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?It seems such a waste of time, If that's what it's all about, If that's movin' up then I'm movin' out.?
Only days after the Canberra Raiders celebrated their silver anniversary, aptly titled ?Twenty-Five Years in the Limelight,? General Manager Don Furner Jr dropped the mother of all bombshells on the Raiders community, stating that the future of the Raiders in Canberra was uncertain beyond 2009 - with relocation a likely possibility.
Furner may have been listening to the immortal lyrics of Billy Joel before his statement, but his rationale was clear; in the highly competitive corporate climate that exists in modern professional sports, the survival of the Raiders is becoming increasingly difficult. In a small town compared to the big business centres of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, a distinct lack of big money exists to provide the Raiders with corporate sponsorship. Couple this with the lack of free-to-air television coverage the Raiders have experienced (nine regular season matches televised in the past five seasons) that has caused sponsors Ozemail and Compuware to leave the club, and you can see the predicament. A financially struggling club with poor results and a lack of corporate support in a small town ? there is little surprise the eye of the Raiders GM has been wandering elsewhere.
The problem, it would seem, is not restricted to the Raiders ? the past decade has seen the passing of the Comets (cricket), Cannons (basketball) and Cosmos (soccer), leaving a sporting void in the nation?s capital. The AFL?s nomadic Kangaroos have brought matches a season to the ACT in the past few years, but the lure of the Gold Coast will see that deal end after 2006. Stunningly, even Canberra?s arguably most successful sporting side, the Brumbies, have dropped the regional title from their name and are considering a move to corporate-friendly Melbourne ? despite strong finances and solid crowd numbers.
Is the problem simply that the ACT cannot sustain professional sporting outfits in the modern climate? While Furner may have asked ?What are we putting it on for?? in reference to dwindling crowd support and a poor showing at the 25th anniversary match, the Raiders actually draw a bigger percentage of their local population to home matches (4.0 %, 2005 crowd figures) than every other ?one-team town? in the NRL, with the exception of the remarkably well-supported Cowboys (12.9 %) and Knights (5.6 %). Divide the population of Sydney into nine equal segments for each NRL club that calls it home and not one team exceeds 5% (the best being the reigning premiers Wests at 4.2%). This would suggest that Canberra hold their own on a proportional basis ? and considering that the current Raiders crowd average is an all-time low, this percentage has been even higher in the past.
What is the problem then? While Canberra is a small town compared to Sydney and Melbourne and there are by no means the same corporate opportunities available in the capital, it is in some ways a convenient excuse. There is no Toyota plant in Townsville, and Sanyo do not have a production line on the main street of Penrith ? yet both the Panthers and Cowboys are fortunate enough to be backed by big multinationals with money to spend and on the hunt for advertising space. The same is true for many other clubs in the NRL, and it is because they are a more enticing prospect than the Raiders currently. While television exposure naturally helps, success generates that exposure ? to put it simply, the Raiders must start winning again. At the end of the day a successful Canberra Raiders will have many a corporate backer heading down the Federal Highway to jump on board.
But for now, the Raiders act reactively, casting their eye to Wellington, Gosford and Perth. This, however, is the easy option. When the Raiders enjoyed their ?glory years? in the early nineties everyone wanted to be a part of it, and there is no doubt with hard work Canberra will once again have a successful league side. Rather than crying poor, Raiders management should ensure they get it right on the field, and the rest will follow.
To consider packing up twenty-five years of community involvement, junior development and countless memories in the pursuit of money would be a tragedy for league Canberra. I, for one, can only hope that the Raiders appreciate the old saying - ?home is where the heart is.?