9 April 2024

Don't let Canberra United die: The push to stop Capital Football from falling into a $500,000 hole

| Claire Fenwicke
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Sue Read with two young Canberra United fans

Sue Read is working to keep Canberra United on the pitch: “This community just doesn’t want this team to die.” Photo: Save Canberra United Facebook.

The first steps have been taken to link up a passionate fundraising group and Capital Football to keep Canberra United on the field.

Save Canberra United working group (SCU) was launched when it became clear that Capital Football was facing financial difficulties.

New CEO Samantha Farrow released a statement in late March explaining that the club intended to have Canberra United on the pitch for season 17, “subject to improved investment”.

“Capital Football continues to explore all avenues to ensure that Canberra United take the field for Season 17, seeking new sources of investment having exhausted traditional revenue and funding streams,” she said.

Former Matilda and working group leader Sue Read said that initial discussions with Capital Football and SCU’s own due diligence had estimated that the club needed to raise about $500,000 for the professional team to go forward.

“This community just doesn’t want this team to die,” she said.

A fundraising campaign was launched on Friday (5 April) to come up with $300,000 in two months.

It’s expected the money raised will go directly to supporting Canberra United and elite women’s football, including covering coaching and support staff, training facilities, uniforms, performance support, accommodation, meals and nutrition, transport and other wraparound support.

As of Tuesday (9 April), it’s already raised over $47,000.

Capital Football is working to get the other $200,000.

Ms Read said while SCU may have longer to raise the cash, there is still an urgency to meet the deadline.

“The board needs to have confidence there’s going to be enough money around so [the club] won’t fall into a $500,000 hole.”

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A group from SCU met with Ms Farrow and Capital Football chair Angelo Konstantinou on Monday (8 April) to discuss where to go from here. A contract is now being discussed to align both sides’ objectives.

A statement from Capital Football described the meeting as “productive” and that it looked forward to working with SCU.

“Capital Football will be providing regular updates on the situation, likely beginning later this week, outside of which there will be no further comment made at the moment,” it stated.

If Canberra United can’t play in the 24/25 season, the money raised will be redirected to support elite women’s football.

A not-for-profit trust is being set up allowing people to make tax-deductible donations.

“We’ll still need a pathway for the women coming through … if there are no academies, then there’s no feeder groups [to professional levels] for women in the area,” Ms Read said.

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Capital Football has invested more than $2.5 million in Canberra United across the past two seasons and has doubled the club’s annual budget since 21/22. It is the only member federation that runs its own A-League side.

Ms Farrow has previously said the rising cost of running an A-League side has had a “significant impact” on the bottom line.

“The Canberra United season now comprises 22 games, as opposed to 12 games in 2020/2021 and 14 games in 2021/2022. This has considerably raised the cost of running a full-time professional side and has put significant pressure on our financial standing as evidenced by the reported deficit in 2022, with another deficit anticipated for 2023,” she said.

“Capital Football has over 15,000 participants across all areas of our game. Continuing to run at a loss will affect each individual and the ongoing viability of our competitions, making additional sources of revenue vital to our success.”

The ACT Government included $250,000 in the recent budget for Canberra United and offered a 50 per cent payment in advance of the agreement to help with upfront running costs. It’s unclear if this offer was taken up.

It provides $2.5 million to the Western Sydney Giants to hold three home games in Canberra.

Ms Read urged the ACT Government to do more.

“I want to keep encouraging the government to raise their amount of funding, which I don’t think is unreasonable given the funding being put into men’s sport,” she said.

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Heywood Smith10:27 am 12 Apr 24

Someone needs to audit Capital Footballs financial statements for the last 5 years, i bet there will be some interesting findings..

@Capital Retro
Thank you for the link and I agree interesting reading.

$1m to Canberra Rowing Club for “Boathouse redevelopment” … I wonder how many spectators they get to their regattas – assuming they have them.

William Newby7:31 am 11 Apr 24

How is this a government problem?
How many sports do the ACT Gov currently fund just to keep them alive?

@William Newby
I imagine GWS would play any games in Canberra if they didn’t get a $2.5m handout from the ACT govt.

How much revenue versus the investment does GWS bring into the ACT? Ticket sales, accommodation, retail, hospitality, uptake of kids playing AFL, media deals, etc? I am keen to know.

@Tony Martin
I too am keen to know, Tony. Feel free to enlighten me. And if GWS is so beneficial to the retail and hospitality industries, why don’t they put up the money to bring them here?

I don’t know hence why I asked.

Roberto Bettega6:49 pm 10 Apr 24

The issue is not just about the cost, although that’s hefty enough, it’s really all about the new A-League license destined for Canberra. Both teams will need to be under the one umbrella at that point, so in all honesty, I don’t really understand why an individual fan would want to put their money into this. Canberra United as you now know it is gone. It’s gone for good. Wait for the new billionaire owner to come in, and they can fund the whole kit and caboodle.

“The ACT Government included $250,000 in the recent budget for Canberra United”

If so few people turn up to watch your team that you need to drain taxpayer dollars to support you, it’s time to admit that there is simply not enough interest to justify your continued existence.

If they can’t fund themselves, just let it die and spend the taxpayer dollars on more appropriate outcomes like schools, hospitals and maybe some actual road maintenance as a bunch of our highly utilised roads are in a disgraceful state.

If that is the criteria to be applied, then the Brumbies would have disappeared years ago, and in their poorer times, Raiders would be out the door too.

Your approach assumes there is no public benefit associated with professional sport. Some may argue that to be the case, but I suspect most probably don’t agree.

JS9 – There is FAR more public benefit to be had in funding healthcare and infrastructure than people running around kicking a ball and I’d love to see anyone attempt to make a remotely credible argument to the contrary.

Are any of the other clubs around the country paid for by their local governments with taxpayer dollars? It definitely sounds like a matter of a small population and an unpopular sport that isn’t financially viable.

Playing devil’s advocate, of course there’s more public benefit in promoting sport. No-one travels to get sick or admire your roads. They’re background services everyone expects, even when it’s uneconomic for the number of direct beneficiaries. Sports funding is an investment in better population health, local small businesses and regional tourism at the very least.

“Are any of the other clubs around the country paid for by their local governments …”

Did you actually read the article, Bob?

ACT govt is shelling out $2.5m for GWS to play 3 games in Canberra.

Justsaying – Yes, I did read it and I am against that as well but we were talking about the Capitals not the men’s league.

If they can’t provide a business case where the financial benefit outweighs the cost in taxpayer dollars then it shouldn’t happen. There are FAR more important things to be spending money on in this city than this.

Clearly the fact that they can’t get sufficient crowds to make themselves remotely, financially viable, shows we should just let it quietly disappear without throwing even more taxpayer dollars at it.

While I acknowledge your opposition to the $2.5m payment to an ‘out of territory’ team, I don’t see any business case was required before Barr penned the agreement with GWS … mind you there are a number of areas where business cases have been lacking with the Barr government.

I personally would be happier to see a one-off bail out grant for a local team to hopefully survive, then a bribe to keep a Sydney team coming up the highway every now and then.

Stephen Saunders4:30 am 10 Apr 24

25,000 people turned out, for that lousy Australia v Lebanon fixture. Canberrans really want to keep football in Canberra.

But Football Australia and Australian Professional Leagues aren’t remotely interested, they maintain their deathly silence, they hate Canberra. They’d rather have another team from New Zealand. Or Easter Island.

Stephen Saunders – If they can’t make enough money to run the team, even with hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, Canberrans clearly don’t want to keep women’s football in Canberra all that much.

We don’t have the population or interest to support such a team, that’s just the reality of the situation.

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