Las Vegas Syndrome

WORDS: Craig Rice & Brian Usher Interview with Neil Henry by Greg Pride PHOTOGRAPHY Brian Usher

I was travelling home on the bus after another Titans defeat and it has me thinking… Why were the people on the bus so cheerful and jovial? Why were they all celebrating even though the home team lost and played terribly?

The Observation

After my initial observation, I turned my attention to the four people sitting at the front of the bus, all sitting quietly looking straight ahead hoping the bus would reach its destination as soon as possible so they could leave all the barbs and insults they were receiving behind them. Four people out of fifty were supporting the home team. They were proud Titans supporters wearing the team colours hoping that one day they will be successful, sitting amongst a group of people supporting a team based in Sydney!

I found myself chatting with a few of the happy winners and discover that they had just recently moved to the Gold Coast from Sydney and it was their first time attending a Titans game. It surprised me that this was their first game they have attended at CBUS super stadium considering they were such die-hard rugby league supporters. What didn’t surprise me was the fact they had moved from Sydney to the Gold Coast. The Coast has the fastest population growth in Australia with 820,000 people expected to call this patch of paradise home within the next 15 years.

Is there a reason why these southern state expats have failed to embrace their new local sporting franchise? They are happy to leave the rate race lifestyle of Sydney and Melbourne for the relaxed atmosphere, beaches and affordability the Gold Coast has to offer but won’t support their new teams located in their own backyard.

They stay loyal to the team they grew up following. Even the local school kids generally support the team Mum and Dad have always chosen. The Titans are not alone in this challenge of being a successful and prosperous Gold Coast sporting organisation.

The Suns, who call Metricon Stadium home have been a part of the AFL since 2011 and have faced similar struggles to the Titans.

A friend of mine, who is a Richmond Tigers fan, one of the biggest supported football teams in Australia of any code, invited me to watch his beloved Tigers take on the bottom of the ladder local Suns boys at Metricon.
My mate who has called Broadbeach home for the past 15 years and is a hard-core AFL supporter is another one that won’t embrace what the Suns have to offer, only ever attending Tigers games.

We arrive at Metricon and I was excited, I had only ever been to one other AFL game before, being mainly an NRL fan. It was a real carnival like atmosphere with games for kids with free Suns merchandise being handed out as you walked into the ground. Once inside we found our seats, sat down, enjoyed a sip of beer and noticed a sea of black and yellow Tigers fans completely outnumbering the red and yellow colours of the Gold Coast Suns.

The game started and from the first kick the Tigers dominated the hapless Suns handing them a 92-point drubbing.

The Tiger army went in to full voice following the final siren, singing ‘Tigerland’. Something wasn’t right…  I am sitting in a Gold Coast sporting stadium with a song from a Melbourne based team echoing around the ground.

Once again, I could not help feeling a little sorry for the small number of Suns supporters as they had to leave with with their heads down. My mate on the other hand held no remorse as he sang all the way home.
The Suns are the first Gold Coast team to enter the AFL competition, for the Titans, this is the fourth attempt to keep a team on the glitter strip, prior NRL teams were the Seagulls, Chargers and Giants.

I would hate to see the Titans end up on the scrap heap like their predecessors. So, what’s the problem?

The Problem

In fact I cannot think of a single Gold Coast based sporting team that has ever been successful in the national sporting competition, whether it be NRL, AFL, soccer, basketball, it’s all ended up the same way. They have all had financial backing, one of the Australia’s wealthiest men Clive Palmer owned the Gold Coast United Soccer club in the A league competition, which eventually went bankrupt.

There are so many sponsorship deals available here, so that is not the problem. The Suns had Gary Ablett Jr amongst their playing group whom is a duel Brownlow medal winner. The Titans, Origin and International League stars amongst their playing group, and in the past, a future immortal in Wally Lewis playing for the Seagulls and still no positive result. The playing roster does not seem to be the problem.

Put simply people just don’t like loosers. Loosers mean no fans at games and no fans at games means no ticket sales and eventually no ticket sales means BROKE!

Even Clive’s pockets weren’t deep enough.

The Cause – Las Vegas Syndrome

The majority of professional footballers on the Gold Coast earn very good money. As full time employees of their respected clubs they plenty of spare time on their hands and pockets fulls of cash. A somewhat leathal combination for young men. They live in the party capital of Australia not dissimilar to America’s Las Vegas. By definition the Las Vegas Syndrome is simply too much of a good thing and not enough of the right thing.

