Investing in the Future, Who Picks up the Bill?

When Tennis Australia took over the running of the Hopman Cup from Paul MacNamee there were many in Western Australia who feared that Western Australia’s days of hosting the event were numbered. Despite assurances from Tennis Australia, and a far superior venue hosting the event, The Perth Arena, and the WA Government continuing to support an event that is synonymous with Perth, there were still those who felt that Tennis Australia was looking for any excuse to take the event over East.

At the weekend a story broke stating that the facilities used by the players at the Tennis West Centre in Burswood were not befitting former World Number one Roger Federer. Tennis West chief executive and Hopman Cup general manager Michael Roberts was quoted in The West Australian as saying, “It’s not a great look that Roger was out there in our facility,” he said. “The courts are fine at the moment but he goes into a building where the gym is falling apart. We’re probably lucky that we haven’t been picked up by the ITF yet, that what we’re providing isn’t up to scratch.”

“The gym was put together in a room that has had a few walls knocked down as we’ve expanded. It’s not great, it’s not a great advertisement for the event.” He continued “If we want to keep these players coming back at a high level, we need to make sure that every aspect of our tournament, that includes the facilities at the State Tennis Centre, are world-class.”

These comments raise a number of questions, the first is knowing that this event is an annual event, why are the facilities not up to scratch? Why has Tennis Australia or Tennis West not invested to ensure that they meet the required standards of the ITF. How long have the facilities been below par, and has Roger Federer’s profile been used to try and force funds out of the government? Or is this an excuse to take the event over East. Most important of all how has Tennis West allowed the faculty to fall to a level that is unacceptable and puts tournaments such as this in jeopardy?

The answer may well have been in the same article which stated that Tennis West has created a masterplan and business case with the Department of Sport and Recreation to redevelop their current Burswood site. This project, it was reported “will cost about $46 million, with the $16 million replacement of courts to provide 22 outdoor courts, four of which would be clay, the most pressing requirement.”

So maybe this was a strategic move by Tennis Australia in conjunction with Tennis West to squeeze money out of the Western Australian Government. Yet should the Government continue to be expected to foot such bills?

In recent times we have seen the Perry Lakes Athletics stadium fall into such a state of disrepair that the Government had to erect a brand new Athletics stadium just down the road. Perry Lakes was created by the Federal Government to host the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, and the stadium was a gift to the state. Yet did the state look after it? Some would say that the state let it fall apart.

The demise of Perry Lakes was a costly one as once a decision was made to redevelop the site the Department of Sport and recreation had to find a new home, so too did Basketball, Rugby Union and Netball who all had their head offices at the venue. All were built new facilities by the State Government.

Maybe the various State Governments are to blame. As it was a previous State Government that agreed to give the WA State Football Commission, which was created in 1989, the management rights for Subiaco Oval. In fact their website states that one of the Commission’s roles is to “Manage Domain Stadium (Subiaco Oval) or other sporting stadiums and provide guidance and planning for the efficient use of other football facilities.”

In 1999 the State Government invested $35 million into the stadium and converted it into an all-seat venue. Yet because it is such an awful venue and areas of it have simply not been maintained adequately, and brought up to date the Government has now invested in the Perth Stadium at a cost of close to $1.1billion, a venue that will probably be used more by the Australian Rules code of Football than any other.

The AFL’s revenue reached half a billion dollars for the first time in 2016, with an increase of $33m to $506m. The AFL’s profit however dropped by $10m to $2.5m, which the AFL advised was expected when they revealed their financials.

The league also negotiated its record $2.5 billion broadcast rights agreement, which is due to start in 2017. Incredibly the AFL distributed $245.2m to its clubs in 2016. up from $218.3m in 2014.

Now the Clubs and the AFL maybe would not have the funds to build Perth Stadium, but there are many who say as the major tenant they should have had to invest a percentage into the stadium, and they have the funds for that.

In fact as sport becomes more about business than sheer competition there are many who are questioning why various Governments should continually be expected to fund sporting venues and facilities. Why is it that the high profile sports seem unable to manage their own affairs and at least be able to pay some amount towards the cost of these facilities or at least maintain them.

Football in Western Australia is another sport that has been chasing the State Government asking for money since 2013, to create a “Home of Football.” With the Football Federation of Australia negotiating a new television deal worth $346million commencing in July 2017, many again feel that the FFA should be coming to the party and contributing to the cost of Football West’s $45million plan. As stated in November the cost was $30million in 2015.

Yet unlike the AFL, the FFA’s revenue remained static in 2016 and it’s financial position worsened slightly by the sum of $646,000 to see the organisation make an overall loss of $387,000. The previous year the FFA recorded a modest surplus of $259,000. Yet the FFA are far from open in how they reach their figures, and do not provide a breakdown of revenues.

Unlike the AFL, the FFA do have a number of national teams to support, who participate in international tournaments, and the report stated that the cost of team and administrative employee expenses was $23.5 million in 2016. This figure increases to between $32 million and $35 million in a World Cup or Asian Cup year, and is offset by the contribution from FIFA for participating in the World Cup finals.

At the announcement of the new television deal the FFA’s CEO stated that $3 million a season would be allocated to attracting more marquee players like Tim Cahill to the Hyundai A-League. If there is genuinely a need for Western Australia to have a “Home of Football,” and such a thing would increase the development of young players in the state, then surely some donation should come from the Game’s governing body as an gesture of goodwill?

In March last year Hockey Western Australia was another sport that joined the queue to ask for money to improve facilities. They want to improve the Perth Hockey Stadium, again a gift from the Federal Government, in order to maintain their International venue status, and with the Hockeyroos and Kookaburras elite programs based in Perth they have a very strong case. Yet they are not only looking to do work on the stadium, they want to help grown the game by delivering two regional artificial turf fields in Gosnells and Cockburn. A move they say will “substantively redress disadvantage in these regions. Perth’s existing (10) artificial turfs are mostly concentrated in more affluent areas, including three at private boys schools.”

Hockey would be the poorest of the four sports mentioned, as it struggles for media coverage within Australia, yet interestingly they appear to have done more to raise money than their wealthier counterparts. Their proposal to meet all of their goals is expected to cost around $19.4million. To their credit they have already secured $10.3M in pledges for their project. They are seeking assistance through the Federal Government’s National Stronger Regions Fund (NSRF) for the remaining $9.1M.

So how does a Government decide who should get what money? Does it come down to which sport the Minister of Sport follows? Or is it who has the best Lobbyist? Should the Government fully fund these sports who generate millions and subsidise the clubs in their competitions or should they focus on those sports who give the state international coverage such as Hockey and Tennis? Maybe the various sports should be assessed on their current funding and promotion of the sport at junior levels?

Certainly one feels that there has to come a time when the larger, higher profile sports need to start putting their hands in their pockets and making a bigger contributions to their sports at state level. Even a contribution of a million a year for five years would be better than expecting the State Government to be the sole contributor.

Investing in the Future, Who Picks up the Bill?

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