Footy Rich and Poor

An American cousin of mine lives in Pittsburgh, and is an avid supporter of that city’s baseball team, the Pirates. On a trip to the USA some years ago, I asked my cousin Jim how he rated his team’s chances in the Major League Baseball season which had just commenced. He looked at me incredulously. “The Pirates will never win the World Series. They can’t compete. The wages bill of our entire roster is equivalent to what the Yankees’ left-field gets paid!”

With the ink still drying on the new AFL broadcast rights agreement, I have been doing a lot of pondering over where football is headed. Of particular concern to me is an issue which has been much discussed lately: the growing gap between the “rich” and “poor” clubs. As a supporter of one of the so-called “smaller” clubs, I am more concerned than ever about the future. And whilst the draft and salary-cap restrictions will ensure that there is more of a level playing field in the AFL than the MLB, the words of my cousin have been ringing in my ears.

It is just a gut feeling, and I do not want to sound pessimistic, but I believe that in the current environment it will be extremely difficult for one of the smaller, and least-supported clubs (North, Port, Bulldogs, Melbourne) to again win an AFL premiership. The new television rights deal will further consign these teams to games seen exclusively on pay television, whilst the big clubs monopolise the prime-time fixtures on Friday and Saturday evenings. Supporters of big clubs would have no cause for alarm, but I certainly took note of a recurring theme hidden amidst Andrew Demetriou’s enthusiastic comments regarding the deal: Federal Government legislation requiring the “best” games of every round to be shown on free-to-air. For “best” read “most popular”. The exposure gained and sponsorship revenue reaped by favourable fixturing is a self-perpetuating cycle which consigns a smaller club such as my Kangaroos to satisfying themselves with the scraps from the feast. North finished a creditable ninth last season, and for its efforts was rewarded with one Friday night game this year.

Apart from television exposure, why is it that the gap between the bigger and smaller clubs will continue to expand in a competition with such a rigidly policed salary cap? Put simply, it is player development, an area where the largesse is limited only by the depth of a club’s pockets. For years, Collingwood was ridiculed for the fact that despite all the dollars poured into training, medical and coaching resources, the money spent did not equate to on-field success. But now all those dollars spent look more and more to be a very wise investment. To my untrained eye, it appears that the Magpies’ development programs are much better than those of their rivals (and especially those of the smaller clubs). Beams, Sidebottom, Blair…just some of the young players whose development has been rapid. And with a small army of assistant coaches, player welfare and fitness staff available to them, is it any wonder? Contrast this with Post Adelaide, where rookie senior coach Matthew Primus also doubles as one of the line coaches. That is hardly a level playing field!

I hope I am wrong. But I reckon the picture for the smaller clubs is looking increasingly hazy.

About Darren Dawson

Always North.


  1. John Butler says


    You have good reason to worry.

    The scheduling of North in the last couple of seasons would lead one to believe the AFL haven’t forgiven you for not moving to the Gold Coast.

    The TV deal guarantees all clubs will survive, but not whether they will be competitive, nor whether they will control their own destiny.

  2. The Tasmanian Roos? It might be the only way the Roos survive and the only way the Taswegians get a team in the comp.

  3. Phantom says

    Shut up Dips. You’ll make me mad (er)

  4. Andrew Starkie says


    You read my mind. The increasing gap between the rich and poor clubs concerns me greatly.

    Like all professional sport, footy has always been class based. The most successful clubs in the AFL, they are also the richest. Our game has always given hope to the poorer/smaller clubs, however, that hope is dwindling. Even though the Saints were a bad bounce away from a flag in 2010, I share your fears Smokie, smaller clubs will find premierships more and more difficult to win.

    On the issue of off-field staff, compare North’s assistant coaching staff to Essendon’s.

    And the fixture. As I’ve been banging on about all season, Collingwood don’t leave Melbourne’s CBD until round 14. By then, North will have been to Perth twice, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Adelaide and Geelong. And we will have played home games against Port, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne. Yes, we have also hosted Cwood and Richmond, however all of our home games up to round 14 are at Docklands and the Tigers game was on Easter Sunday which affected the crowd size..

