THERE is something rotten in the state of Queensland footy.
Both the Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns are the cause of great anxiety for the heavies at AFL House as the league now has to deal with a crisis up north quickly and smartly.
Whilst the anguish at clubs like Collingwood and Richmond recently are minor in the grand schemes of both clubs’ respective histories and the narrative at Fremantle has now been spun into one of opportunity, the demise of the South-East Queensland clubs is far worse.
The Gold Coast Suns have essentially, in their sixth year, eradicated any concessional leg up the league provided, the very much necessary concessions imperative for consolidating their admittance into the league. Without such concessions the expansion franchise essentially fails before it begins, and a snapshot of what that would have looked like is now a reality before our eyes.
Their initial intake of mature age talent was a failure at best and whilst some of the a-grade draftees remain on the list the combination of the go-home factor will soon tempt too many and the culture imbedded for those who stay loyal looks irreversible.
80km north the Brisbane Lions were a marketer’s dream just over a decade ago but such are their performances of late they are now a marketer’s nightmare.
The greatest enticement to the sporting public of Brisbane to become invested was the triumph of the three-peat of 2001-2003. Nothing can do more for the growth and sustainability of an Australian rules club in rugby league heartland than securing three premierships in a row.
However, a mere dozen years on from their last grand final appearance and the remnants of said success and momentum gained are as long gone as the Bears and Fitzroy who yielded them.
Into 2016 and it’s been just horrendous.
The Lions sport a record eerily similar on the ladder to the makeshift Bombers, a team who failed to score a goal in a half of football on the weekend. Interestingly their only win so far was over the fledgling Suns which then speaks volumes for their level of performance this year.
Since they played one another last month neither is yet to win another game and their combined average losing margin is well over ten goals.
Further, every home game they play is essentially neutralised as the support from their fans is on par with, if not below, the level of support for their opponents. The Gold Coast seldom have the majority of the crowd when they play at Metricon and the outnumbering of Magpies fans to Lions fans Saturday night in Brisbane was staggering.
Incidentally, the other side of the Tweed, despite similar struggles with also being relatively new markets and combating a rival code in their backyard, the Swans and Giants are very much in the black.
Sydney, the relocated South Melbourne, monopolised AFL in the nation’s most populous city; they have become niche in a city of grand proportions and the on-field results only boosts their entrenched off-field success.
Moreover the Giants, handed arguably the hardest task of all, the western suburbs of Sydney, have nailed their embryonic stages. In 2016 they look not only on track to become what headquarters would have hoped but a sneaky chance at silverware come the Spring. Their present looks fantastic and their future looks downright scary.
So why is it going wrong in Queensland? The league is bound by strict draft and salary cap measures to ensure equalisation and that all eighteen clubs can expect successful periods if they bide their time and conduct good governance.
Sadly this is not going to be enough for the Lions and the Suns.
South East Queensland now is far from the ideal place for draftees and free agents alike. Teenagers recruited to either club will long for success and home, the lack of the former increasing the lure of the latter.
Free agents would be crossing out Brisbane and the Gold Coast very early on in the piece, being attractive a destination as holidaying in rural Scotland over Christmas.
It really is a crisis, the plight of both clubs is as dire as it could get and with a look of quicksand about their future if something isn’t done.
The Queensland public will be switching off their televisions, or moreover switching to the all-conquering Brisbane Broncos and North Queensland Cowboys, let alone physically attending home games.
The money is not only drying up for both clubs’ coffers but the debt of the Lions is only surpassed by the financial car crash that the AFL is bankrolling in starting up the Suns.
So sadly, yet rather annoyingly, the AFL needs to step in and take greater control to steer both clubs, not just one as Leigh Matthews said midweek, into a path of stability and sustainability.
Left to their own devices and by the evidence plainly visible to all both clubs would have the whiff of Fitzroy about them in five minutes time and unlike 1996 where the league could accommodate the option, in 2016 the league cannot afford to lose clubs.
It’s a very much undesirable remedy and largely unfair to those working so hard to make a fist of it like the Western Bulldogs and Port Adelaides of the world, yet the Brisbane Lions and Gold Coast Suns are at such a critical crossroad in both their journeys.
The AFL technically runs the Gold Coast already but needs to step up their involvement. As a comparison, the league essentially implanted a chief executive and coach into Melbourne such their problems – they need to repeat a similar strategy for both Queensland clubs but on a much larger scale.
Without divine intervention, be it the Gods, AFL House, or both, the crowds will continue to decline, the dollars will continue to evaporate and the results both on-field and off-field will be cast in concrete so strong it will become a stain on the country’s preeminent code.
Something’s got to give. And now.