Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Not the final word on this expansion business

Yesterday while I was cruising around the western suburbs with a mate, I deigned to check Twitter on the off-chance that something interesting might have come up in my feed, and I saw this:
It's a fair supposition to make, but sadly for the interlocutor, a mistaken one. I have been calm, I am perfectly calm, and I will be calm - probably - no matter the result of today's decision on expansion by FFA, and even if the decision is only announced tomorrow. My emotional investment in this matter, though it has gone through natural variations in mood, has mostly remained in the same spot since whenever this latest iteration of A-League expansion began: in appreciation of the process as a superlative example of high farce

That being said, I acknowledge that this is perhaps a minority view - anecdotally at least, South's extant supporters are either very much for, or very much against the South A-League bid succeeding, for all sorts of legitimate and arcane reasons. If I have been seen to project a certain aloofness on the matter, it's perhaps only because everyone else has been so emotionally invested in the result. That, and I have become exhausted by the nonsense surrounding the process, especially as it sat alongside our worst season in at least a decade, perhaps worst season in 40 years.

(And if nothing else, such dithering, meandering, quasi-thoughtful analysis should be the final proof that this blog's main writer is only the voice of a singular Hellas fan, and not a de facto spokesperson for our seething masses.)

To be fair, FFA - and a good number of the A-League teams - have been dragged kicking and screaming even to this point. They need to expand, but they cannot afford to expand; worse, they cannot afford not-to-expand, in an ever more congested sporting market which demands they expand. It is a competition which has the feeling of staleness and which is being asked to add new blood, which will probably only end up alleviating the issue of stagnancy for a couple of years at best; and that's under an operating model that everyone thinks is broken.

Neither do the current licence holders really want teams that would infringe upon their territory, even if evidence - in the form of the Western Sydney Wanderers - suggests it could strengthen club identities and brands. Out of the six remaining bids, only Canberra would unequivocally avoid cannibalising an existing franchise's fan base, so there will be at least one successful bidder - assuming that FFA don't a Honey Badger - that will take away supporters from an existing team.

The likelihood however of a Canberra is low, because of course it is a small television market and Fox Sports - they who fund the league, or at least fund the capacity for A-League licence holders to make manageable losses on their investment - want more derbies in our two biggest cities, they being Sydney and Melbourne. Of course, Fox Sports probably won't fund this pending expansion by providing extra funds for the extra content likely to come about from expansion, and thus we have FFA and assorted related entities making noises about giving the prize away to the highest bidder.

As for ourselves, I'm not going to argue that the ethnic angle isn't a factor in both private decision making and public agendas. What I will say though is too many South fans make too much of that issue, ignoring our bid's genuine weaknesses. These include flimsy attempts at claiming territory, when our historical and latent support (if the latter still exists), is spread throughout Melbourne - and it is spread throughout Melbourne in part because that's how Melbourne sport works, but also because Greeks are spread throughout Melbourne, but that's not a fact that people want to amplify.

And as much as Lakeside Stadium actually exists, unlike the stadium offerings of our local bid rivals, it will also need work to bring it up to scratch. Putting aside the issue of the running track, at present Lakeside seats just 5,500 patrons, and has what might be called at best unconventional corporate and media facilities. It is unavailable for large stretches of February and March because of athletics events and the grand prix. The playing surface is routinely affected by athletics events.

Contrary to the South bid team's PR, a South A-League franchise would by necessity cannibalise supporters from the two existing Melbourne A-League teams; of course the hope is also that our latent supporter base which has kept away from both us and the A-League would come out of hiding, and that some curious neutrals would take the Hellas plunge. Maybe there's some hard core market research the bid team has done in this area that none of us are privy to.

There could also be concerns around liquidity and the proposed ownership model, which runs counter to the way A-League teams have come to be set up. But that's not to diminish the South bid's perceived strengths, among them extant women's and youth teams, an extant stadium, and an extant (even if comestible with regards to its size and loyalty) supporter base. But the duty of South fans for the sake of the club is to be truthful, even if they can't be objective, though I acknowledge that pushing such a line is a Sisyphean task.

But none of the extant bids is a slam dunk. They each have some combination of significant financial, demographic, infrastructural, and conceptual problems, and if I were to put on my South Melbourne Hellas conspiracy hat - and the club really should make such a cap available at our merch stand - the reason this process has dragged out so long is entirely plausible - that however lacking in certain aspects a South bid may be, FFA knows in its heart of hearts that a flawed South bid is still far ahead of at least four of the other bids, and thus they must delay the process until such time as some other solution can be found.

And if one thinks this can't or wouldn't happen, look at the way South's attempt to buy out the Mariners licence looked like it was leveraged by FFA to push Mike Charlesworth to buy out the whole of that franchise. This was back in the days when I would make bold and reckless pronouncements such as:
My ultimate position, for future reference 
  • a member run and owned club 
  • called South Melbourne 
  • playing in blue and white 
  • with all games in Melbourne 
  • with approval granted for entry by the members
which in retrospect also contains a lot of room for weaseling out of these promises should anything which deviates from such a model actually manage to get up.

But when I'm in a less conspiracy mongering frame of mind, knowing so little about what is actually being offered by our club, in addition to the parlous administrative state of FFA and the A-League, I can't really offer my support for a South A-League bid, nor can I really argue against it. So much of what's been going on exists in the world of behind doors politicking or, even worse, in the cesspool revealed when one searches for @smfc in Twitter. 

At this moment, for me the South bid exists solely in the abstract or under a conditional framework, which is true I suppose for every bid - the only difference being that unlike the rest of the bid hopefuls, should we fail to secure a licence we'll kick on for another season at state level as has been the case since 2005. It's not ideal, but I'd argue that it's better than nothing.

But if one were forced to choose to support a South Melbourne related A-League bid being selected over any of the alternatives, I would do so for the following reason - to see if any of those people who claimed that they would stop supporting the A-League if South Melbourne (or any ethnic team) were allowed in, would actually follow through on that threat.

Of course, there are also the matters of Wellington Phoenix and their death row existence, as well the second division and promotion-relegation hullabaloo to consider, but it's not like that any of matters.


  1. My comment on SuperMercado ....

    "I read this back then, but didn't pick up on your decision to focus on the Melbourne Football Club once they become really bad and needed all the support they could muster. It is somewhat akin to my decision to return to South Melbourne.

    Secondly, I witnessed the Victory fans attack our supporter's in 2016. I was not aware that nearly all the trouble in 2007 was ALSO caused by Victory fans!"

  2. Well, that was fun!! Can we now re-focus on the season ahead?


A few notes on comments.

We've had a lot of fun over the years with my freewheeling comments policy, but all good things must come to an end. Therefore I will no longer be approving comments that contain personal abuse of any sort.

Still, if your post doesn't get approved straight away, it's probably because I haven't seen it yet.

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