Richmond has paid dearly for selling its home games.
Photo: Getty Images
At the end of 2012 the Richmond Football Club will hold the dubious honour of being the only team not to have beaten Gold Coast in their first two years of existence.
Every other club has taken four points off the Suns at least once, including GWS. But not the Tigers, who are 0-2 after twice meeting the Suns in Cairns and having the grins smacked from their faces.
Richmond's practice of selling matches to interstate markets has been a profitable one off the field. The club banked a reported $500,000 for a one-off game in Darwin in 2011, and is believed to be receiving a similar amount for three "home" games in Cairns across 2011-13.
But what else are Richmond forfeiting in the bargain? In Darwin they lost to Port Adelaide by 15 points; one of two wins the Power would enjoy all season. Had the Tigers hosted that game (and the Gold Coast game) in Melbourne they would have likely won. Richmond finished the 2011 season 12 points adrift of eighth place.
The compromise is even dirtier this year. Saturday's loss to the Suns could actually be the difference between the Tigers making the finals for the first time in 11 years. It is possible that – with wins over Carlton, Brisbane, the Bulldogs and Port – the Tigers will finish four points off the eight.
Selling games is profitable but on-field success is invaluable. Not only in the immediate sense – ticket sales, a bonus payment from the AFL, merchandise and so on – but also in the run-on effects. A successful club is a well-supported club and thus more likely to attract sponsorship dollars. A successful club can build a brand to carry it through lean years.
Richmond's brand is being cheapened by its Cairns deal. The Tigers are the league's laughing stock right now. They lost to a team with a 0-14 record, and the carryover effects of the travel and the Cairns humidity could prove the difference against a well-rested North Melbourne the following weekend. It's "Ninthmond" rearing its ugly head again. What sponsor would want to be associated with that?
No, the best way for an AFL club to make a buck is to win games. Always has been, always will be. The head honchos at Punt Rd decided to gamble their on-field success to hit boardroom targets and it has backfired. Perhaps colossally, depending on how the rest of the year plays out.
The current agreement with Cairns expires at the end of next season, but noises from the league suggest the Tigers will be approached to extend. It would be folly to renew. The Suns are only going to get better as they mature, making the bargain even more lopsided than it already is. A new contract would be akin to the club agreeing to forfeit one game a year for the cash. It's sabotage.
One suggestion being floated is that the agreement is altered so that Richmond play another interstate side in Cairns instead of Gold Coast, giving them the kind of advantage that Hawthorn enjoys in Launceston. That idea will sit uncomfortably with fans around the league, because why should their clubs shoulder the burden of Richmond's poor business decisions?
In any case it's unlikely to happen. The AFL likes Richmond playing in Cairns because they want to drum up support for the Suns. The party line that the trip up north is to boost Richmond's presence is nonsense. This deal is about Gold Coast; Richmond are just the suckers who took the money.
The Tigers have one of the bigger supporter bases in Melbourne, big enough that they shouldn't need to sell games again beyond 2013. The windfall from a successful season, with crowds peaking as Richmond march towards finals, would far exceed whatever Cairns can offer. The AFL could very well shaft the Tigers with an away game at Cazaly's Stadium every season but at least the Tigers aren't giving away one of their own.
Tigers CEO Brendan Gale has said repeatedly that the Cairns deal was made in the best interests of the club. The Richmond Football Club's only interest should be to win. To jeopardise that now, when the playing group is starting to resemble a finals side, would be incredibly short-sighted.
Follow BigPond Sport on Twitter: @bigpondsport
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.