Two Into One Does Go

They say that you can’t put a square peg into a round hole, but it appears that you can put two rectangular sports into a glass box.

News that Perth Glory have moved into the wonderful facility built by the WA Government to house Rugby WA and the Western Force, after their longstanding home at Perry Lakes was destroyed to make way for housing, has fans of both codes a little concerned. Not surprisingly conspiracy theories are rife.

First of all rugby fans were happy to see their sport being given a state of the art home, but many were disappointed that those doing the negotiating did not also request a pitch as part of the move. When based at Perry Lakes, Rugby WA had its own pitch on which weekly games would be played and also the finals. A neutral venue, so there was no bickering come Grand Final day. There was also something special about playing on that ground. That was sacrificed for office space.

Football also used to be used at Perry Lakes, but at a time when the game was not run by one unified body. When all the various bodies came together under one roof, Football West, they moved out of Perry Lakes and to a clubhouse in Maylands where the rent was of the peppercorn variety. It was a move that the game would regret as it saw Basketball, Netball and Rugby Union all given new homes when forced out of their old offices.

There can be no argument that the offices in Maylands were/are well below the standard one expects a sport with the highest participation figures to have. In 2014 the Board approved a loan for the sport to purchase office space across the road from NIB Stadium; a loan that no doubt all of the Standing Committees signed off on, as being the official ‘members’ of Football West they would have had to vote for the loan to go ahead.

Negotiations have continued as the sport tries to secure a “Home of Football.” Ashfield had been the target with Football West sharing facilities with Ashfield SC; although it is believed that there were a number of teething problems when it came to the exisiting club protecting its past and its future. Then suddenly Perth Glory, who in the business plan was always going to be a tenant at the “Home of Football,” tabled demands which were not acceptable if they were to move to Ashfield. So the progress that was being made stalled.

Football West appointed a new CEO who stepped into the role in July. One of Mr Curtis’s key attributes in landing the role was that he came from a Government background, and although it was never said officially, it was hoped that he would have the ear of key Government officials to help football’s cause and have the Government foot the estimated $20million bill.

There are many in the game that feel upgrading existing facilities would be more beneficial than a centralised “Home of Football.” With the economic downturn in Western Australia Football’s dream for funding looks even less likely.

With Perth Glory being invited into the Rugby WA offices by the Australian Rugby Union, now running the struggling Western Force Super Rugby franchise it looks even less likely.

For the past six months there have been stories published that the Western Force is unsustainable as a Super Rugby team in Western Australia. That the team has struggled to gain a foothold in the West, and it cannot complete in such a small city against three other teams playing in national competitions in football codes.

Yet this argument simply doesn’t carry any weight. Soon after Western Australia was announced as the base for the new team in 2005 membership was officially launched in July and more than 13,000 people registered. In addition 400 companies expressed interest in hospitality packages. In no time the Western Force had the largest membership base of any of the Australian Super 14 teams. By the time pre-season had started for season 2006 the Force had 16,000 members. For their opening game at home a crowd of 37, 037 packed into Subiaco Oval.

Two weeks later the crowd had dropped by 8,000 to 29,000. By their third game at home they had lost 11,000 fans from that opening match. Crowds hovered around 24,000 with the exception of the game against the Crusaders when over 30,000 came through the turnstiles. In the club’s second season 2007, the crowd figures actually were more consistent and better than the first season.

At that time the West Australian newspaper was committed to the club and used to carry a four page lift out on Rugby each week of the season. Just as they had done for Perth Glory in the NSL and the early days of the A-League. This coverage ceased for both teams and both codes have now been relegated in most cases to having stories on their teams buried five pages in from the back.

One of the Force’s biggest mistakes was staying at Subiaco Oval for a third year. They had promised fans who were well aware as to how bad a venue it was to watch rectangular sport that they would only be there for two years. This broken promise saw many walk away, yet the crowds stayed around the 21,000 mark.

The hard fact is that both sports struggle to find anyone in the sporting media in Western Australia who actually understands their sports. Someone who knows what questions to ask at a press conference in order to find a story that those who follow the game would find worth reading or listening too; Admittedly a great deal of the AFL coverage is also lacking in depth, but there is so much coverage you are able to find substance somewhere.

Both codes have lost radio coverage on local stations and have been covered by the ABC. It is interesting that on the East coast some of the A-League clubs are going back down the path of having their games broadcast by local stations, which was an area that kept the game alive in the NSL and early days of the A-League, because the commercial and national stations would drop the code when it clashed with the AFL, a State election or the like.

In Glory’s case a media strategy was at one stage being dictated by the FFA in Sydney. There were so many restrictions on what they could and couldn’t do from a marketing perspective in their own market that it is no surprise that they struggled to increase their crowds.

For these clubs to succeed they need a clear media strategy to maximise exposure and that does not consist of putting all their eggs in one basket and giving exclusive stories to one TV station. All that does in annoy the others who will then be on the look out to knife the club and the sport when the opportunity arises. Do they have a clear marketing strategy? The Western Force according to their website no longer have a Marketing Manager, which is scary, while Perth Glory’s Marketing Manager is the owner’s brother Nicholas Sage, who was handed the role when his fashion magazine Kurv shut down. Whether he has what is needed to market a sporting team remains to be seen.

However it would appear that now both the rectangular sports, who will no doubt be miffed that the retractable seating the Government promised at the new Perth Stadium for rectangular sports is not going to be installed find themselves sharing an office. (Take Your Seats)

How long the Western Force will stay in Perth remains to be seen. Rugby WA will be there for a while longer. As the Rugby HQ was built by the government to house the sport and the Western Force were a key tenant, NTFS has been told that the ARU were told that if they wished to take the Force franchise back over East they had to find a new tenant or they would have to keep paying the rent. The spin on the issue is that with the ARU running the Force there have been staff cutbacks and therefore office space is available and they can reduce costs by having another tenant in there. Perth Glory fit the bill nicely.

It may mean that we will see Football West and Rugby WA sharing office sin the next couple of years. The only thing that Football West may wish to negotiate is a pitch that they and Glory can use rent free. Would UWA give up such space free of charge? Or will Football West acquiesce as Rugby WA did when it came to having the pitch they lost at Perry Lakes.

There is no doubt that the two sports could benefit from sharing offices as the problems they both face are very similar. Both receive little or no coverage, both share the same venue for home games and have to lease it rather than own it.

One question that football fans will be asking if this eventuates, and the current Football West offices have gone down in value, is who will pick up the shortfall on the loan? Hopefully this was discussed with the members when the loan was approved, and will be shared with clubs and players.

One thing is for sure the Government will be happy if this all goes ahead as it will mean that they have sorted out the Football West “Home of Football” issue without having to spend a cent. Rugby will be happy to have two tenants and a full building being utilised. All that would be left would be for the shop to become a Glory shop when the Force move over east.

Yet despite this appearing a great move for the administrators and the Government it will be a sad day for sport in WA to lose a team in an International competition. The ramifications could far outweigh the convenience. Would it result in the Wallabies no longer playing in Perth, or playing less frequently, even though we have a new stadium?

Whoever negotiates on behalf of these sports needs to look beyond the short term, and look at the long term future and the impact there. As we have seen with the WA Reds Rugby League team, once a team goes it takes a long time to come back. It will have been 20 years next year since they played their last game in Perth. With Super Rugby unlikely to expand again, Perth could end up being forever exiled when it comes to rugby union.

Two Into One Does Go
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