K rock Football

Cats look to reconnect

GMHBA Stadium will be at reduced capacity in 2022. (Sports Media Image/Marcel Berens)

FOLLOWING two AFL seasons impacted by COVID-19, reconnecting the club with members and supporters is high on the agenda of new Geelong CEO Steve Hocking.

After playing three matches to empty stands at GMHBA Stadium in 2020, the Cats had another three games this year that were closed to the public.

The other six were capped at various levels, with the 22,055 that attended the win over the Gold Coast in Round 10 the biggest crowd Geelong played in front of at home.

“One of the challenges, I think, for most of us has been that feeling of languishing across COVID,” Hocking said.

“And also that inability to connect in with sport and go to live events.

“That ritual that’s been there at GMHBA Stadium for many, many decades has been taken away due to COVID.

“We need to get around that – we need to bounce out of COVID. I think there’s a real opportunity to do that.”

Hocking hopes that reconnection will lead to Geelong’s ambitious plan to reach 100,000 members.

Despite the impact of COVID, the Cats were able to post a record membership figure of 70.293 for 2021.

“100,000-plus members is a key strategy for us as a business over the next 3-4 years,” Hocking said.

“We need to be a big club, and I think we’ve got a great opportunity to do that.

“We’ve got a great market in Melbourne that we need to connect with, whilst also making sure that our region in Geelong feels part of it and heavily connected.”

Work has started on the fifth stage of the redevelopment of GMHBA Stadium, with the demolition of the northern end of the ground almost complete.

Replacing the Ford Stand and the Gary Ablett Terrace will be a new grandstand that will hold 14,000 people, taking the capacity of the venue to 40,000 from mid-2023 onwards.

Hocking says the club still hopes to play nine matches at the venue in 2022 despite the reduced capacity.

“Part of ‘COVID bounce’ is nine games at GMHBA Stadium,” he said.

“I don’t think next year will be a challenge. Potentially 2023 (will be), depending on when the stadium comes online.”

Hocking says the club is excited by the prospect of having access to arguably the best regional stadium in Australia when it’s complete.

“We’re going to have a stadium that’s going to be a jewel in the region, and it’s going afford the whole of the Geelong community a range of different events.

“We’re committed to nine games at GMHBA Stadium. We’re looking forward to AFLW games as well.”

However, pushing for home finals won’t be high on Hocking’s agenda.

“During my time as CEO at Geelong, that will be an AFL decision,” he said.

“I’ve got an opportunity, in my view, to support the AFL because we’re part of a big ecosystem, and we will play our role within that. That’s our duty.

“But, at the same time, make sure all of our members get access to outstanding games at GMHBA Stadium because we’re going to have the third biggest stadium in the state.”

With demand for the venue expected to increase with the completion of Stage 5, Hocking knows Geelong’s access will be limited at times.

That has put planning for an alternative training venue back on the agenda.

“There’s a range of options,” he said. “If you have a look at the construction that’s going on in the park … can you do something there? Is there other alternatives?

“Deakin’s been a fantastic supporter of us; incredible partnership.

“We’ve got four programs we now run. We’ve become quite a substantial club, and I’ll reference the fact it’s got to be one club.

“It’s not (the) men have this, (the) women have this. It’s what can we share and support our programs with?

“That’s going to be a key focus for myself, our executive team, and our board as well.”

Twitter: @tom_king79