Adrift

The generation to which I belong has had a very good run in this lucky country. Relative affluence (although the gap between the haves and have-nots has been widening alarmingly in recent years), access to an excellent health and a decent education system have made for a reasonably comfortable life. A job, a few beers at the local boozer on Friday night, the occasional holiday abroad. It really has been the life of Riley. A great number of us have been very fortunate.

 

But now, we are adrift. COVID-19 has brutally exposed the very fragility of the foundations of our society. And I can say, without any exaggeration, that the world I have known for the best part of my 54 years has come crashing to a halt. No-one knows just how or when this will end. Amazingly, we are – rightly – on the verge of living as prisoners in our own homes, in an attempt to contain the spread of a virus which even the experts are still struggling to comprehend.  Without wanting to sound too alarmist, the fact is that when we come out the other side of this, those of us who survive will be living in a very different world. I do not profess to know in what way the world will be different, but it will be.

 

Will it be a more kind world, a more caring society? Will this crisis further fracture our broken political system? Will we be even more divided than we have been? I do not know. But one thing I can be certain of is that the generation of my three twenty-something sons will be paying the debts that the coronavirus will incur. As I write, plans are being made by government to allow some people to draw on their superannuation savings; what, then, of those people’s retirement plans? Small businesses are closing indefinitely; many will never reopen.

 

Another thing I can be certain of is that the AFL will look very different in the years to come. The clubs and the nature of their finances have been stripped bare, the tenuousness of a house of cards built on the back of television broadcast rights, plain for all to see. In what will be a microcosm of society itself, the AFL competition cannot and will not reemerge unchanged. Indeed, clubs have already commenced laying off workers. Like my generation, the AFL has enjoyed a charmed run; virtually unimpeded has been the growth in areas such as revenues, engagement and viewership, and wages for players, coaches and ancillary staff.

 

However, COVID-19 brooks no sympathy, and the AFL (and indeed all other sporting codes) will be damaged, the fallout will be painful and the wounds will be deep and severe. In “The Age” yesterday (March 21), I thought Caroline Wilson said it well: “…this state of emergency will expose once and for all those clubs operating on unsound business and cultural principles and place untold pressure on the collective effort it will take to save them.” Do we really believe that in the post-coronavirus world, the 18-team AFL competition can continue on its current, bloated form? I think not.

 

The reality is that for the AFL, like the wider community, there will be untold changes to its previous way of being. The competition will be forced to be leaner. The first painful cuts will come as a result of decreased revenue. Television networks will not, in the foreseeable future, be in a position to fork out billions of dollars to broadcast our game. How will suburban and country clubs survive. They were already struggling in the pre-COVID-19 world. You can be sure that retired AFL players will no longer receive fat match payments to stand in a suburban goal-square. There will simply be no money!

 

Clubs will be lost. Budgets will be amputated rather than trimmed. There will be no financial justification for funding a folly on the Gold Coast. North Melbourne, my very own club, will be forced to stare into the abyss – and if not pushed into it, may well be forced to Hobart on a permanent basis. Will there be an ability to prop up clubs such as, say, St Kilda? Government-funded multi-million dollar expansions to facilities will be consigned to stories that I tell my disbelieving grand-children. Coaches earning millions of dollars? Fanciful. Players on fat multi-year contracts? Out of the question. Coaches’ boxes full of lap-top reading assistants? A thing of the past. What effect will these changes have on the standard and the look of the game. The ride has been enjoyable, but now the carnival is over.

 

Of course, there are much larger issues to concern ourselves with at present. At the top of the list is keeping our loved-ones and ourselves, healthy and safe. But on the other side, my life will be different. As will be my generation’s way of life. So, naturally, it follows that the AFL’s way of life will be altered also. But before we even get the point of worrying about that sometime in the future, before we see the sunlight when the dawn breaks again – which it will – it is important to do everything we can to keep each other safe and well.

 

I look forward to seeing you all on the other side.

 

 

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About Darren Dawson

Always North.

Comments

  1. Well said. The AFL has acted properly if late. The NRL deserves scorn & is a relic of the dark ages in many ways.
    I keep wondering about “force majeur” (basically unforeseeable “act of god”) clauses in contracts all the way down the food chain. Advertiser to broadcaster; broadcaster to league; league to club; club to players & staff.
    Million $ contracted salaries reflect a “market” that no longer exists and will only hesitantly resume in months/years.
    If we are really an “AFL Community” then players/administrators/coaches on over $500k should immediately be taking a 75% pay cut so others can survive. No-one needs over $100K a year to live well.

  2. Totally agree with the tone and tenor of your article Darren
    the lack of connectedness in this corporate world has been undone by this event

    the fact that an industry ( that’s what the AFL has become Gill and all of them call it an industry (not a community in the true sense sadly) not a sport relied on TV contracts in this ever increasing digitally diversified world was and is unsustainable

    I cannot believe that the NRl is still playing – I would believe that my bush lawyer skills are thinking intuitively that the NRL is even more dependent on TV rights and the subsequent cash than the AFL given the smaller crowds and thus gates to rely on and that the state of origin ratings and big cash prop up the rest of the competition

    As I write this I have been listening to the CBC news here in Canada and the Canadian Olympic committee has pulled their team out of Tokyo – if you think the AFL has been slow spare a thought for IOC apparently I response to Canada’s announcement the IOC is now considering other options for the first time publicly…

  3. Well put Smoke.

    Interesting that the difference between ‘sport’ and the ‘business of sport’ will be more and more obvious and with that might come the realisation that networks of big business have always been very good a sniffing out things which are meaningful to people, and things people are addicted to.

