Equalisation? Let’s try a bit of Logical Rationality on for size instead eh?

I had the pleasure of reading a great piece recently by Mr. David Wilson on Equalisation here.

Lots of interesting graphics and related conclusions. Even more passionate comment sprinkled with either earnest, or disingenuous delusion. I couldn’t tell through the film of red mist that had descended.

In case you haven’t figured it out already, I don’t care much for the term, the assessments made or the way debate has been directed on the subject by the AFL hierarchy.

I see things rather differently. Here’s how:

In the last eight years, the AFL has drastically changed course from wanting to contract and consolidate the competition, to putting expansion into hyperspeed for the sake of the ‘almighty’ dollar.

The sheer dichotomy of that gives the lie to the actuality of equalisation. Capitalistic opportunism of the highest order has led us to where we are today.

I cannot believe there are people still crawling from under rocks to bleat about the inequity of the draft. As others have already noted, there’s something to be said for accountability, due diligence & yes, dumb luck.

The two notable failures to whom attention has been drawn here, Melbourne and Richmond, are victims of self-inflicted wounds not inequity.

On the other side of the scale, Geelong have certainly benefited from the anachronistic spiritualism of father-son, but there was a time around 2006 where folks were legitimately wondering.

Time makes fools of some … Horses asses of others.

At the moment, in a competition governing body awash with investment capital, the strategy has been clear. Fill every available viewing spectrum to bursting with product, while taking as much money from as many sources while the market coalesces and establishes itself.

Mission Accomplished, over the last two rights negotiations.

The next one is the key.

Having established a presence in every state of Australia that has the population AND the materially divinable capital to support a match there every week of the season.

Having created satellite venues – some at higher orbits than others – to approximate (be it earnest & fulsome, or disingenuously facile) comprehensive Australia wide community involvement.

Having gambled on attempts at widening the spectrum of times (of the week & of the day) where matches are played for pretty conclusive results.

Having replaced a long-time leader, irrevocably tainted in the general consciousness as megalomaniacally out of touch, with someone not untainted, but still seemingly willing and able to walk the path of contrition and apparent common-sense, ROOT & STEM society re-engagement.

The AFL’s next choice is clear.

Equalisation has nothing to do with it.

Quality over Quantity begets a path to rational fixturing, in terms of scheduled times of games.

Moreover, it will necessitate a reconsideration of the TV protocols – FTA vs CABLE.

An insistence not to be dictated to by broadcasters as to having games on during ‘live spectator dead zones’, may reduce what CABLE is willing to bid, but it may also ensure a comprehensive FTA presence.

That lessening of potential revenue growth – perhaps even a rationalisational contraction – as the new market takes shape will then be augmented by the more ubiquitous presence of internet streaming … And how prepared future bidders are to integrate a service of their own, or partner with existing providers.

Either way, the TOTAL broadcast revenue for AFL will rise. It is just a matter of whether the AFL governing hierarchy will allow their greed to inflate their company coffers exponentially again … At the expense of product, community engagement and broadcast quality – all hidden behind talk of allowing the ‘free-market’ to dictate.

Or, will they choose a mere geometric expansion in order to reinforce a heavily compromised product, which over the last five years has seen the grubby artificial flavours and preservatives of executive interference, forcefeeding our nation’s premier sporting competition.

Much as if the sport of AFL had become a local version of ‘Gotham’s Reckoning’.

A mask wearing sporting behemoth. An organisational Bane, with tubes pumping steroids into muscles bursting with seeming vitality, which hide the pain which insidiously robs it of any connection to, or understanding of, anything but its own unquenchable thirst for more … Of everything.

That means culling Melbourne teams.

With absolutely no respect for some of the logic peddled on this topic recently. Actually with a completely unhealthy, bilious disdain, I have to say the population argument is not only wrong, but contemptuously simplistic.

Population base is nowhere near as important as local dynamic. The ability to inspire devotion versus the opportunity to mine the shared capacity for mutual loathing.

The reason why S.A & W.A have two teams is – other than the idyllic telecasting/live-action opportunity for weekly local AFL matches – because the history of Port Adelaide’s failed attempt to break into the VFL, solidified the existing dynamic for South Australians of barracking for your team VS barracking against the competition bestriding Colossus, Port Adelaide.

