Welcome to football’s industrial age


“Life expectancy today worldwide is more than twice as high as it was when the Industrial Revolution began. However, the quality of life has increased only for a small percentage of humanity, with a very small percentage in control of the majority of resources.”

So according to the AFL, players, coaches, administrators and broadcasters our plebeian hearts and minds are no longer invested in a sport.  No siree, it’s the ‘football industry’ we lemmings support in various ways each week.

Personally, this head wobbling reference rankles more than any modern jargon to have infected football.  Despite the common lament the AFL and its clubs have lost touch with the common person, notwithstanding the ‘The Year of the Fan’ ballyhoo, we’re reminded time and again of the needs of the industry.  And yeah, for those in the industry it can be ruthless, tenuous place to earn a crust.  But am I alone in thinking the industry comes across a wee bit self-important?

TheWallSure, the AFL and its stakeholders are in fact part of an industry, worth well over a billion dollars no less.  Furthermore, the football industry is a big wheel driving several others; TV and media, travel, accommodation, tourism, corporate and public entertainment to name a few. To gain an understanding of the enormity of the AFL, check out their impressive 176 page 2014 Annual Report.

Strangely though, for all the immense level of detailed information, one thing that can’t be found is anything resembling a mission or vision statement, nor any overarching objectives or statement of values.  Ditto the AFL’s website, though if you search hard enough you might uncover 22 League policies and a Corporate Governance document that chiefly outlines the role of the Commission and sub-committees.

This isn’t to say the AFL does not have an overarching mandate or strategic direction.  Perhaps it’s just not for the great unwashed to know or hold the AFL accountable to.  Hence the industry has for a long time done what the industry wants, consuming all things Australian Rules in its path.

AFL IndustryWhat will $2.5b over six years mean? The last TV rights windfall ($1.5b) seemed just as gargantuan at the time, but once the money was filtered through the industry there seemed precious little left for the fans who were instead forced to pay more to watch their team play.

Nor have battling clubs found themselves any better placed financially.  They too have put the onus on supporters to stump up more in order to survive and thrive.  Already the Players Association is putting their hand out for the next big pay rise.

They say money doesn’t buy happiness. To my mind, the worst part about self-referencing a sport as an industry is that it strips away any sense of fun.  And if there’s one thing the AFL appears to be missing most, apart from all else that has been taken to power the League’s hungry turbines, it is fun.

Whilst there’s been swings and roundabouts so far as attendances go, or more so dangerous slides in Victoria, the atmosphere at games in the past couple years has been as flat as the spectacle.  One doesn’t even need to attend games to appreciate that – take a look at the crowds at matches from the ‘70’s, ‘80’s and ‘90’s.  The only truly happy campers left are at Hawthorn.

Funnily enough (well not funny at all), it has been the better remunerated players and coaches themselves who’ve complained of high stress levels and lack of enjoyment.

That it shows is hardly surprising.  Being part of an industry is no game, it’s serious business.



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