    We have already noticed, over the past decade, a return of many to community footy (although community footy can also be entwined with local commerce and contemporary ways of thining aboutsports management).

    So much to consider.

    As you say, after this health situation is addressed.

  4. As a St Kilda supporter, I am extremely worried about St Kilda folding. In even the less professional days in the early 1980s when Lindsay Fox was St Kilda’s president, their financial position was very serious with players not being paid or being offered 30 cents in the dollar. St Kilda were lucky not to end up like Fitzroy but in St Kilda’s favour was a stronger supporter base that was growing in the Southern suburbs and Ross Oakley, who was the AFL Boss when Fitzroy folded, was a St Kilda player and would have played in St Kilda’s premiership of 1966, if not for a career ending knee injury. Likewise, Gillon McLaughlan, who has grown up as a St Kilda supporter, will do his best to see that St Kilda survives. In today’s The Age, Michael Gleeson has written that many clubs have feared the danger that they would this year be trading while insolvent. That fear will be calmed slightly by the AFL that it has assurances with the banks and state governments to borrow to keep the clubs solvent and operating. Unfortunately, not playing in China this year and perhaps in the foreseeable future has really hurt St Kilda financially with its current debt.

  5. Smokie well said yes this will cause enormous ramifications to the game we may we’ll return to days of playing for the love of the game and the jumper the gravy train days are over and I admit I am petrified whether the SANFL can survive

  6. Grim reaper Smoke.

    The post-virus world is anyone’s guess but I can’t help wondering how we get to that point. When/how does this conclude? How do we know when we are the end?

    But this could be a good re-set for sport and the modern economy. Indeed the modern mentality. The big fear is the debt it will create. There is no such thing as “government money”, its our money. If we spend it now we pay it back later. Possibly over multiple generations. Having said that I don’t envy those in the position to be making the decisions that come. They will be damned either way.

  7. Looks like i’m going to get lots of practice at playing solitaire this season..

  8. Adam Muyt says

    Sobering words Smokie. Thanks.
    You can’t ‘home office’ sport, of course. How long any of the sports national comps in Oz can continue without the flow of broadcasting loot flowing? Other than the AFL, I suspect no more than than this year. And even the AFL won’t emerge in the same form.
    All codes, all sports – clubs will fold, leagues and comps dissolve. A total reshaping of the sporting landscape is about to arrive. Just like so many other aspects of society. No real surprise – as we all know here, sport’s a mirror on the broader society and culture.

  9. E.regnans says

    Thanks Smokie.
    Where will this go?
    Yesterday saw people standing in centreline queues that would never have imagined themselves there.
    Incredible in so many ways.
    It is very easy to imagine that the old world and the old values are over.
    Easy to imagine that people will emerge from this with new priorities.
    But who knows?

    For now, we all need to self-isolate and look after each other’s health.
    That will take and needs a lot of attention.
    Thanks again.

  10. PB: if the AFL is going to look different, the NRL will be unrecognisable.
    Richard: it seems like the IOC have been dragged kicking and screaming to their decision to postpone the Olympics. Forced on them only by various nations cancelling all travel.
    Mark: I used North and St Kilda as examples. Who knows what the future holds?
    Rulebook: yes, minor comps such as the SANFL will be forever altered.
    Dips: you are correct – sport did need a re-set. Society also?
    Fisho: you will be an expert.
    Adam: it will be frightening to watch.
    e.r.: indeed, who knows????
    Thanks for your comments.

  11. Not having stepped foot out and about in Australia for nearly three weeks I’m pretty nervous to do so next Tuesday (if permitted). I know my warm, old world is largely gone.

    Thanks Smokie. Great distillation.

  12. Earl O'Neill says

    Thanks Smokie. Truly, our generation was the lucky one. Now we face something few would have imagined.
    Beyond the immediate effects of the virus, the economic repercussions are a great concern. For example, Emirates, the largest international carrier, will shut down on 25 March and that will affect hundreds of thousands of employees, contactors, suppliers, let alone tourism and business. Multiply by every airline in the world.
    The world isn’t gonna pop back into SOP in a coupla months. This may go on for years.

  13. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Thanks Smokie,

    So much to think about and reassess with life, work, money and footy.

    COVID-19 has done what 2 world wars, the Spanish Flu and the Great Depression couldn’t: It has stopped footy completely.

    We’ve come to rely on footy as a constant comfort. Our distraction, bonding and playtime from the real world has been discontinued for the first time in history. Maybe this is mother nature’s way of telling us to ‘slow it down.’

    Stay safe Knackers.