In WA, the Eagles were seen as that state’s diamond studded answer to years of poaching by Victoria, of the cream of the Great Western Crop. Fremantle evolved as the regionally adjacent alternative, but struggled for so long because of having to build an identity from scratch, without having any sort of concrete idea beyond … kooky.

Recent success and an uncompromisingly idiosyncratic coach in Ross Lyon, have seen the W.A alternative become the megatonic Purple Haze. W.A’s deep purple smoke across the waters of the Swan.

Unlike Port Adelaide, which finally, under the Koch administration has successfully integrated the club’s local history with it’s national ambitions. Their virtually immediate playing success was continually undermined by that failure initially, to the point where the AFL had to bail them out, not five years gone yet.

How many clubs has the AFL bailed out in Victoria … One way or another?

There are too many here, diluting the national product.

Yes, the second QLD & NSW teams have been artificially created and propped up in order to facilitate a comprehensive local television AND Live Performance schedule. That is the desired end of a National Competition achieved. Job done. Now to grow the popularity of the product and the size of the base into completely untapped (not just unsuccessfully cultivated, ritually fallow conclaves).

Again. That can’t happen here in Melbourne.

Clubs without constituencies large enough to support them need to be merged. Preferably locally, or interstate if the AFL decides to base a team in Tasmania.

Who are the clubs that do not currently have – be it through poor management, poor performance, draconian stadium arrangements, etc – an independently sustainable presence?

As matters stand they are Melbourne, Footscray, Carlton, St. Kilda, North Melbourne.

Melbourne and St.Kilda are economic basketcases. For different reasons.

Footscray has had years to mine Melbourne’s exploding West – be it the suburban sprawl, or the inner western ‘thralls’ to modern living. What have they achieved concretely? Nothing to write home about. They need to combine their resources with the club with the least attending supporters in Melbourne (also the club with the most marginal geographic identity as modern Melbourne has developed), the Kangaroos.

One is the gateway to the other. Together these clubs can create a powerhouse entity to represent AND capture the sprawling western part of Melbourne, that has until now played so hard to get. They can do it through comprehensive community involvement. They can do it by expanding their presence to Wyndham and beyond.

It’s no Infinity to be sure, but maybe there is a Buzz Lightyear sized dividend in their future if they seize it now.

Carlton will retain what it already has, the Inner North. Marry that with St. Kilda’s plan to return to the Inner East and you create a double-helix base for Melbourne’s Inner Nouveau Toff’s and Outer Café Dilettantes.

That leaves Old Money. Melbourne.

Instead, I think it’s past time Melbourne left the AFL. They have nothing but history to offer. And nothing worth documenting in the last ten years. Very little in the fifty before that.

It’s time the AFL recognise, Melbourne is footy. The entire city. The foundations are strong enough to not require an unsupportable namesake club. Our sport’s reach is properly national.

There is no room for insuring insular anachronisms any more.

So, that leaves us with a competition of 15 teams. A natural bye week every week. Each team plays each other once. The Top Eight of the previous year are pencilled in to play each other twice. That leaves one match for unrequited rivalry or each club’s most favoured remaining available, lucrative choice – depending on said ladder position.

Seven games a week, with the nonsensical 1640 Saturday/Sunday fixtures removed.

Kinda makes sense buried deep within the loamy musk of logic, doesn’t it?


  1. Gregor

    Erudite, challenging, well researched and slightly controversial. As to be expected from you and I like it.

    One of the real issue in relation to matters such as equalisation etc is the fight between logic (and commercial realities of a major business and sport like AFL) and the emotional (like history, tradition or simply supporting a team, which is in essence illogical). There’s a good piece in today’s Guardian on that:


    Your comment on Tasmania is to me an example of this. Emotion tells you that there of course should be a new or transplanted team there, with its rich football history and actual interest in the game itself, as oppossed to Western Sydney However, the commercial realities will send the game to other places before them.

    I have been toying with a piece I was worried about publishing for a while that you have touched on above, so I might as well share a part of it. Just as you mention Melbourne and what role they may play in a future competition, I have been struggling to see the relevance of St Kilda. I just can’t see what they stand for or bring anymore. Having been notoriously unsuccessful, with a transient base and a mini presence in so many locations but seemingly not one place, I can’t see how they survive, nor should they.

