AFL Debate Club: Can Melbourne afford to continue selling its home games?

Welcome to ESPN's AFL Debate Club, the column in which our writers and contributors will take one prompt from the week and put their opinion on the record. The kicker? No opinion is immune from criticism!

This week, Rohan Connolly and Jarryd Barca debate whether the Melbourne should continue selling its home games to other states such as the Northern Territory.

Can Melbourne afford to continue selling its home games?

Rohan Connolly: This selling home game concept is something to which I've traditionally been vehemently opposed. But I think the Demons' deal with the Northern Territory government is at least one on which I'd make an exception.

The home games in the Alice bring in a reported $600,000 for the club, obviously a major factor in their continuation. But there's important development work being done alongside the actual games, at a time when local Indigenous communities need all the support they can get.

Whenever you watch the Demons play at Traeger Park, you really do sense the growing connection between the club and the local community, and having put nearly a decade's worth of work into the region, it would seem pointless to wind things up now. I'd argue not just financially but morally, Melbourne has been a winner out of the arrangement.

As to the competition arguments, until last Sunday's nail-biter against GWS, the Demons had won four of their past five games at Traeger Park.

The Giants are hardly cannon fodder, either. Do we know for sure playing this game at the MCG would have given Melbourne that significant a home ground advantage, anyway?

After all, the Demons had lost two of their past three games against the Giants at the MCG. And GWS hadn't played in Alice Springs before, so that should have offered Melbourne more of a home advantage than usual.

And let's be honest, here. If Melbourne is really good enough to be challenging at the pointy end of this season, it needs to be capable of winning games against the likes of the Giants anywhere, be that the MCG, the Alice or Katmandu.

The Demons were good enough to win that famous flag two years ago despite their final four games being at Geelong, in Adelaide, then Perth. Scraping into the eight on the back of an extra game on the 'G won't cut it as far as premierships go, so yes, the Dees can afford to stick with this deal.

Jarryd Barca: I'm going to have to say no, and that pulling out of any future deals with the Northern Territory will be in their best interests.

I get all the positives about their current agreement and understand the benefits both from a commercial and community aspect.

But if that reported figure of around $600,000 that Rohan pointed out is true, then surely winning four premiership points is worth far more, particularly when you consider the scope of the season and the circumstances the Dees now find themselves in from a performance standpoint, with a top four position slowly slipping away.

Does playing at the MCG instead of Traeger Park guarantee them a win against the Giants? Nope. But clearly they would be playing with a far superior home ground advantage, in an environment where the players are more comfortable.

Plus, the Dees have been debt free for the past two years, so it's not as if they're in dire straits like they once were and are relying on the cash injection that one week in Alice Springs can bring.

You know what will never change? The fact that winning games of footy is the best revenue stream for any football club.

From 2012-2016 -- a period in which the club was in a battle for the wooden spoon with two expansion teams -- their crowds were miserable, averaging as low as the 13th best attendance and as high as the 11th best attendance per game. The Dees should have played finals in 2017 and did so in 2018 and, shock horror, they averaged the 6th best and 7th best attendance respectively in those seasons.

That's a trend that continues to this day, where the club sits 6th for overall attendance during the 2023 season after they were fifth last year.

But let's settle this debate with a bit of membership talk, shall we? For most of the last decade, Melbourne hovered around the low 30,000s and 40,000s. That grew to over 52,000 in 2021 and, after winning that breakthrough premiership, jumped again by more than 14,000 to 66,000 in 2022.

I'll let you do the maths, but 14,000 new membership purchases from one flag? That's significant to the tune of seven digits. And that's before we even talk sponsors.

Melbourne, do away with the NT, and start prioritising giving your team its best chance at premiership success. It'll be worth it.