  14. Cheers Mickey, Earl, LB.
    Watching what is happening overseas, I am really fearing just how this is going to play out.

  15. Luke Reynolds says

    Well said Smokie. Every part of life will be different after this. Was saddened yesterday to see my old VFA team the Preston Bullants become a casualty. All the best to you and your family mate, can’t wait for the day when we can catch up at the North Fitzroy Arms for a beer.

  16. Good job Smokie. Once we move on from Covid 19 it will no longer be business as usual.

    In the world of sport, primarily in this case footy, or as modern sport is more accurately described the entertainment industry, what will it look like post Covid 19? Can the AFL maintain the franchise of the Gold Coast, to whom no-one is interested, or cares less about. It’s amazing when you have lots of moolah, how you throw it about. How long will the AFL 2020 season run? The shortest VFL season was 12 games during 1916, the peak of the ‘Great Trade War’, will we even get 12 games in 2020?

    Then again the AFL as the eminent example of a sporting industry has plenty of $$ put away. This is likely to cost them all of that, and more. Rugby in both its variants is in the POO. Peter V Landy’s grandstanding, also calls for Federal Govt $$ will get only so far. Would it not be more appropriate Rupert Murdoch bails them out? The NRL is the end result of his Super League from the late 1990’s. He can pay up. Rugby Union being the poor relation of the Rugby’s is looking parlous. I saw Michael Cheika on TV this morning talking about the lure of tests matching teams from the South and North of the world, also how tests @ Twickenham are big money spinners, but ……………. Rugby Union has the lowest profile in terms of participation and presence in Australia. Take away the private school boys they have no reason to continue.

    Re other components of the corporatised world of what we once knew as sport: cricket, tennis, athletics, where do you start?

    Smokie,as i said at the start it’s no longer business as usual. In terms of the glaring inadequacies of our neo-Liberal world to deal with this global crisis, we may see some big changes. The future is unwritten.

  17. Glen, I just listened to the Chairman of the Gold Coast Suns, Tony Cochrane, on the 3AW sports show. He mentioned that the AFL are absolutely determined for the 18 AFL clubs to remain, post Covid19. He said that if even 1 club folds, the AFL will lose $45,000,000 ( 45 million dollars) alone in broadcast rights, if there are only 8 matches and 1 bye. The AFL, therefore, will do everything in its power to ensure that won’t happen.

    As far as how long the 2020 season will run, Eddie Maguire, the Collingwood president, said on Footy Classified on Wednesday night that he believes the AFL will be absolutely determined, to complete the home and away season of 17 rounds, as well as the finals, including the Grand Final, even if it takes up to Christmas Day this year.

  18. Well, Harry, I just heard Caroline Wilson on the 3AW sports show say she is more concerned about the future of Victorian clubs in Victoria, than the 2 expansion clubs of the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney. She didn’t say there will be any AFL club folding or any mergers but the relocation of possibly two Victorian clubs interstate will be back on the AFL agenda. She believes it will be back to the time when the AFL suggested North Melbourne relocate to the Gold Coast. Of course, South Melbourne relocated to Sydney nearly 40 years ago.

  19. Harry i’d be shocked if the AFL cut the Gold Coast loose. Corporations don’t enjoy airing their dirty linen. I’d be surprised if the Gold Coast were discarded.

    Struggling Victorian clubs have always been in their sights. It may be the ‘rationale’ to dispense with a Victorian side, or send them interstate to maintain the facade as per South Melbourne or Fitzroy. Only the AFL know but as it’s all moving so quickly their power is limited.

    Glen!

  20. I really hope I’m wrong but I honestly cannot see the AFL football returning at a time when it can complete the rest of the home and away season and all the finals for this year. According to the Victorian Government and the Australian Government, these current restrictions will last at least 6 months, maybe longer.

    That takes us to mid to late September for the best case scenario. Unfortunately, too many people in Victoria and the rest of Australia have been breaking the social restriction rules, and will probably continue to do so, which will make the situation worse and hence the restrictions will be longer than 6 months, not 6 months or shorter. The state borders I believe will be closed for too long a period for the AFL to resume playing all the remaining matches.

    To me, the best case scenario would be to resume the AFL season in made to late September and try to finish the 17 round season and finals by Christmas Day. Even with the shorter quarters and the short breaks between games, that would be too big an ask in such a short time frame. I believe the AFL will not make the home and away season any shorter than 17 rounds this year.

  21. This is a comment from Mark Young.

    Hi Mark,

    Can you please contact me about using various nom de plumes and email addresses: j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au

    Thanks
    JTH

  22. This is a comment from Mark Young.

    It is not a comment from Harry Jenkins, and certainly not Harry Jenkins former MHR.

    Hi Mark,

    Can you please contact me about using various nom de plumes and email addresses: j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au

    Thanks
    JTH

  23. Paul Spinks says

    Thanks, Smokie:
    I’m not doomsday about it.
    It’s been called a war, but I’m confident we’ll rebound and potentially be more altruistically realigned.
    We are indeed fortunate to live in Australia.
    Footy will survive as long as people want to play it and watch it.

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