GC United owner won't budge on crowd cap

October 30, 2009
By Jim Morton

Billionaire owner Clive Palmer refuses to budge on his controversial plan to cap Gold Coast United crowds at 5,000 and denies his besieged club is in crisis.

Iron ore baron Palmer on Friday hit back at mass criticism throughout the Coast and A-League, saying his cost-cutting response to low attendances was "taking the battle head-on".

No more than 5,000 fans can attend Saturday night's clash against Robbie Fowler's North Queensland after Palmer ordered three of Skilled Park's four stands to be closed.

It will save him at least $100,000 in paying a state government transport levy and extra stadium staff.

Not only has the move been widely attacked, a record low A-League crowd of less than 1,632 - set by the now defunct New Zealand Knights - has been tipped to watch the Queensland derby.

But Palmer, blamed by A-League boss Archie Fraser for focussing more on self-promotion than local community connections, said the measures were designed to keep the fledgling club in operation.

In a statement, Palmer said United, who have slipped to third after being thrashed 6-0 in Wellington, would not sit in denial "waiting for a miracle".

"Gold Coast United is taking the battle head-on to ensure the long term viability of the club," he said.

"Enough is enough when it comes to pointing fingers at Gold Coast United for its perceived lack of community involvement and poor crowd figures.

"Gold Coast United is not in crisis, it is dealing with a reality of a saturated marketplace, state government stadium charges and poor crowds across the A-League."

Palmer insisted 5,000 - 1.4 per cent of the local community - was not an unrealistic or unacceptable crowd figure for his new club.

He said it compared more than favourably to crowds in Sydney (0.29 per cent), Brisbane (0.48) and Melbourne (0.51) in terms of population base.

"There is a fundamental issue across the A-League with crowd numbers and because Gold Coast United is doing something proactive about it we should not be the scapegoat," he said.

Unhappy governing body FFA will not sanction United for the left-field strategy but intend on becoming heavy-handed if the club persists with the cap, setting up a major showdown with Palmer.

"I have been in business long enough to understand that simply throwing endless amounts of money at something does not build a successful venture," he said.

"It is quite the opposite; endless money builds complacency and does not encourage a challenging environment that drives success."

The move has surprised Queensland Premier Anna Bligh who believes crowds will improve soon and doesn't expect low attendances for the new Gold Coast AFL club.

Bligh on Friday indicated there were no thoughts to dropping the Skilled Park rent agreement as she visited the site of the $126 million Gold Coast Stadium re-development.

"The Gold Coast United team is a commercial business ... Clive Palmer was in a position to pay quite large bonuses to many of the players," she said.

"This is a commercial business and it's got to be able to stack up on its own.

"The long term prosperity of that club is to grow its fan base and I am confident they've got a good product, and it's just a matter of time."