24 January 2024

Dream teams: How money is dictating the fortunes and future of Canberra’s national sports teams

| Tim Gavel
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Michael Caggiano. Photo: File.

Michael Caggiano is a key driver of Canberra’s A-League bid. Photo: File.

It’s hard to get a reliable read on whether Canberra will have a team in the A-League Men’s competition for the 2024-25 season.

There has been increasing speculation that the required $25 million for the license has been secured or is close to being secured.

The speculation includes questions about where the money could come from. There has been a suggestion that it could come from the UK with English championship team Sunderland, but this speculation is yet to be confirmed.

The deadline for finalisation of the funding appears to be flexible. It was initially set for the middle of last year, but it needs to happen sooner rather than later to ensure the team is ready for the 2024-25 season.

The delay in finalising funding and the license has created issues for the Canberra United Women’s team, which Capital Football currently administers.

Canberra United players celebrating

Confusion over a Canberra A-League men’s team is affecting Canberra United. Photo: Canberra United

Administration of the Canberra United women’s team will come under the control of the A-League’s franchise if funding for the men is secured.

The delay in finalising the men’s A-League team for Canberra is creating an issue for Canberra United on the player recruitment front.

At the same time, it would appear there is a certain amount of rationalisation taking place in the Australian Professional Leagues to reduce the costs of running the A-League.

Meanwhile, there appears to be renewed interest in Canberra securing a men’s and women’s Big Bash franchise following talk the competition could expand in coming seasons.

In many respects, this is understandable given the crowds Sydney Thunder games attracted to Manuka this season.

Cricket match under lights at Manuka Oval

Big crowds at Manuka Oval are a tick in our favour. Photo: Michael Weaver.

The intent is not confined to a Big Bash franchise but also includes full membership for the ACT on the Cricket Australia board and a team in men’s domestic first-class cricket.

We have, of course, been down this path before, only to be rebuffed. In the past, it has been primarily about the lack of corporate support and financial sustainability to have a Big Bash franchise in Canberra.

The lack of representation on the board hasn’t helped.

However, it should only be a matter of time with the likes of Greg Boorer driving ACT Cricket’s aspirations.

And when considering teams for the ACT, the issue of the Canberra Cannons being resurrected has been a constant for nearly two decades among the city’s basketball fraternity.

Canberra Cannons

The demise of the Canberra Cannons lingers long in the memory of local basketball fans. Photo: File.

The lack of a decent facility to host NBL games has been a roadblock. Another has been a question mark over Canberra’s ability to financially support an NBL franchise. Memories of the Cannon’s demise are still fresh in the minds of many.

There is, of course, renewed speculation about the potential return of the Cannons once the AIS Arena reopens.

Meantime, speculation around the financial stability of the Brumbies bubbles along in the background.

ACT Brumbies team photo 2023

ACT Brumbies team photo 2023. Photo: Brumbies Twitter.

The current rocky period for Australia’s most successful Super Rugby franchise is underpinned by the reduction in funding from the governing body over the years, contributing to their current financial plight.

As much as it hurts to say, in the end, the only option may be a takeover of the Brumbies by Rugby Australia.

If that happens, there would be no guarantee that the team would be permanently based in Canberra.

There have been reports suggesting a merger with the Melbourne Rebels.

Even if it’s not true, the speculation is unsettling, especially for rusted-on Brumbies supporters.

The Canberra Raiders’ financial future is secure with the backing of the League’s Club Group and a lucrative television rights deal; the UC Capitals have the backing of the University of Canberra and are a key part of UC’s sporting vision, although the team runs on a tight budget when compared to some of their opponents; while the Canberra Cavalry has secure financial backing from the team’s owners.

There is a finite amount of money to fund Canberra sport. To survive, several sports will have to tap financial backers from elsewhere outside the city’s business community.

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Indoor sports will thrive in Canberra given suitable venues. A new winter sports venue for the successful CBR Brave Ice Hockey team in the AIHL will see them go even better. A refurbished AIS will see a future NBL Cannons sell out at every home game. Relatively small rosters and condensed seasons keep costs reasonable. The Raiders are one of the few financially viable clubs in the NRL and have NRL TV money backing them. The ARU is a financial cot case and The Brumbies can’t pull a crowd in winter to the niche sport that is Rugby Union. The AFL is rich and gives us table scraps with the odd GWS game. Despite the huge participation rate, Australian soccer is the worst administered sport, outdoing the ARU for ineptitude and financial waste. Even if a Canberra A League side gets up it will be in administration within 5 years if other A League sides are anything to go by. They can’t even organise a Second Division.

Capital Retro9:57 am 27 Jan 24

How about we review how much the ACT ratepayers are already paying sporting teams either directly or via CBR, Canberra University etc.?

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