The human body cannot perform at its peak without a strick professional approach. Games are won and lost in terms off millimeters in modern sport and not enough sleep or that one beer the night before a big game could be the difference between winning and loosing.

It sometimes seems that on game day they forget how to tackle and win footy games. No passion to win or have they just been too busy having fun in tinsel town. It doesn’t matter if they lose , they still get paid big bucks and still get to live in a city where they are given its keys but in many cases are too young and immature to have the licence to drive it.

The GC teams have drawn some big name players to the clubs, with brown low metalists joining the Suns and State of Origin and international players joining the Titans. Still with no success and with some of these big name marquee signings eventually getting dropped to reserved grade for poor performance we continue to loose.

These young men are just living the dream, playing the sport they love whilst living in a beautiful location. The Gold Coast is no different to Las Vegas. Both struggle to have successful sporting teams and the only thing they seem to be able to win is the Wooden Spoon. Take a look at the 2019 season. Both the Titan’s and The Sun’s managed to win the Spoon. Well done… NOT!

So who’s fault is it?

The players, the coach, the management, the media, the culture, the fans, the city or a combination of all? More often than not the scape goat is the coach. They sack him and all will be great next season but it never is.

The Players? Certrainly but why do once Internations and Origin Players turn to shit once they join the Titan’s? The Media? Do they hold the players to account for their weekly poor performance ?

The Solution – The Hip Pocket

The end game is ultimatly fans that religiously turn up, spend their money and support their local team and put bums on seats for every home game. So how do we do this?
It’s simple – WIN!

Give the fans something to cheer about and they will come. More easily said than done. Winning is complex in professional sport with many different stakeholders outside of the players and the coach. Both The Suns and The Titans have had on many occassions a great group of players and a highly regarded Coach but we still manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on an all too consistant basis.

If we keep doing the same thing there is no doubt we will get the same result. With another season approaching The Titan’s have a new head coach in Justin Holbrook. Is he just another lamb to the slaughter as previous coaches or will this year be different. The Suns have been given some great player opportunities through this years draft but again is this just more of the same?

As I often say to my wife, “Give me solutions not problems” !!! Not received with open arms but this is certainly what we need. If we address the Culture and require the players to take a far more professional approach to all aspects of the game both on and off the field we will be half way to a winning team. No late nights, No alcohol, no drugs, curfew times, strick training requirements, strick eating requirements and so on.

Surprise drug and alcohol testing will ensure compliance. Anything less and management is kidding themselves. These are young men that are easily suduced  by the trapings of the Glitterstrip. Sex, Drugs and Rock & Rock. They need to be managed within an inch of their life and then we will see a winning team. They are not Rock Stars as they may have been led to believe, they are football players  that cannot have a Burbourn and Coke before they go on stage.

If you fail a drug or alcohol test there must be financial implications. If you consistanly perform bady it will hurt their back pocket. If you get dropped to reserve grade it will cost you big time. Money Talks!
Contracts need to address issues in failure to comply and perform. They are not here to party and chase girls. They are here to win football matches!

The Media

If the Collingwood Magpies or Sydney Roosters , 2 of the biggest clubs in AFL and NRL performed bad and lost by a big margin with a lack lustre performance ,the Melbourne or Sydney press would be all over them demanding answers as to what happened and how the problem will be rectified.

Paul Kent, James Hooper, Danny Weidler are three of the biggest rugby leauge journalists in Sydney and are hugley popular in newspapers and fox news programes but are less popular amongst the players association because they get in and demand answers from the players and coaches.

Hard hitting questions that the teams on the Gold Coast seem to be able to avoid. The players need to be held to account and I feel some tougher media reporting is what is needed to keep the players mind on the job, and the job is to win footy games and give the community a team which we can all be proud of. We need The Bulletin and both Channel 7 and Channel 9 to rip them a new one and show no mercy when needed. Doing community activities and feeling warm and fuzzy just does not cut it. WIN or go back where you came from.

Make Gold Coast your Team

So how do we convince people that now call the Gold Coast home to embrace and support our local teams rather than enjoying their defeat at the hands of their old club from Sydney or Melbourne?

Considering that 99% of the people that live here are part of the ever growing migration from down south this is a huge issue and one that requires a cleaver approach. Winning teams will certainly help but we need bums on seats when their Sydney team is not playing.

