2008 Report Card: James Brayshaw

Over 12 months ago, James Brayshaw led the campaign to Keep North South and won. In the process he took control of a deeply divided Board and administration. After a monumental year at the helm, Rev. Shinboner takes a look at James’ performance in the job.

We Are North Melbourne

On that fateful night at Dallas Brooks Hall, Brayshaw boldly declared that the Club would officially revert to its original name, North Melbourne. The faithful were elated. While merchandising practicalities meant that the change would be delayed for another season, it was great to see North Melbourne, not the Kangaroos, listed on the AFL ladder again.

And the change has been more than just symbolism. Throughout the season fans were reminded of a monumental shift in the Club’s direction; a return to its local heartland. Whether Brayshaw had planned such a declaration or whether he was swept up in the emotion of the night is unknown. Either way it proved an inspired decision.

A New Board

Brayshaw’s first task was to rebuild a deeply divided Board. The big decision made this task a little easier, with all pro-Gold Coast Board members resigning immediately. This gave Brayshaw a once-in-a-generation chance to hand pick the replacements. Denis Pagan, former player Carl Dilena, AFL tribunal advocate Will Houghton QC and Perth businessman Geoff Lewis were all signed up.

Individual Board member contributions are difficult to judge from the sidelines, but in my mind the unity of the North Melbourne Board has been a key feature in 2008. It is impossible to understate its value (just look at the constant instability of Richmond and St Kilda).

Only Denis Pagan disappointed. While a solid choice as a Football Director, it was always fraut with numerous pitfalls. Would Pagan piss off Laidley and the Football Department? What actual director experience and expertise did he offer? Would he say something stupid to the football media? In the end Pagan fell on his own sword, publicly declaring coaching ambitions. This was in direct conflict with a role as a Football Director, rendering him near useless. He resigned towards the end of the season with no real damage done to anyone but himself.

The No. 1 Draft Pick

Immediately after the rejection of the Gold Coast offer, the Club’s CEO, Rick Aylett, resigned. Withholding any judgement on Rick’s performance (well actually, I thought he was average) this could have been deeply stabilising for the new Board at a critical time of North’s rebuilding. Who on earth was up for the monumental challenge of making North sustainable now?

James Brayshaw got on the case and began to woo Collingwood’s No. 2 man – Eugene Arocca. Clearly capable of the CEO role, Eugene just needed convincing, which was no small task looking at North’s balance sheet. But fate was on Brayshaw’s side. Eugene was pissed off.

Having missed out on the CEO role at Collingwood to Eddie’s man Gary Pert, Arocca was ripe for the picking. So when Brayshaw sounded him out, Arocca was interested. But it wasn’t until Brayshaw rocked up at the Arocca household for a casual beer that it clicked. Eugene knew then that what he yearned for at Collingwood was waiting for him at Arden St. He was ready and willing.

But Brayshaw didn’t stop there. Like a hopeless lover asking for a daughter’s hand in marriage, Brayshaw sought Eddie’s permission; he needed his support in the AFL Club meetings, and raiding the talent-base of the Collingwood administration was not going to get it. Reluctantly, Eddie agreed and the coup was complete. (Given that North lost well-respected CEO Geoff Walsh to head up Collingwood’s football department not so long ago, he could hardly argue.)

Undoubtedly, this has proved to be Brayshaw’s crowning achievement. Eugene’s expertise and dedication across all areas of the Club’s management has proved invaluable.

A Call to Arms

Brayshaw pleaded with North supporters to back-in the fateful decision with memberships. 22,000 for season 2007 was pitiful. When he asked for 30,000 I told him he was dreaming.

The response was staggering. To reach over 34,000 members was beyond even the most optomistic of expectations. There could be no greater affirmation of Brayshaw’s leadership than this result.

But some perspective is required. The stars could not have aligned better. An improbably Preliminary Finals berth in ’07, a defiant stand against the establishment and the fear of failure pulled on the heart-strings of all North supporters, as well as many others. With reports of large numbers of ‘sympathic’ members, the 2009 figure will perhaps be a more realistic appraisal of where North is at.

Network Vodafone, Oh Yeah!

Brayshaw had always promised a big major sponsor conditional on North staying in Melbourne. And he delivered. Vodafone signed up for a reported $1 million. No one could argue with that.

Five White Knights

Recognising North’s terrible balance sheet, Brayshaw promised to find 5 backers to invest $2 million each for 5 years (interest free). The money would be invested in revenue generation and allow North to begin a long process of building up its assets.

