notoriously difficult to make ends meet with sports teams. The present incentives, though, don't help the situation. It would seem that a financially responsible sports league is fast becoming a contradiction in terms.