Carlton president Stephen Kernahan has used the club's most elaborate season launch in years to press the case for halving the number of home games the club plays at Etihad Stadium in favour of significantly more appearances ''where premierships are won''.
Short of turning its back entirely on Etihad, which effectively threw the Blues a financial lifeline nine years ago by giving the then cash-strapped club around $2.5 million for becoming a tenant, Carlton now wants to play just three home games at the Docklands venue as soon as that 10-year deal expires. From 2015 onwards, it wants to play eight home games at the MCG.
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The Blues, who became Etihad tenants somewhat controversially at a time when Ian Collins was both chief executive officer of the stadium and Carlton's president (Collins removed himself from Carlton board discussions due to a conflict of interest), are scheduled to play six home games at Etihad this year and five at the MCG.
Carlton's plans to drastically alter that split were laid out plainly at an exclusive dinner attended by club powerbrokers at Melbourne's opulent Plaza Ballroom on Wednesday night, with the vision printed in a message from Kernahan in the programs for around 450 guests at the $300-per head event. ''Carlton will be seeking an 8-3 arrangement for the 2015 season and beyond. This can only be achieved if 50,000 members 'buy in'… so I urge you to sign up to help secure our team's future at the place where premierships are won,'' Kernahan's message read.
While it is true that large memberships and attendances help clubs make the most compelling cases to have home games scheduled at the MCG, the AFL has ultimate say over the fixture and also has agreements of its own to honour with Etihad and the MCG.
Guaranteed to host 48 premiership-season AFL games this year, Etihad, now under the direction of new chief executive Paul Sergeant, is eager to retain one of its greatest crowd-pulling tenants in Carlton. Essendon (seven home games at Etihad this season), St Kilda (eight), the Western Bulldogs (10) and North Melbourne (nine) are the other tenant clubs of the Docklands venue.
Etihad Stadium's board opened discussions with Carlton in late 2011 about extending the club's tenancy, though the Blues were making no secret of their desire to play more matches at the MCG. Carlton set a new club record of 45,800 members in 2012 and has signed 38,730 for 2013. That figure puts it 1962 members ahead of the membership count this time last year.
The Blues' new coach Mick Malthouse said: ''The best 22 running down the race will not win you the premiership. They won't even get you in the eight. It's going to be the best 30 to 34, maybe 36 players.''
Major club benefactor, doctor Geoffrey Edelsten, was made a Carlton life member, accepting the honour with an emotional speech.
Among the VIPs at Wednesday night's dinner were major benefactor and club vice-president Jeanne Pratt, retired club champions Geoff Southby, David Rhys-Jones, Jimmy Buckley and Mark Maclure, Malthouse, new captain Marc Murphy and the entire playing list.
Asked how Carlton would improve this year, Murphy told the audience it would be about every member of the team "driving each other to be better".
"We're going to focus pretty heavily on the defensive side of the game and no doubt the offensive side will look after itself," he said.