  5. George Callum-Jones Kennedy says

    North had the chance to ensure their future by going north to the Gold Coast.

    They chose to stay and endure uncertainity. Now they want to make it everyone else’s problem.

    North made their bed – go and lie on it.

    Not to mention the droppings they left in the nest in Sydney, Canberra, and more recently, the Gold Coast!

  6. david butler says

    Guys, there is more than a touch of the Little Red Rooster about all of this. In the past ten years, when the game has been at its most professional, a variety of clubs have won the premiership including Port, Sydney and Brisbane. The flag will continue to be shared around different clubs in the next ten years. Collingwood are no fait accomplit this year. I remember a few years ago when Adelaide were on top of the ladder and people were saying that Neil Craig’s sports science background meant that Adelaide would be way ahead of the pack for years. It is interesting to note that 2 of Collingwood’s players are Krakouer, whom other clubs passed up on, and Leigh Brown. The lad Buckley from Melbourne was also getting a run before he got injured. As a smart arse aside it is noted that all the money in the world can’t get Cloke kicking straight.

    If you look at the NRL you will also see the churn effects of the salary cap with different teams in and out of the eight every year. Teams like Brisbane have much more money than the rest. While ever there is a salary cap ( which appears to be completely funded by television money ), the churn factor will continue in the AFL.

    If you look at the soccer leagues of Europe, particularly England, Scotland and Spain, you will note that one of 2 teams win every year in each league. But there is no salary cap in soccer and the defining diffference between the rich and the poor is the significant difference spent on the players themselves.

    Incidentally, when North Melbourne were playing taxpayer funded games in Canberra, local ABC radio man Tim Gavel noted that he had greater difficulty in getting access to North players than he had with any other players in any other code playing in Canberra. So much for them promoting themselves.

  7. Pamela Sherpa says

    For richer for poorer , in sickness and in health, footy is a bit like life isn’t it?

  8. smokie88 says

    I make no argument that North have made some mistakes over the journey. Their “semi”- relocations in Sydney, Canberra and Gold Coast were ill-advised and amateurish to say the least. But why did they make these attempts at revenue-raising? Not through mis-management. These were on the back of winning two flags in the 90’s and constantly appearing in finals.

    Yes, sometimes I wonder if the club made the right decision by knocking back the offer of relocation. But, would that still have been my team? I think I would much prefer to continue to support the small, struggling club I have always supported.

    Obviously, I disagree that the draft and salary cap will continue to ensure a level playing field. In the interests of brevity, there were a number of points which I did not make nor expand on, including the ability to field a “stand-alone” reserves team, impending free-agency and all the little things which mean the poorer clubs do not get that “extra 1 percent” which is regarded as so important. For example, just last season, when one of their players was injured pre-game, North was forced to play David Hale (who had already played for Nth Ballarat) because he was a designated emergency, and North could not afford the fine involved with playing someone else!

  9. Clearisghted says

    Why should North and the club’s supporters have endorsed a move to the Gold Coast? Because it fitted the expedient plans of those puppets of the media, the AFL Commission?
    In families there usually exists a scapegoat and in the AFL’s dysfunctional version of the same, North is it. As a club they have been treated poorly – just look at North’s fixture compared to that of the golden child Collingwood who, apart from 14 games at the MCG and 4 at ES, do not play a team coming off a bye, and in 13 rounds, play an opposition who the previous week, have played interstate, had a six day break, or sometimes both.
    The fixture IS a fixture and it favours the support of the usual suspects and further divides the competition into the haves and have nots.
    Applying your logic, #5, perhaps the AFL could display their faith in Collingwood and nudge them out of the nest to GWS?

  10. If the proposed move to Hobart goes ahead it will be fatal to North Melbourne.

    The only way the southern public servants like kangaroo is wrapped in bacon, stuffed with freah blue berries and into the oven bag.

  11. Adam Muyt says

    Phantom, that northern parocholism is tiring – Tassie’s a bloody miniscule place anyway without making it smaller.

