Central Coast Mariners owner Mike Charlesworth is in talks over a possible ground-share arrangement with National Rugby League outfit Manly Sea Eagles, in a shock move which could see the struggling A-League club exit Gosford for good.
Frustrated by protracted negotiations with Central Coast Council over assuming the management rights at their existing home base, Charlesworth has instead set his sights on Brookvale Oval on Sydney’s northern beaches as a possible new venue for the club.
The city boasts three existing teams in Sydney FC, Western Sydney Wanderers and newcomers Macarthur FC.
And now, discussions with Northern Beaches Council - who own the 23,000-capacity rectangular stadium, are ongoing, potentially sparking a backlash from a Mariners faithful sure to baulk at the prospect of being uprooted from their iconic seaside base.
Charlesworth has long sought to tap into a thriving football fraternity, and potential fan-base, north of Sydney’s Harbour Bridge.
The club staged an A-League ‘home’ game against Melbourne Victory at North Sydney Oval in 2014, but abandoned plans for a match at Brookvale Oval the same season.
Those forays - both realized and attempted - met with a hostile reception from the Mariners fans whose palm-fringed habitat - complete with its sauce bottle mascots - is the A-League’s most quirky and picturesque arena.
The Mariners offered an ambiguous statement when contacted by The World Game over the audacious transplant plan, with an official saying: “Our primary goal has always been to build a sustainable model that can ensure the club’s long-term viability, whilst adding significant value to the A League’s growth.
“Like over the last 10 years (when Charlesworth rescued the club from oblivion), we continue to engage fully with our partners and stakeholders on the Central Coast whilst also looking at other opportunities.”
It’s not the first time the Mariners have been linked with an exit from the Coast, where the population base of 300,000 makes sustainability an on-going issue.
Previous attempts by expansion hopefuls in Canberra and Brisbane to buy the license both proved fruitless.
Charlesworth was hoping to be in a position to take over the running of Central Coast Stadium, with a recent report by consultants KPMG recommending it be farmed out to a private operator.
The proposal included establishing a W-League team, constructing retail outlets around the ground and harnessing it as a concert venue.
Were the collaboration to go ahead, the Mariners would be the poor relations, with the Sea Eagles about to share in a TV rights windfall set to net the NRL $1.9 billion over the next seven years from broadcast partners Foxtel and Nine Entertainment Co.
During the last A-League expansion round, unsuccessful bidder Southern Expansion signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with NRL side Cronulla about playing its home matches at the Sharks’ Southern Cross Group Stadium.
The Mariners are on course for a fourth wooden spoon in six years, with average home gates dipping from 8,111 four years ago to 5,504 this season.