12 months on and nothing has materialised. It is undoubtedly Brayshaw’s biggest disappointment, both personally and publicly. A global financial crisis is a pretty good excuse, but Brayshaw has stoically refused to concede, stating that it is simply an ‘imperative’. Rumours in August said that there was still one definate and one probably backer up for the task, but things have drastically worsened since then. How Brayshaw tackles this issue has the potential to define North’s off-field success for years to come.

North vs Melbourne, MCG, 12 April

Brayshaw declared that the attendence at this match would define the Club. An impassioned plea was made for all fans to turn up. Anything less than 25,000 was a failure.

On a perfect Autumn afternoon, less than 20,000 rocked up to the ‘G for one of the most dour white-washings of the season. It was a low-point for North’s otherwise astonishing off-field season. While there were many culpable absentees that day, there was only one who felt the full wrath of the football media – James Brayshaw. He was calling another match at Docklands for Triple M.

Defending himself to the end, Brayshaw pointed out that when he took on the role he made it clear he would be fulfilling his broadcasting commitments and would not be able to attend all home matches. But as a media man, he should know all too well that internal understandings mean nothing and perception is everything. No matter which way you look at it, the symbolism of Brayshaw’s absence was disappointing. How he handles similar conflicts next season will be telling.

Arden St

Since the late 1990s, the rebuilding of Arden St’s embarrassing facilities has been talked about at. 2008 saw the plans finally accepted and the funding delivered. About bloody time!

The Return of the People’s Club

Another Brayshaw promise was to rid the Club of the convoluted shareholder/member structure. It seemed a difficult sell, but no less imperative; the AFL had made that much clear.

But Brayshaw delivered, due in no small part to the vision of the Club he and Arocca sold to the shareholders. It was a truly Extraordinary General Meeting which saw the people once more gain full control of the Club they loved.

Conclusion

It is difficult to appraise Brayshaw’s year as anything other than a resounding success. While the milestone achievements of membership, sponsorship, the Arden St development and a return to a membership-owned club are enough in themselves, the Brayshaw style has been an undoubted asset. Clear communication is something of a novelty to the impassioned North Melbourne member, and Brayshaw has made a point of changing it. Even putting aside his advantageous media positions, the difference has been marked.

Rarely has there been a better time to support North Melbourne. This is due in no small part to Brayshaw’s contribution over the past 12 months. May his reign continue on such a successful path.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “2008 Report Card: James Brayshaw

  1. Watching the ‘Keep North South’ campaign reminds me a lotof the battle to get South Sydney back into the National Rugby League (after the NRL booted them out after attempts to get them to merge with other clubs). They had massive public protests, lots of high profile support (Andrew Denton, Russell Crowe, Peter Holmes-a-Court among many others) and lots of legal battles.

    They finally won, were reinstated and are back to the same crowd sizes as before they were booted out and are in a “financially challenging situation.” They may have gone to all the hard work of staying alive as club only to die due to lack of funds.

    North supporters have got to get to games and become financial members if North are going to successfully withstand the pressures to move them out of Victoria.

    I hope they succeed.

  2. Richmond’s comment is correct. Modern elite AFL, which North Melbourne have been so successful at (in fact were pioneers of in the 1970’s and 1980’s), can be financially ruthless so North have got to get and maintain a good financial foundation to avoid being swept up by the AFL’s profit seeking winds.

  3. revshinboner

    I agree whole-heartedly with the sentiments of both commenters.

    But with respect to membership and attendance, there is some perspective required for 2009. For the first time in a decade, North will play all eleven home games in Melbourne. This is a double-edged sword.

    With respect to gate receipts, North will effectively take a $1.2 million hit, which was guaranteed through the Gold Coast home games. The stadium deals at both MCG and Docklands are incredibly unfavourable, to almost all tenants, not just North Melbourne (this is the AFL’s justification for Annual Special Distribution grants). Despite North averaging around 30,000 patrons in Melbourne in 2008, their net profit from these games was no more than a couple of hundred-thousand dollars. This means 2009 will be tough in this respect.

    However, North’s revenue per standard membership will increase by a 10-20% margin, due to the increased number of home games. This will effectively insulate North from a proportionate drop in membership, should it happen in 2009. But hopefully North can stay up at around the 30-35,000 member mark, and increase its membership revenue again.

    But really, it doesn’t matter how you look at it, 2009 will be another benchmark year for North Melbourne’s on-going survival as a Melbourne-based club.

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