    Having a team down here in Tas makes perfect sense: it’s part of the heartland of the code. The club and team will be supported provided it’s done right, ie., playing games at both ends of the state. I suspect that within time (a decade at most) the GWS venture will prove such a disaster – in the Age a couple of seasons back Greg Baum dubbed the push the AFL’s equivalent of Bush’s Iraq misadventure – that an 18th team will have to step into the breach. Tassie will be the only realistic option.

  12. Phantom says


    we are just about to lose police on the beat, hospital beds, teachers and other vital services and have to get a private philanthropist to spend big bickies on cancer services on the north west coast so people don’t have to travel 350 km to a broken down old hospital that we are sick of hearing about, and we are told that we have to prop up an ailing Melbourne football team just because Hobart is the capital and therefore they should have it. Right then, get every one in Hobart to rattle the can and keep us out of it.

    I am not a great Hawthorn lover but I have to admit that that is the better option.

    How many people attended the Test at Bellerive on a Saturday when the current Australian captain, from Launceston, scored a double ton. Less than 10 thousand. Apparently the traffic was a nightmare and no one could get a parking spot.

    Most of the State’s private wealth is generated out of Hobart, but they do get a lot from Canberra to prop up the Salamanca public service set.

    You are right about parochialism. It constantly comes from down south by an ill informed group of intellectual snobs. The demand that every thing important and any good sports person should have to move to Hobart because ‘we are the capital just like Melbourne’ is killing the regions. It is childish.

    And while on footy run from Hobart can anyone explain how an administration that has seen the demise of the Tassy Devils, (initially being run as a club successfully till gobbled up in the grand business plan), the Tassy Mariners, the first attempt at a state wide league (this one is a ‘dead man walking’ situation) due to all going broke, stays.

    It will cost about 50 million per year to run an AFL footy team in Tasmania. The State has been run by a big corporate and has been screwed so we are behaving like a bannana republic and selling ourselves to the next monster.

    What will the carbon price be as well. That’s a big sleeper that will come to bight the AFL. Pound for pound the AFL would be one of the biggest carbon emitters going around.

    Having a Tasmain side currently does not make economic sense. the economy is not robust enough. Oh yes the AFL will prop it up but we will have to sell our souls. What do you imagine is the real cost of having North Melbourne in Hobart. Crunch some tripple bottom line numbers.

    There will be no local footy editorial in the Mercury, that’s off to Melbourne. Keep footy local.


    Thanks for the opportunity to get that off my chest. I feel much better.

    Cheers, Phantom

  13. Adam Muyt says

    Phantom, it’s off the chest and I’m glad you feel better.

  14. david butler says

    Adam, here’s me thinking northern parochialism is blowing a trumpet on the Cumberland Oval hill whilst wearing a Manly jumper !

  15. Phantom says


    David don’t start that Manly stuff. What about the Rabbitohs?

    (South of Manly)

  16. Adam Muyt says

    Was simply naivety Dave(#14). ‘Into the Valley of Death’ and all that type of stuff, etc. Should have just quietly stood there enjoying the Manly effort, dressed in drab clobber and not blowing trumpets. I learnt my lesson – never went back to Cumberland Oval.

    Ah yes, the Rabbitohs, now there’s a tale. And Norths and Newtown. And Glebe. Rugby League knows how to treat clubs harshly.

    Adam (south of most places)

  17. Great Stuff Phantom. Loved every passionate syllable.

    I will need to get out my atlas; compass; Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall of Tasmanian Civilisation’; Marx – Karl, Groucho, Harpo and Zeppo; Freud’s ‘Interpretation of Dreams’ and my Samuelson’s Introductory Guide to Economics – to understand most of it.

    But Jeez, I didn’t need to understand it to enjoy it!!!

    Is ‘Adam and the Phantom’ available as a double act – when Roy and HG give it up? Maybe you could be their support act as the long lost Tasmanian cousins. Think of the possibilities with Brother and Sister jokes. Fame beckons lads!!!!

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