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Geelong And The Home Final

With the season already eight rounds in and Geelong sitting on top of the ladder, there has been some pre-emptive discussions floating around about when, and if, the Cats should host a home final. This talk is speculative and is being partly driven by the Cats themselves, who have already begun the conversation with the AFL (Geelong CEO Brian Cook is on record last week stating that he has approached Steven Hocking about the idea).

Geelong has previously hosted a single final at their home ground (A 15-point Qualifying Final loss to Fremantle in 2013). It was a bitter pill to swallow for the club. The final attracted a crowd of 32,458 people, which was 1,500 short of the ground’s official capacity, which lies somewhere around 34,000. This should increase to around 40,000 once the northern end of the ground is redeveloped in 2021.

Let me first state that I am not saying Geelong should play the likes of Hawthorn, Collingwood, Essendon, Richmond or even Carlton in a home final. Any All-Victorian final should be played at the MCG. This is about why the Cats should play every interstate team at Geelong, outside of a Grand Final.

There are some fair arguments on both sides of this topic.

Most people agree the AFL is about money. They can spout that they care about the fans but they really only care for the fans enough to take money out of their pockets and put it in theirs through memberships, advertising, merchandise, subscriptions and ticketing.  It’s no surprise to anyone that the AFL doesn’t like the idea of limiting their revenue by moving the prime fixtures of their season to a venue that’s potentially locking out tens of thousands of prospective attendees. Particularly when the league takes the entire gate. It was reported in The Age this week that the AFL can make around $20 Million from ticketing during the finals alone.

The direct flow of this argument is that more people will be excluded from attending a game of footy. With the only teams plausible of consideration to play a final down the highway being from interstate, it’s safe to say the majority of these people will be some of the 60-thousand odd Geelong Members. In 2013, many Geelong members were very happy to miss out on tickets if it meant the Cats had a better chance of progressing to the next stage of finals through home ground advantage.

While the common joke from Kevin Bartlett is “Geelong has only lost twice at Kardinia Park since Federation” the truth is the cats have lost about 10 matches there (including that final) of the 89 matches held there since 2007. That is an 88% win rate. You would assume any team who wins that often at a stadium, would want to play there at every available opportunity. Victorian based interstate supporters would be the main disadvantaged group in their desire to attend finals, should a final eventuate. You don’t include members in this argument as both teams’ members would be given equal early access to ticket sales (each team receives a designated allocation) for any final, prior to the general supporter (standard AFL operating procedure).

However, based on the AFL’s own model, they should be allowing Geelong to play home finals in Geelong against all interstate teams. Particularly after the 2016 preliminary final between GWS and the Bulldogs which drew a crowd of 21,790. This could’ve easily been held at the SCG or ANZ stadium but was played at the then-Skoda stadium, despite its limited capacity in comparison to the other two facilities. The AFL has also indicated that, in a similar vein to GWS, should Gold Coast make the finals (and not be playing the Brisbane Lions) they would play at Metricon, which has a capacity of 25,000 (11,000 less than GMHBA). Although, it must be noted that the AFL has shown some consistency in this area, as in 2016 it played the Sydney Swans vs GWS Giants at ANZ stadium, foregoing the SCG for the extra capacity, which was rewarded with over 60,000 people in attendance (12,000 more than the total capacity at the SCG). The only place the AFL has lacked consistency with this policy is in Victoria, with Geelong. I understand that there were stadium deals in place at the time, but the AFL has shown that it has the ability to work around these sorts of deals, where possible, or convenient.

Another popular argument is that the Cats already play home games at the two Melbourne venues. Listening to the Cats CEO, Football Manager and Head Coach, it becomes clear that the Cats have repeatedly stated that they ask for 11 home games in Geelong every year, since the year GMHBA’s capacity hit 28,000. It is a well-known and repeated statement from the club that Geelong makes far more money from a home game at GMHBA Stadium than any game at Marvel, and that the club would need 80,000 people to turn up to the MCG to get near the financial return of playing at home in Geelong.

