2016 Grand Final – Sydney v Western Bulldogs: Guilt, doubt and freebies: the view from the corporate seats.
It’s taken until now for me to face what I did. This long to look at my reflection, knowing what I participated in.
Yes, the bounty was plentiful, sure the temptation was understandable, of course, and the feeling was wonderful.
But at what price my soul?
The time has come the Walrus said, and I feel the need for Almanac absolution or at least honesty and cleansing.
At this year’s Grand Final, I supped at the corporate trough, took the 30 pieces of silver offered to enjoy the free hospitality and saw how the other 70% of Grand Final attendees live on the day.
And my friends, I felt dirty but very very good.
My Grand Final day was all planned. I always prefer to watch at home, not distracted by first-timers, blow ins or the noise of a BBQ. Just me and the boy on the couch, party pies having been purchased, and settling in as normal just after 2pm. As a teenage Hawthorn supporter, number 1 son has adopted a routine on the day, dropping casually by first bounce and knowing he’d be satisfied by half time, and barely interested by the final siren as they won again. This year, he’d watch un-involved for the first time in a few years, as I have for so many as a Richmond man.
We had some interest though, beyond watching the game we love at its pinnacle. My mother grew up in a staunch South Melbourne family, and so I have always had a soft spot for them, as my grandfather would watch with me on a Sunday when the team moved to Sydney. And earlier in the year, a family friend with a senior role at the Bulldogs took the heir to my
fortune debt out to pre-season training, to meet the medical and physio teams as part of a mini work experience project. He was very impressed by the generous staff he met, was made to feel welcome by Bevo and walked away with scarves and other merch and a new second team.
So, a great day awaited us. The wonderful and pointless GF eve public holiday came and my plans for excursions with the teenage kids were dashed by, well, their complete lack of interest, so I went into work as the day was wet and knocked off a few hours of quiet work.
Soon after arriving, my sister rang. She works with a major financial institution with close sponsorship ties to the AFL and had been gifted a ticket by her very senior boss who would instead be a guest of the AFL. Would she and a partner like his two tickets? She didn’t have to take a client, her husband was working and would I like to go, corporate style, all the trimmings.
As the kiddies say on their text messages these days; OMG
To my credit, I hesitated. My first thought was an issue of not spending the day as planned with the lad, the second that shouldn’t the ticket go to someone who supported one of the teams and thirdly, this is just plain wrong.
Well, the Hawk teen was fine with me going, my Swans inclined mother had said no, and I couldn’t think of a friend who my sister knew who supported the Bullies. So, I called back and accepted.
In short, it was amazing. My day started though with extreme feelings of guilt as I walked past supporters outside the ground, mostly Doggies fans, holding signs for spare tickets. Could I change my ticket for them to go? I then came across the group of corporates and guests I would spend the day with and was presented with a Bulldogs scarf. Later in the day, it would lead to many mistaken congratulatory hugs from true fans confusing me for another long suffering one.
The eye opener was what happens behind the scenes, what sponsors get and spend and how many people ride on that train. I had always heard about the large number of people at the GF on a freebie or invite, but it was only when I walked behind the screens to the sponsors dedicated area that the true impact was evident.
The day started with breakfast snacks at 9.30 in the MCG car park, distribution of scarves and introductions, as well as photos. Then a walk onto ground along the boundary line, an eerie but brilliant feeling to be that close to where history was eventually to be made that afternoon. Walking through the areas where the musical acts were storing equipment and getting ready, we had about 15 minutes for photos and gazing at the arena and stands, and a few stolen blades of the hallowed turf.
Then the corporate tent. Guest speakers included Matthew Pavlich, Sam Mitchell, Chris Scott and Leon Cameron as well as Kyle Chalmers of Rio fame. All spoke eloquently, were funny and engaging and gave great service to the sponsor. It was all hosted by an equally impressive and warm Rebecca Maddern interspersed with lovely food and drinks as we stood around for a few hours.
Sam Mitchell was particularly impressive, very laid back, probably wondering what people did on Grand Final day who weren’t playing. He wandered up to our little group, and we talked with him very casually for about 15 minutes about life and footy. He agreed to pose for a shot with me both draped in a Bulldogs scarf. My son now says the speed at which Mitchell was willing to adopt a rival’s colours was a portent to what would occur during trade period.
It was only when I took a wander around the surrounding tents and open area that the true scope of GF corporate functions hit home and just how many people experience the day in style. Large tents hosting dedicated functions for Foxtel, Triple M, SEN, Telstra, Carlton and United and others showed just how many people were being entertained and hosted. This is where the guilt hit. My immediate though was for my friend and Almanac colleague Peter Zitterschlager, and what he would think of me and those around me. I truly had no idea of just how many people came to the game being wined and dined and on corporate tickets.
I am a commercial realist enough to understand the money that these corporates put into their sponsorship and how much the sport relies on it. I also understand the great power they have with their clients to gain or keep them by inviting them along to such an event as guests.
But the sheer size and number amazed and staggered me. So much food and drink, so many tickets given yet so hidden on TV screens as we all seemed to have been given scarves so the ground looked full of club colours.
I would like to say I silently protested and stuck to my egalitarian roots, but that’s not fooling anyone. I didn’t go large on the day, wanting to keep myself nice and ensure no embarrassment to my sister, either by being a drunken fool or socialist loudmouth. And I thought the best thing to do was throw myself into what I thought would be an incredible afternoon, and be grateful.
In short then, without faking it, to any observer you would have thought from my barracking I was related to Tom Boyd, grew up at EJ’s knee and still felt deep wounds from Libba’s Prelim final point.
Our seats were in the Ponsford Stand, surrounded by other corporates and very near the AFL section. Consequently, I spent some time in awe people-watching, seeing various Legends and Hall of Famers sitting nearby.
I was privileged to watch both such an historic event and also a great game in itself. I still can’t believe I got to see it, and can only hope that a fair percentage of those who shared a corporate ticket like me focussed on the game and participated in the event, as that ticket and seat would have been priceless to a true supporter.
Sitting at home about 9pm, having got home on the train, relaxed, eaten with my family, driven a child to a party, and settled in with a red to watch TV, I recalled that the corporate area I had been in was still open and serving beers for another hour. I wondered how many of those still there appreciated what they’d seen or been a part of, or if this was just another normal thing they glossed over.
A couple of observations on the day and game:
- The utter devastation of the Swans players, who all barely moved for ages after the siren, all collected in the Bulldogs forward 50, none speaking to each other or consoling each other. TV focuses on the winners and I had never seen what the vanquished go through.
- An incredibly impressive Bont, followed by Easton Wood, break away from celebrations with teammates to go to many Swans offering them a handshake. Classy acts.
- Leaving the ground, with ten of thousands of fans from both sides, walking in every direction, not a scuffle, harsh word, act of frustration or gloating. A reminder of how lucky we are compared to sports in some places overseas
I don’t have a solution to Grand Final ticketing, nor to seat distribution. And I can’t see this happening to me again soon, or ever. I still feel awkward having gone, taking a spot, receiving congrats from true Dogs fans afterwards. It is great to say I was present, just harder to explain how.
How can something so good create so many conflicting feelings in me?