Ipswich were one of the earliest teams to join the Queensland Rugby League, winning the title in its first year way back in 1910. A long absence followed before they returned in the mid 1980s. That decade they were coached by the late, legendary halfback Tommy Raudonikis and steered around by a future icon in the number 7 jersey; a diminutive, blonde haired larrikin named Allan Langer.
In 2010 the well established Ipswich Jets announced plans to bid for a spot in the NRL, while a group of South East Queensland business identities founded the Brisbane Bombers; unwavering in their belief the city had more than sufficient capacity and appetite for a second team. A decade later, a more than century old entity has joined forces with one yet to exist; combining the power of lucrative commercial backing with the unlocking of Brisbane's fan and player rich Western Corridor. With their powers combined, the Brisbane Jets are quietly confident of ousting the asset-rich Redcliffe Dolphins and Brisbane Firehawks to snatch the NRL's 17th license.
The Brisbane Jets bid director is Nick Livermore, an energetic and determined operator who conveys a confidence befitting someone who knows much more than he'll ever be willing to share. Livermore presents as a calm and composed interview subject, but betrays himself by basically skipping around his CBD office a day after submitting the paperwork for the Jets' NRL bid.
"In terms of what the NRL wants, it's about making sure the new franchise is gonna work for the betterment of the game; whether that's participation, viewership, game day attendance and financial sustainability. We have a very strong pitch," Livermore told ESPN.
Livermore is a surname that holds a great deal of esteem in Queensland rugby league circles. His late father Ross spent 31 years at the helm of the QRL, playing a key role in the glorious rise of State of Origin. He passed away suddenly in 2013, aged 68, leaving his son to carry on a proud legacy of top level sporting administration. Nick might not yet be as revered as his dad was, but he's no slouch. He was the youngest ever MBA graduate from the University of Queensland's well respected business school, and has spent time working in the US, in both the MLB and NFL. Now he runs 'Dynamic,' a successful events, sports marketing and corporate hospitality firm. His credentials have given him a strong understanding and appreciation of the fundamental foundations of the Brisbane Jets approach.
"Number one you need investment, and financial backing. We're lucky enough to have both through private investment. The commercial support in Brisbane in particular has been unbelievable- whether it be front of jersey sponsorship through to corporate hospitality," Livermore continued.
A long list of willing partners, committing to everything from seed funding to shorts sponsorship, has the Jets totally at ease with the all important cash aspect of the bid. As for the literal foundations; Livermore speaks of a shortlist of three locations for training and administrative headquarters, most recently indicating a likely training base in the Ipswich region. He also spruiks budding venue-share relationships with organisations leading up to the (yet to be awarded) 2032 Brisbane Olympics. Most importantly, he alludes to a game of patience to win over what they believe will be a legion of willing fans.
"I think for every Broncos fan, there's extra that just don't want to see them succeed- and that's good for the game. Maybe they love the Bulldogs, or South Sydney. So why don't we offer them the chance to come and see their team play the Jets, then offer them a second team membership?"
Seducing existing NRL club supporters to develop a soft spot for the Jets certainly isn't a poor strategy, but a much larger and more rusted on base will be required to survive. The NRL is run by bean counters, and both Mr V'landys and Mr Abdo have made it clear there will be no bailouts for a club that finds itself in revenue peril, especially in light of the game's recent fiscal battles. Ever since its establishment more than a decade ago, the Brisbane Bombers faced criticism about an all too similar corporate model, and the lack of a genuine geographical region to own and cultivate support from. After all, sponsorship and commercial arrangements can only go so far; genuine supporters and memberships are needed to keep the coffers ticking over and to have any chance of consistently filling the intended home ground of Suncorp Stadium. Livermore has highlighted the excitement factor of a 'battle of Brisbane' derby many times to various media outlets, yet there can't be any significant guarantee of its success, particularly in light of the Broncos' recent fortunes.
Considering this, and despite coming up against two long established clubs, both sitting on heavily fortified catchments and mounds of cash that dwarf the Ipswich Jets reserves, Livermore enthusiastically highlights what the merger brings to the table, and the significance of gaining a Western corridor footprint.
"We put away some differences we had to see more boys and girls playing, more people watching, and ultimately the game growing. Particularly in a market that the AFL has targeted, West of Brisbane. That Western Corridor is a rugby league loving region, and one tipped for huge growth."
Livermore speaks glowingly of the Jets' player development plans, highlighting the inclusion of former NRL star Scott Sattler and Ipswich Jets Chairman Steve Johnson as huge coup's in the planning of pathways right across the state. They want to establish up to four feeder relationships with Intrust Super Cup clubs in rugby league loving regions a long way from Brisbane; such as Rockhampton's Central Capras.
They will target junior development affiliations in Papua New Guinea and Samoa, and have set up an allegiance with UK Super League club Salford. A key financial promise they have made is to resurrect the defunct Toowoomba Clydesdales, a former Queensland Cup powerhouse that went bust and folded ahead of the 2007 state league season. The revival of the former Brisbane Broncos aligned Clydesdales is now seen (along with the Ipswich Jets) as a key strategic inroad to the coveted West.
"We will send our NRL players to sign-on days with all of the clubs all throughout the state. We'll fund them commercially, give them opportunities to fund their corporate and commercial partnerships back through us," Livermore said.
It's all pretty impressive, yet there remains a degree of vagueness with the specifics. Both Sattler and Johnson refused to be interviewed for this particular piece, despite multiple attempts. Both freely admitted to a fear of disclosing too much information and jeopardising the process, despite the NRL's submission deadline having already passed. Puzzling as it might be, it plays beautifully into Nick Livermore's narrative of 'I know something you don't.' As far as the Jets are concerned, the only people who need to know the full extent of their plans are inside the walls of NRL headquarters.
One thing the bid team hasn't hesitated to proclaim is their desire to woo fans all over Queensland, by luring genuine maroons heroes as foundation signings. As Livermore explained:
"Someone of Cameron Munster's magnitude would be an amazing asset for us. We've also spoken about the appeal of a rising star like Harry Grant, who we'd named as a target before he excelled on the Origin stage last year. If we're going to be genuine, let's focus on the person first."
It's no secret that master coaches Wayne Bennett and Craig Bellamy have also been approached for roles with the franchise, should it successfully breach the NRL's ranks. This comes in the face of widespread speculation that Western Corridor supporters would truly get behind a team coached by 2015 Jets premiership co-coaches Ben and Shane Walker. To this end, Livermore reverts to the intriguing vagueness that has accompanied this interview.
"Nothing is off the table. We just need to get there first."