As published by The Footy Almanac, 14 March 2014 and the Saturday Age 22 March 2014.
Cheer squad members tend to be tarred with less than flattering brushes, yet their enthusiasm is the burning embers of what’s left of ‘the people’s game’. So the story of two Bulldog volunteers of 50 and 37 years’ service being blamed and consequently bumped by the club last December for not getting enough bums on seats was instructive, and depressing.
Having all been sacked in 2008 and required to reapply, the Collingwood crew recently had banner making duties removed by their club’s administration. It doesn’t end there – Magpie cheer squadders need approval for any hand held sign and must carry their membership on their person at all times. Whether they must raise their hand to go to the loo is yet to be confirmed, but they daren’t talk to the media (the 12th of fifteen commandments).
Nor does the AFL hold much faith in consumers. This season five senior coaches will feature in a scoreboard message each week lecturing good behaviour. Comparing the days of yore in the ‘outer’ to today’s mostly self-regulating crowds that pull offensive morons into line (in conjunction with ample security and CCTV), maybe next on the agenda will be a Craig Willis voiceover intoning ‘quiet please’ when Tom Hawkins lines up for goal.
Meanwhile, online the AFL found a way to delete en masse what they considered offline twitter responses (not abusive, mind you) to its quoting of Andrew Demetriou at the Hall of Fame dinner, when he richly espoused the AFL ‘will always put the fans first. Always’.
Whilst the AFL, clubs and venues have facilitated a more civilised experience and all the mod cons we take for granted, passion and freedom of speech have been casualties. Worse, the fiscal reality of supporting one’s football addiction is stretching the rusted-ons’ budget to the max.
Two dollars fifty might represent half a meat pie at the ‘G, however for disillusioned fans, on principle, the new ‘administration’ fee for self-printing their online tickets is as palatable as a frozen Four ’n’ Twenty.
This year further games will be fully presold and MCG ticket categories tweaked to extract more from those whose presence engenders such a vibrant code and the live experience so appealing. Essentially, anything under $45 now equates to a date with vertigo. But why would League execs even care about crowds when their gravy train is predicated upon TV ratings and rights deals?
The not-for-profit AFL, which recorded a $15m surplus from $440m revenue in 2013 (up from $6.7m in 2012), is not alone in testing the depths of supporters’ wallets and commitment.
When a certain club announced a record $5.2m profit last year it was some consolation to supporters after an underwhelming season on-field. That was until just-renewed members were subsequently cold-called to purchase a ‘special limited offer’ $200 raffle ticket. One might suggest in the throes of Christmas the Salvos et al might trump the Westpac Centre’s new Olympic Park Memorial Wing in a list of worthy causes.
The Cattery’s desire to charge supporters to attend training was equally staggering for its cheek.
Another power club that’s been keeping newspapers afloat lately determined a $75 ‘donation’ on High Mark memberships (assumed unless opting out) was a clever way to cover legal fees and elite training facilities.
Needy, or just plain greedy?
Whilst Collingwood has expressed frustration at Grand Final ticket allocations to non-competing clubs and a willingness to return their share, on the flipside the hopelessly lopsided supply-demand equation provides lucrative returns. A $780 ‘Legends’ membership guarantees a Willie Wonka golden ticket should the ‘Pies make the big dance (Essendon’s equivalent comes in at $570, Hawthorn $389 and Richmond $340). The rich get richer, their poor get the picture (in standard definition).
As pundits postulate over Andrew Demetriou’s legacy, the recently incorporated AFL (Australian Football Lovers) Fans Association aims to become a timely, unified voice for supporters. President Brian Clarke and his volunteers face a mammoth task to reclaim the game for the common man, woman, child and concession cardholder.
The first challenge is simply to be heard above the whirring spin cycle and cash registers.