25 January 2014
Melbourne’s now entrenched second club, Melbourne Heart, has been purchased ironically by Manchester’s second club, Manchester City, in a $11.25m deal. Manchester City will take an 80% controlling interest in the new club, with the owners of rugby league club Melbourne Storm taking the remaining 20%. It’s expected part of administration, facilities and other resources will be shared between Storm and the new club. This will really streamline and professionalise a club that’s lacked a true homebase since inception, nor a true model for success.
“New club” you read? Let’s be realistic in that Melbourne Heart was a dead club walking, with the owners potentially handing back the license to the FFA as the inaugural 5 year stint came to completion this season. With the worst crowds in the league, a wretched playing record that’s seen only one meek finals appearance and culminated in only one win this season and a horrible branding, ethos and marketing, it became stale and stagnant and long-term unviable. Not only had it become entrenched as Melbourne’s second club, it was seen as a second rate club. It’s only redeeming feature was that the owners under Peter Sidwell managed to keep it in minor profit through the years. Their heart seemed far more in that, rather than taking the club to the next level. This profitability was mostly on the back of FFA awarding them two of the highly profitable 3 derbies with Melbourne Victory as home games for most seasons, and by closing half the Bubble Stadium to save costs for almost all other games. According to Melbourne’s Herald-Sun newspaper, the owners will walk away with a $5m profit from the sale, maybe as much as $6m. Not a bad business success.
Part of MH’s attraction of being in such a destitute position meant that Man City had power for some sort of re-branding. This was not possible with the other purchasing option in the A-League, the ultra successful Western Sydney Wanderers, still owned by the FFA. The consortium has already registered the name Melbourne City Football Club, and is almost certain to use it, just like the partnership with baseball’s New York Yankees to start the New York City MLS side. Melbourne is also seen as having far more room for growth than the Sydney club, with still a large latent base of football fans, if 95,000 to see Liverpool at the MCG is any indication. There’s simply no reason that some of these fans might see Melbourne City as an equivalent traditional and serious club, and attend some games. Two Melbourne clubs with average crowds over 15,000 should be attainable given a sound environment.
While Sporting Melbourne FC should always have been the name of Melbourne’s second club, and would still be the best choice, Melbourne City is worthy. The key issue with MH was its lack of “point of difference” from MV. To choose between the two, it boiled down to colour and nickname preference, with “heart” just a laughable comparison against “victory” as an attribute for a team. “Victory” also borrowed elegantly from the “Vic” in Victoria, and adopted the white V on their shirt in using the state’s colours. The colour red has little or no significance to the city of Melbourne, nor does “heart” have significance or any relevance. To make matters worse, the club played up the underdog tag with lame slogans like “heart believe” to inspire triumph rather than earn it through hard work and accountable results. As derisory and insipid as the nickname was, it also provided an awful series of puns for newspaper headlines, like heart beat, heart break and pulse. It was endless. All that we missed was flatlining, and that was coming soon anyway.
With “City”, the point of difference will be about identity. It’s a traditional name, and it has neutral connotations, unlike the bravado of the name “Victory” suggests. Because it is “City”, it suggests the team represents more for the city, compared to Victory a more fragmented base. With no other teams in the A-League with a “City” suffix, the team will no doubt be referred to as “City” in an abbreviated form, much as Man City is in the EPL. The FFA must protect this, and all other nicknames or suffixes in the A-League like United and FC. In a Herald-Sun poll, a whopping 81% of responders supported the name change, and it was repeated fractionally on a Fox Sports poll. If that’s not sufficient public endorsement, nothing is. The few fans of the club that like the existing nickname must make the sacrifice for the greater good. Reality is that it’s not about them, it’s about the future.
Even with the incredible investment, some history must be preserved. This can’t be a subsidiary of actual Manchester City in Australia, adopting a sky blue shirt or anything like that. The club must be seen to be independent, with a strong, unique identity. The history of the NSL has showed us how external baggage dramatically suppresses growth and maligns a club. The FFA already has requirements against this and it must be enforced. So the red and white colours remain, even if that means polishing the overall, somewhat garish, design. For their 100th match last week, MH presented a design of red and white quarters with black shorts, and far more professional. Personally it’s the sash of the away-strip that must come to the fore, becoming the motif that permeates through both home and away playing strips, the club logo and all branding. Maybe the away-strip incorporates sky-blue, like something in that colour with a white-trimmed red sash. That must be all the visible link to Manchester City.
The huge benefit of Man City is the dollars. The fans the second Melbourne club could have attracted have long since decided to return or stick with Victory. So it will be about broadening the support mostly by recruiting new fans. It could take 5 or even 10 years now. Much of it will depend on success on the field, and this is also an area that Man City’s and Storm’s expertise will come to the fore. No “name” coaches and has-been former Socceroos. The drive must be to quality coaching and players that can fulfil a role on the pitch, not that can fulfil a name to schmooze with sponsors. There’s also so many other areas to exploit in attracting crowds, notable ticket prices and membership options. Melbourne Victory present very much as the elitist club in this sense, so Melbourne City has the chance to present as the people’s club. The club for the city of Melbourne.