Monday, November 09, 2009

Why the Roar Need a New Board

The financial crisis has highlighted a dilemna in capitalist society, especially so in the United States. Simply put, some corporations and institutions have been deemed just too big to fail - the damage of letting their poor decisions break them would be so great for society that it is deemed in the public interest to bail them out. The dilemna is that if they can rely on being bailed out they are, given the normal forces of competing self-interest, likely to continue taking careless risks, knowing they'll be bailed out if their gambling fails. It's a very difficult area for governments, balancing public interest and the need to maintain the fear of failure as a basic incentive for institutions to make the best possible decisions.

It seems reasonable to me, and to many others, that if a company is just too big to fail, and hence has to be bailed out, that at the very least the entire board of said company should be replaced as a part of the bail-out package, and that the departing board members lose any extra entitlements. That seems to be the best compromise - it maintains that crucial fear of failure for the individuals on the boards at least, even if not for the institution as a whole. I know from innumerable informal discussions that many people share this basic view, and judge the decisions of governments and the actions of such companies on more-or-less this criteria.

Same goes for A-League clubs. The FFA clearly (and rightly I think) believe that it is better for soccer and for the A-League to help a club financially that to let it go bust. But doesn't that give the respective boards the message that even if they take ludicrous risks and make stupid decisions, it'll be ok because the FFA can't let them fail? Well, yes it does. Bailing them out is fine, if that's what's deemed in everyone's overall interests, but, well, you can see what I'm getting at. For the same people to continue to run the said club is absurd. The individuals involved must go if they have failed, as the only basic incentive for them to be very careful to make good decisions.

The board of the Brisbane Roar have made so many poor decisions, and have shown such incompetence in building the club in what should have been the most perfect market for an A-League club, that they really can't hold any respect whatsoever. Let's go through a bit of it.

They immediately set out to alienate soccer fans. I mean that. Oh they tried to develop 'community relations' all right, but not with Brisbane's enormous soccer playing and soccer watching community, but with some fictoid 'family' base, that doesn't drink, smoke, swear, dance, have sex, make rude gestures or actually have any passion for life. Since becoming a soccer fan a few years ago I've met hundreds of real soccer fans, mostly amateur players, people who kick about in the park on a Sunday afternoon (in Davies Park, West End, every Sunday at 4pm, incidentally), and people who have kids in teams. Guess what? Most of them are not Mormons, but Australians, of every colour, gender, religion and sexuality to be sure, but real live Australians nevertheless who live in a real world. They don't follow the A-League, almost without exception. It's not just that they haven't been reached out to, it's become increasingly clear that the Roar don't want most of these people because they don't fit into the fluffy pussy mold that the Roar (and the FFA, to be fair) is apparently aiming for.

I got a warning I'd be thrown out once for yelling the F word, and later heard stories of even the Orange Army being told that "shit" was out of bounds. Is this the real world they're trying to market to?

Now getting to the recent past, in that infamous away game against Melbourne where frankly I was disgusted by the violent bullying of Robbie Kruse by the Roar older boys. The Roar board cracked down of course... oh no, actually they didn't. They fined Tiatto an 'undisclosed sum' for giving the finger (ooh so rude!) and completely ignored Miller punching Robbie in the head. The thing about violence is it is not just a fluffy Christian issue, but an objectively ugly behaviour. False morality exposed. Later on they actually claimed that they held back on disciplining the players because Frank told them to. Um... So the Board doesn't take responsibility for its decisions? It's Frank's fault for 'telling them to'. I have to laugh but I want to cry. And meanwhile I can't help suspecting that their claim that Frank 'told them to' is utter bullshit, given their clear motives to scapegoat him.

Suncorp was ambitious in the first place, and I can't complain about that. Hindsight is not really fair, and I was among the many who thought it was fantastic - best stadium in the country, wonderful reputation as 'the cauldron' etc. But at a certain point there has to be a swallowing of ego and a recognition that it's not working. The small crowds actually made it an anti-fortress - great pitch and facilities with the intimidation factor of a possum. The away teams just loved it, even as the Roar lost money every week.

