The Melbourne Cricket Club faces a looming dilemma about possible membership refunds should the coronavirus crisis wipe out hope of AFL fans attending MCG matches before the end of August.
As debate heats up about whether supporters can and should be able to request a partial or whole refund from their club for the 2020 season, MCC members are in a different position given their annual membership dues were paid for a 12-month period that began at the start of last September.
The AFL remains confident of getting through a 17-round season.Credit:Getty Images
In that time, MCC members have had access to AFL finals, Big Bash League matches and international cricket including the first Boxing Day cricket Test between Australia and New Zealand at the MCG in more than 30 years.
In a message to MCC members after the AFL announced the 2020 season was suspended, president Michael Happell said the MCC was unable to give clarity about potential refunds or returns to members if additional events and games scheduled for the event are cancelled.
"The global COVID-19 pandemic is still evolving and until the club can understand the full impact it will have on the 2020 AFL premiership season, we're not in a position to give an answer at this time," Happell wrote.
"We will keep members updated as the situation continues to unfold."
An MCC spokesperson said the club was getting a lot of queries from members via social media but due to the overall uncertainty of coronavirus no further decisions had been reached.
"People have gotten value out of their memberships so far," the spokesperson said.
The club also has to factor into their considerations that even if the AFL is able to resume at some point, matches might again be played in crowd-less stadiums with only key personnel – players, club officials, ground staff and media – able to attend.
In the past 24 hours both AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan and Collingwood president Eddie McGuire have reiterated how critical financial support via membership is for AFL clubs, while also saying that clubs should support fans who are suddenly experiencing financial difficultly.
An impassioned McGuire warned of the perils of a "run on the clubs" if too many members were to seek refunds.
"It's as simple as this – if you don't have members you don't have a club. A club that has no members is a memory. So we need our members to stick with us as much as they can," McGuire said on Channel Nine on Wednesday night.
"If our supporters or anyone gets into financial hardship, speak to us. We are there together because the members are the club.
"This is all about sticking together through tough times.
"You know the history of the Collingwood Football Club. We were founded in the darkest times of depression in the 1890s and got through by building the stands at Victoria Park with sustenance workers."
On Thursday morning McGuire reiterated that the Magpies regularly offered support for fans who struggled to pay their fees.
"We do this all the time with people, every year as I mentioned there, with people if they've fallen on hard times," McGuire said on Triple M.
"But this is about a membership. It's not [just] a transaction.
"The memberships actually keep you alive for 12 months of the year, so a lot of our members [who] have actually put their money in, started putting their membership in October.
"Well that money's been spent to keep the place open until this time."
McGuire's sentiments were echoed by league boss McLachlan who said membership was the "lifeblood" of the league's 18 clubs, however fans were also within their right to request refunds.
"Of course, if they need it," McLachlan told ABC radio.
"But yes, we would love them to stay because our industry is in a battle and our clubs are in a battle to get through and the membership is their lifeblood.
"All I would say is I understand the pain going on out there and people need to make their own decisions and clearly if they want it [a refund], the can [get one].
"But I know our members understand how big their contribution of membership is to their clubs."
The MCC said members who had purchased daily reserved seats or visitor tickets for AFL matches originally scheduled between rounds two and 11 would be contacted by Ticketek.
"Whilst the AFL has suspended the AFL premiership season until at least May 31, the situation regarding the impact of COVID-19 is still evolving. As such we will continue to keep members informed regarding future games as details emerge," Happell said.
– with AAP
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