We want them there to see and support the Gold Coast team with passion and commitment just like their favourite team from down south.  Maybe we need to simply accept that the local GC teams will never be their Nu. 1 team but maybe they can be their Nu. 2 team. Maybe we should acnowledge this and do season passes that give them free access to all the games of their team from down south for no charge.

Embace their love for footy showly bring them over to their new local teams !!!  There will be no magic bullet but winning games and making the final 8 will definatly fill the stadium with fans and make the Gold Coast the best place on earth to play and support all codes of footy.

Start WINNING – it’s that simple!

At cricket training the other day I overheard some of the parents discussing The Titan’s and The Sun’s and their poor performance last season. “My son wanted to go and see a Titan’s game and my response was not a chance I am spending that sort of money to watch us get our arses kicked !!!” This summed it all up for me. Maybe considering the community sentiment both codes need to offer up free tickets to the games or at least heavily discounted tickets. No one wants to pay full price to get their arse kicked week in week out. Start winning or die. It’s that simple !!

Past Coach – Neil Henry

“I think the reason national sporting franchises have struggled on the Coast is more to do with financial viability” – Neil Henry

WHEN it comes to the frustrating failures of Gold Coast sporting franchises, Neil Henry is not so sure that the so-called ‘Las Vegas Syndrome’ is to blame.
But the former Gold Coast Titans coach says there are other reasons why national teams struggle to shine on the Glitter Strip.

“Talking about the Las Vegas syndrome and players getting distracted by the bright lights of Surfers Paradise is a bit simplistic in my opinion,” says Henry, who coached the Titans from 2014 to 2017 before being unceremoniously sacked.

“When I was involved with the Titans, the players themselves decided there was no need to go into central Surfers where they could potentially get into strife. I’m sure the Suns had a similar self-imposed ban on going into Surfers.

“I think the reason national sporting franchises have struggled on the Coast is more to do with financial viability.”

Henry, who has also coached the Canberra Raiders and North Queensland Cowboys, says many Coast residents are either retirees or work in the volatile building and hospitality industries ‘and they don’t have a lot of disposable income’ to spend on going to the football.

“It’s a tough market to get money out of,” he says. “There’s lots to do on the Coast and a lot of it is free. Going to the footy is not cheap, especially for families, and you also have the issue of no parking at Cbus Stadium (Robina).

“You also have the problem that big businesses don’t have their head offices on the Gold Coast, so the financial support isn’t there like it is for teams from Sydney and Melbourne. So a lot of factors make things difficult.”

Rather than the ‘Las Vegas Syndrome’, Henry says, it might more be a case of Coast sporting teams being afflicted by the ‘Chicken or the Egg Syndrome’.

“People on the Gold Coast need a successful team to come and watch,” he says. “They need to be consistent and have a good record playing at home, but the local franchises seem to struggle to get the players of the calibre you need to perform and draw the crowds.

“(Titans founder) Michael Searle and (foundation coach) John Cartwright did a great job with their initial recruitment and they were one game off the grand final in 2010.

“But to be able to draw the crowds, you have to be able to sustain the quality of the team and the performance of the team. Everyone likes a winner and the Titans haven’t been able to back it up, unfortunately.”

Henry says the fact the Coast’s population is made up largely of interstate migrants is another factor making it difficult for sporting franchises to survive and thrive here.

“You go to a Gold Coast home game and Titans or Suns supporters are often outnumbered by fans of the visiting team,” he says.

“Many fans that have moved here from interstate stay loyal to the teams they’ve always supported. That’s going to take a generational shift, where their kids grow up as Titans or Suns supporters. It’s happening, but it’s going to take time.”

Henry says while the AFL pours tens of millions of dollars into the Coast to sustain the Suns, while also providing massive recruitment concessions, the NRL does not prop up the Titans anywhere near the same extent.
“It’s a bit of a case of sink or swim for the Titans in comparison to the Suns,” he says.

But despite their many failings on and off the field, Henry remains optimistic for the future of the Titans.

He believes Titans owners Brett and Rebecca Frizelle and Darryl Kelly have the business nouse to turn around the club’s fortunes, with initiatives including a new leagues club at Oxenford.
Henry says his former club, the Cowboys, took years to achieve success and the Titans – formed in 2007 – are still a relatively young club.

“They haven’t been around that long and you’ve got to give it time,” he says. “I think if they can get some consistent success on the field, the crowds and money will follow and the community will have a club they can be proud of.”