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And let’s nip the “Geelong struggle at the MCG” argument in the bud. The woes over previous years at the ground are likely attributed to the fact the Cats have played quality teams at the venue, as well as not being the best team themselves. You only have to look back at the 2007-11 era when the team barely lost, simply because they were the best team. I don’t believe it has that much to do with the dimensions of the stadium. The Cats are three-for-three this year against Collingwood, Hawthorn and Essendon. Which is a pretty good record in itself and is surely enough to begin evaporating this argument. The Cats have two games left at the home of football and, if they win both, that should surely end the talk of the team struggling with the wide expansions of the ‘G.

There is an argument from fans of other Victorian clubs that the Cats have an unfair advantage at Geelong and it should not be allowed during finals. There seems to a bitterness involved when this argument comes up. One can only assume the supporters and members of these clubs feel slightly wronged that their clubs abandoned the desire to play matches at their traditional homes and that therefore no club should be allowed too. It’s an interesting argument, where all Melbourne teams have done what was needed for the good of the competition (particularly those based at Marvel) and now suffer from a lack of home ground advantage against half of their opponents.

Victoria is such an interesting landscape in terms of its AFL stadia and their deals. The MCG, Marvel and GMHBA, with constant talk of a possible new Melbourne Stadium at Punt Road or Olympic Park being bandied about over the last few years. GMHBA is often not considered when these discussions about the Melbourne venues is conducted, as it is “too far away” to be considered for the majority of Melbourne clubs. So why should the team based there be consistently lumped in with their opponents up the highway when their home base is not afforded the same consideration. Should the Cats be held to the same conditions as the other Melbourne clubs? I guess it depends on how closely you align Geelong as being a part of Melbourne.

Geelong persisted with their home venue through some pretty dark times in the 1980’s and 90’s, before the arrival of the REAL holy trinity in Brian Cook, Frank Costa and Stephen Wells. I know this isn’t the holy trinity everyone is used to hearing about but this is the one every Geelong supporter recognises. Wells arrived in 1998 and has filled the club with premium talent on a consistent basis without necessarily having the best picks and trade options. This has been assisted slightly, with the introduction of free agency in recent years, but with recent picks such as Gryan Miers, Tom Atkins and Tim Kelly, Wells continues to demonstrate his aptitude as the best recruiter in the game. There is also something to be said about the contributions of the two coaches who have delivered premierships during this time, but without the players Wells had chosen they would not have had the talent to do so.

Cook and Costa came to Geelong in 1999. The two men began a journey to financially correct the club from its terrible debt situation and dilapidated stadium. Together they lobbied, saved, haggled and invested their time and money into the club to change it from considering relocating half of its home matches to Melbourne, to now wanting to play all 11 in Geelong. They have turned the stadium into the premier regional facility in the country, with a modern look and world-class training facilities and amenities, whilst remaining the heartbeat of Sleepy Hollow. Should the Club and recently recognised “city” of Geelong be recognised for their investment and persistence to develop a first-class stadium?

If you ask the right person, they will tell you that a regular season game held in Geelong injects anywhere between $1-2 million into the local community. The bars and pubs are full. The nightlife gets a boost if the Cats win. The speed/red light cameras probably generate a little more revenue. I’d even say the parking inspectors get excited by a game in Geelong.  This could only be amplified by the presence of a final, particularly a night final, though we’d probably like to see speed cameras left out of the equation. Drive safely, people.

We know where Cats supporters stand. It’s a matter of where the general supporter and the AFL falls in terms of their perception of fairness. Should the Cats have the right to host a home final at their actual home ground, or should the AFL be providing the opportunity for the maximum amount of people to attend, regardless of not reaching capacity?

It’s a question that will potentially be answered later this year, with the current AFL ladder featuring five non-Victorian teams in the top-8. And history states that final 8 usually only changes by about one or two teams from this point.

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