I have heard the Roar had the opportunity to buy Ballymore Stadium outright. If so, not doing so has to be counted as one of their follies. Ballymore is also a fantastic stadium, albeit with half the capacity (but still plenty for the crowds we were getting). It is also the recognised home of Brisbane soccer.

Central Coast model anyone? Wellington model? I like what the Fury is doing as well. Attempting to build a sustainable support according to reality, and engaging with an actual rather than an idealised, largely fictional community.

The FFA offered last year to buy a part of the Roar and help them out, but the offer was refused. We start to get the picture of a bunch of petulant egos that have no idea but who simply can't face it that they've fucked up.

The last stupid decision they made was sacking the coach who has had two moderately successful seasons and is himself a Brisbane soccer icon that every soccer player/supporter over 30 knows. He's probably Brisbane's number one soccer identity in fact.

It wasn't just stupid because Frank is a good coach and a drink driving charge is simply not grounds to be sacked, but let's just make the point that noone on the Board would ever be sacked for the same thing, and that there are journalists, engineers, judges, politicians and doctors who continue in their employment despite losing their licenses for DD. It was also stupid because it's going to cost them $300,000. They can't afford it. Oh that's right - it's ok because the FFA won't let them fail.

I could go on. The response to two years of dwindling crowds was the classic accountant's folly of raising the prices. "Watch my calculator - see, if you put the price up we're in profit!" Then, when crowds inevitably bottom out even more, they drop prices - twice in three weeks - and congratulate themselves for "listening to the fans." Don't make me fucking choke. We're just back to last year's model, except with even greater financial losses.

The Roar is being run by a bunch of rank amateurs and I strongly suspect they're there for the trough rather than the sport. They have no idea and they deserve zero confidence from anyone. I have no doubt that the players despise them. The FFA must be embarassed by them. Most of Brisbane's soccer fans don't follow the Roar anyway, but the few who do have zero reason to have any faith in these people at all.

The Roar - or at least the flagship men's team - have completely lost this fan. I've gotten right into the women's game, which at least has the advantage of being attacking, uncynical football. The stories about the Homeless World Cup inspire and move me. Following Jacob's team is absolute joy. Playing myself is grueling but extremely rewarding. Watching a good game on SBS gives me the pleasure of witnessing virtuosity at the highest level. If the Brisbane Roar wants my support, it's going to need a new board, a new plan, a new vision for where it wants to go.

Of course the FFA must move in. The operation must be rationalised, moved to Ballymore and concentrate on developing the support of the real soccer-loving people of Brisbane, as we find them, rather than as we want them. Of course it must be moral - it must emphasise fair play, zero tolerance of diving, falsehood and violent behaviour. Swearing, gesturing and getting pissed have nothing at all to do with real morality - they are subjects of religion.

But first and foremost, we need a new Board. Let me know when that happens will you, and I'll get back to you. Meanwhile, I'll keep loving soccer, and there's plenty of it to enjoy without stretching patience and credulity with this bunch of tossers.

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Blogger Albinger said...

Good argument Hamish - be great if the board could read your comments. I could say that I hope they keep their ear to the ground and pick up on blogs like this one but your argument rather persuasively suggests otherwise.

November 10, 2009 8:19 pm  
Anonymous wes said...

Hamish, I don't know much about the Roar board issue but I think I agree with you with the issue of dwindling crowd numbers and I think it has to be addressed by all clubs not just the Roar.

I think the prices have to go down to start with and also there could specials like kids for a $1 or something like that to try and encourage people to come and watch the football. Then there is the long term issue of things like highlights on free to air television – yes something must be done about it.

November 11, 2009 10:26 pm  
Blogger john said...

Great analysis Hamish ;)

Can't hear them listening.

I don't believe the club has the capacity to address the issue anymore. Plus FFA stepped into marketing Gold Coast with 'we can do things that work' and they are still getting 5,000.

Now we have joined them.

I agree partly on price although the EPL showed, from the 90s that high prices are OK if the entertainment value is there - even for teams not in the mix.

The issue is entertainment value per dollar - ie going to South Africa is value because the entertainment return is high. This season the number of games played in Qld has gone up by a factor of 4 but the entertainment value has gone down.

December 13, 2009 8:35 am  

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