    I don’t have a view on Melbourne per se. If the Dogs, who I agree probably haven’t grabbed that geographical part of Melbourne as they should/could, merged with North, assuming North don’t become Tasmania, and the Deees leave, isn’t that 16 teams?


  2. Gregor
    Your logic is impeccable and these sorts of issues need to be dealt with at some point. Trouble is, your strategy is like wholesale tax reform. I.e. politically, it’s too “courageous” for any but the most confident regimes to tackle.

    I note that there’s a link to my ceteris paribus piece from last year where I likened the sort of rationalisation strategy you outline to government deciding whether to continue supporting the struggling car industry. Interstingly, in the year since that piece appeared, the car industry has announced that it is shutting shop in Australia. Is it a sign?

  3. G’day Gregor,
    The red mist, the red mist. Love a passionate story.
    But I’m confused by your argument.
    The “equalisation” I presented was around handicapping in order to orchestrate changing ladder positions, and how well that had played out over 17 completed seasons (http://www.footyalmanac.com.au/hows-that-equalisation-working-out-for-you/). The point was to show that it has played out quite well, with nearly all clubs enjoying successful times and unsuccessful times.
    So equalisation would be better thought of as on-field handicapping, as Rob McDonald pointed out in his comment overnight.

    Of course capitalism is alive and well in the AFL, despite this socialist on-field handicapping paradigm. Spending on coaches, assistant coaches, assistants to the assistant coaches, video analysts to the assistants of the assistants, hyperbaric whatsits, etc etc varies among clubs according to the capitalist model. Everyone using their dollar; looking for advantages.

    But I’m confused as to how this relates to the number of teams playing out of Melbourne. Again, I agree with Rob McDonald’s observation that AFL member clubs are acting in their collective interest by opting for handicapping. Otherwise, not only would the rich get richer, but they would also buy flags. Outside of European football, who wants to see the same old clubs at the top of the league table year after year? The whole competition would be over as a spectacle. Interest in the (provincial) sport may be lost (forever?) in favour of other sports.
    Logical and rational to maintain interest in the sport, isn’t it?
    Good stuff.

  4. Skip of Skipton says

    Here’s the breakdown of support for Victorian clubs, taken from the 181,000 Supercoach entrants who barrack for a Victorian team.

    Collingwood 16.9%
    Essendon 16.5%
    Carlton 12.8%
    Hawthorn 11.2%
    Richmond 10.9%
    Geelong 9.7%
    St. Kilda 6.4%
    North Melbourne 6.1%
    Melbourne 4.8%
    Footscray 4.7%

    What ever problems Carlton have it isn’t from a lack of supporters.

    Looking at that list you’d merge Footscray/North and Melbourne/St.Kilda on geographical reasoning, or you’d leave the Saints be and merge Melbourne, Footscray and North into one big red,white and blue entity called the Melbourne United Kangaroos or some such bollocks, based out of the Whitten Oval which is the best facility of the three clubs.

  5. Gregor Lewis says

    Great Comments All.
    Really appreciate the thoughtful input that has gone into your responses.

    Especially since I got carried away, and a bit lost in my own introspection. (lets face it, I have a fatal flaw when writing emotionally. I tend to get my head so far up my ass, I can taste my own liver every time I lick my lips).

    I admire your character for looking past that and adding constructive layers to the conversation.

    -David, my fault for the confusion. I ran a few sentences together. Loved your piece. Loved the way it was presented. I do disagree slightly with the inclusion of the few pre-2000 seasons, because of the flawed finals system being exposed as too forgiving to the teams in positions 5-6. Overall, my issue was not with the conclusions you came to, but where the conversation went in the comments.

    The same place it always goes when someone makes some points regarding the level of success in the modern game.

    Equalisation is what it is. The Draft is an almost perfect combination of equity and historical character in its unfettered form. The rest … not so much in my mind. And now, I believe it is critical those factors take a backseat to rationalisation.

    A course correction for the last few compromised drafts.

    But people still seemed to want to blame anyone but their own clubs, for the missteps they took with eyes wide open.

    Thus red mist.

    – Sean, I have the Saints merging with Carlton in my ‘idealistic’ future rationality.

    Then Footscray/Kangas.

    And Melbourne is left without a chair when the music stops.

    Two mergers and one dissolution leaves 15 teams.

