AFL Üeber alles but football can find its place.

The big TV deal gained by the AFL has been big news in the media yesterday.  The AFL journos reported in triumphant tones: “The AFL yesterday trumpeted its position as the most powerful sporting competition in the country by securing a record $1.253 billion broadcast rights agreement with Foxtel, the Seven Network and Telstra for the next five years.” Writes Caroline Wilson.

It is inevitable that this made somewhat uncomfortable reading for a number of Association Football fans.  Being eternally suspicious of the AFL some fear that this will mean that Foxtel will be less willing to pay more for the A-League.  As Adrian Musolino writes in The Roar:

Meanwhile, the Socceroos’ free-to-air package will soon be up for grabs (thanks to the anti-siphoning revamp), while the A-League, Super Rugby, NBL, ANZ Netball Championship and the rest will fight for a free-to-air presence – an eternal struggle – in a post-OneHD sports only landscape.

The concern for them is that the AFL and the NRL would have squeezed free-to-air networks of so much of their allocated budget and time allowance for sport, that there’ll be little if any scraps left, particularly without the OneHD sporting haven. This could have a significant impact on the fringe codes.

Now that the AFL’s big bang billion-dollar deal has been unleashed, the rest of the sporting landscape can form from its remains. And remains is all that could be left once the NRL is done…

Of course it wasn’t long before the doom and gloom that characterises the mood of many football fans came to the surface.  An article in the football website ‘Four Four Two Australia’ spell the pessimism out:

Even as the deal currently stands, Fox Sports insiders say they are set to offer even less than they currently do for the same package they already get.

“The current deal is equal to Fox paying for 80 percent of each club’s salary cap,” said the source close to negotiations. “If there is no Fox, there is no league.

“When it’s renewed, even for the same package, Fox will not pay the same. A-League’s performance doesn’t justify it.

“And if the FFA insist on one pick-of-the-round game on FTA then the offer could be as low as $3m per year.”

Of course this statements could be seen as Foxtel telling the FFA not to puch for a Free To Air arrangement.  From what I hear the A-League is actually has an audience, especially in the months between November and March when the AFL is in its off-season.  According to the respected sports and entertainment consultancy, Gemba, 45% of Australians are fans of AFL football, with 40% being fans of football, ahead of rugby league (37%) and rugby union (29%). [
But the pessimism also betrays some delusions amongst football fans.  The simple fact is that Association Football will never be the major code in Australia.  Why?  Because Australian Rules Football and Rugby League has had the opportunity to build on more of 100n years of becoming part of a culture which is enmeshed with families and memories.  The fact that generations of people in Melbourne watched football with their parents when they were children mean that football has become what the footy show jingle say ‘more than a game’.  Following a team means a tradition, or being closer to a family and a group.
I can see this in my situation.  Yes I like Australian Rules Football and I follow Carlton.  However Association Football has a much greater emotional pull.  That is because is the game of my childhood,  and in some way even if AAMI Park is not the San Siro and the quality of the football is not even near, I love going to a football game because it creates an emotional link which is meaningful.  You can’t break these links and think that people will just abandon one game for another because ‘it’s the biggest game in the world’ or such arguments.  And anyway I believe very few people would switch from one code to the other.  Most likely they would add it to their main code of preference, just like I did with AFL.
So Association Football fans have to accept that our game is not going to be the main code.  Australia will not become an new Brasil or a new Spain when it comes to football.  However this doesn’t mean that we should just give up and think that Association Fooball has no place in this country, quite the contrary.  Soccer (if we want to call it that) does, and it has to be recognised not as a foreign sport played by foreigners but as an integral part of the Australian sporting culture, and a sport that source.
We have to stop thinking we want to be as big as the other codes.  It wastes our energy.  We have to be smart.  Expanding too quickly or having starry eyed investors/owners that want their teams to play in the same big stadiums as AFL and NRL teams, just because we want to be like them is cringing and it will not work.  If we can’t compete with the huge codes with their friendly media association football has to move and find its place in a new market.  We may not be Fosters but we can be a pretty good Mountain Goat beer .  Not as popular, but providing quality and more importantly being sustainable within its means.
This is not new.  The Professional Players Association submission to the Crawford report spelled all out clearly in 2003.  And today in their website they spelled out again.
Issues such as teams having a strong geographic link to their fans,  play out of boutique stadia which generate an atmosphere with average crowds of 10,000 and build the relationship between the A-League clubs and the local football communities they are designed to serve are their suggestions, and they are paramount.
The establishment of the A-League was a good start.  Now let’s build on it.
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2 Comments

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2 responses to “AFL Üeber alles but football can find its place.

  1. Midfielder

    GW

    Nice read … BTW just found your blogg again…

    Interesting the new AFL deal is not a huge as many think…

    With an extra game the AFL are offering a 12.5 % increase in their product… add inflation over five years…

    Original deal 790 million + 12.5 % equals 888 million… add five years cumulative inflation .. say 30% …. or 267 million… meaning 267 + 888 is 1, 155 with the new deal at 1, 220 … an actual increase in real terms of 65 million…

    • Michael C

      the AFL deal was more important around the non core media revenue, i.e. Telstra, and the increase from Foxtel for whom AFL is a focus to drive subscriptions. The AFL still have ‘sold’ less of the ‘farm’ than has the NRL in driving broadcaster ‘value’ – the AFL still has a few tricks up their sleeve if need be. Seeing the NRL ‘thinkers’ in recent times mention such notions as 4 quarters, and more ad opportunities within the game – is interesting, and of course reflects on soccer in the Australian market.

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