    – Stainless, the car industry is an interesting comparison. The main difference for me is the intentionality there was external. All the companies involved had foreign parents and wider horizons. Tomorrow was theirs to define, the Australian Government’s to sweeten.

    Footy teams, especially struggling ones are defined by that struggle. The teams I nominated seemingly irrevocably so.

    I look forward to reading the piece, but the above is just me spitballing on the theme you raised, instinctively.

    -Skip. Your stats speak to a theme I want to delve into further. The practical effect of the passionate, hardcore fan. My assumption is that the vast majority of participants you quantified are just that.

    But they are not enough of a financial lifeblood for economic success. Or even the bare minimum. Viability.

    I am an avowed boxing tragic. Week in, week out I am made inescapably aware how peripheral my passion is to the reality of the sport’s success. That’s because for all the loss leading most regular boxing events serve to provide, towards something megalithic, the business model that has been developed by promoters is to cash in on the event that crosses over, attracting intermittent or mercurial consumers.

    And that seems to me to be the economic rationality of modern sporting enterprise. I believe it’s why even a club as ‘loyalty inspiring’ as Collingwood has found relative success in niche membership marketing and the inflationary numbers that can produce.

    The rusted on fan is not where viability in footy exists. It never did, given the state of the VFL near the end of the new beginning. They provide the passion and the integrity of character. The vivid colours of footy tradition. And while that may make the air the AFL and its clubs are breathing that much sweeter, it’s the colour of ‘uninvolved’ money they need to even begin to breathe deeply.


  6. Gregor Lewis says

    Thanks for the link Sean. That Mueller … Mueller? … Mueller! …

    He can write a bit eh?

    It WAS stylish work, but all that style wasn’t supported by enough independent rigour for his specific point re Hird to stick.

    Just like all the authentic passion in Tasmania can’t really provide enough growth prospects to support a ‘full-time’ team. (my inclusion of the possibility in my piece above was a spitballing sop more than any real expectation of a full-time team there being viable).

    But both Hird & Tasmania can be fulcrums, intrinsic to inciting passions & debate that conveniently loses sight of the dry facts …

    … All in favour of juicy fruit.

    Which is the point Mueller makes in his piece, while sneakily subverting it by using ‘The Hird Incitement’ (that might just make the cut as a BIG BANG THEORY episode title, eh?).


  7. Arrant sophistry and cherry picking of the sort only big club supporters can muster.

    Your assumption that the continued existence of clubs supported by almost a quarter of Victorians is a trifling inconvenience somehow holding back something — but what, exactly? — and that consigning them to the bin is a zero sum game where (insert big club of choice) somehow wins — is breathtaking.

    I may have a more reasoned response when I calm down.

    I can’t even.

  8. Gregor Lewis says

    -Rob C, I await with interest to read your response.

    I especially hope you clarify for me the substance this support from a quarter of Victorians has materialised in the form of.

    Given that the crucial supporters, intrinsic to the clubs’ survival can be counted on the fingers of one hand. (not counting copious AFL handouts).

    I barrack for Hawthorn. That has nothing to do with what I wrote. My club found a way to grow past its ‘supporters’ complacency, after finding itself in dire straits, less than five years past a decade of unmatched recurring dominance.

    The clubs I mentioned have had ample opportunity to do the same … on field & off field.

    Within the last five years, they have all had their snouts in the AFL slush trough, or the ‘white knight’ benevolence fund. Some are diving in for seconds and thirds.

    None have made a Grand Final in the last decade except St.Kilda.

    None have galvanised their bases enough to service their debt, while maintaining any form of economic independence.

    None have successfully navigated the recent compromised drafts, which sees them suffering key personnel gaps that perenially seem impossible for them to fill.

    It’s time to rationalise what they have had plenty of time and outside assistance to fix themselves … and failed.

    Through improper practices, through delusionary development without consolidating local identity. Through sheer bloody-mindedness not backed up by ingenuity of endeavour.

    Enough is enough.


  9. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Interesting article , Gregor your reasoning is sound and well put , yes there are too many teams in Victoria but when the majority of the money comes from TV rights and that business wants and requires , 9 games for maximum revenue . North Melbourne business wise should have moved to the , Gold Coast but emotion kept them in , Victoria . Emotion is the over riding thing in most football decisions not what is best for the game and the club thanks , Gregor

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