Money, Money, Money…

When it comes to our major sports in this country, it seems that money may indeed be the root of all evil.  Our most financially successful sports are now proving even more successful at pulling themselves apart.

Love him or hate him, Alan Jones is a highly intelligent and thought-provoking man.  I happen to agree with his sentiments about the demise of grass-roots rugby in this country and its impact on the health of the sport and our status as a rugby nation.  Pursuit of the big bucks in the form of a lucrative global television rights is looking like a poison pill right at the minute for the ARU.

Watching our sporting heroes play at the highest level is exhilarating, and successful events are a wonderful way to generate revenue that can be used to grow and develop sport. However, having the elite and the grass-roots split into separate universes must surely end in tears. Logic would say that the media value for a sport that nobody plays or watches anymore will not be great

I question the voracity of the ‘trickle down’ or demonstration effect often used to help justify a silo approach to elite programs and investment, where belief that elite performance will itself drive people to sporting clubs and increase participation.  Despite numerous studies throughout the world, this has not been proven to any meaningful degree.  No doubt you have already seen the latest participation report produced by Roy Morgan Research, but the numbers are alarming even for sports that have successful events and elite competitions.

Yet, despite this uncertain future, we are currently seeing bitter crises over player salaries.  Surely, nobody could argue with the concept of our sports stars being appropriately remunerated and incentivised to pursue their risky and uncertain careers.  However, understanding when escalating salaries will enhance future prosperity, or when they weaken the game and ultimately become predatory to grass-roots programs and participation is pretty tricky.  As a counter to the decidedly uncertain ‘trickle down’ hypothesis, one could argue that having a larger pool of elite players, nurtured by strong grass-roots competitions and programs could mitigate the risk of excessive salary demands by all but the most remarkable of players.

Strong grass-roots participation should also mean more fans and spectators to fuel media rights, sponsorship and gate taking revenue – not to mention a healthier and happier nation.  To my mind, there must be a ‘Virtuous Cycle of Participation’ for each sport where these competing elements are kept in balance.  No doubt each sport demands a slightly different model, but my simplistic take on this is depicted below.

In the era of the individual, amidst a global rise in parochialism, failure to strike a sensible balance will have increasingly dire consequences for sports and their administrators.

Virtuous Cycle of Participation’


About Peter Robertson

Born and bred in Eumundi and Nambour, in strong company indeed. After studying Maths and Physics at uni in Brisbane, I pursued a business career that I sometimes worry is best described as 'Jack of all trades - master of none'. Having safely made it to my mid 50's, I am still yet to have a real job - but I expect to grow up someday. My love of sport has never waned and I regularly play tennis, golf and surf. Other pursuits include fly fishing and trekking. I have been serving on a few private and NFP boards in sports and other areas to keep me out of mischief.


  1. Dave Brown says

    I like the concept, Robbo. The trouble is the grassroots effectively have no voice in the discussion about how the league’s spoils will be distributed. Getting highly paid executives and players (and their agents) to see the long term benefits of such an approach is quite the ask.

  2. Valid point(s) Robbo.

    I notice one of the local footy clubs, Mernda, is worried the local pub won’t sponsor them. For years the pub and the footy club went hand in hand. The pub changed ownership a few years ago and is now a large entity, with lots of corporate trappings, quite unlike the old image of the pub. Local papers reported the club was fearful the pub would cease sponsorship; no more news on this, so i’m not clear how it finished

    Sport is no longer just sport, it is part of the entertainment industry. We’ve had recent dialogue re the uncertainty of the future of the VFL. Up in the Riverina my maternal family home town Corowa is apparently struggling to field a side.Sport is a commodity. Like all commodities it has a use value and an exchange value. In the current climate the latter is the primary.

    Where does this leave grassroots sports, what does this do to enhance participation,is a discussion we need to have.The AFL like a behemoth strides through the Australian sporting landscape. It is big, it is powerful, it is influential but as it, with other peak sports bodies get more and more corporate,what is the future for sport in Australia?


  3. Thanks for the comments. I don’t believe that there is no one answer to this problem as the drivers and incentives are so different.

    Contrast the fortunes of tennis and golf. Despite only one Australian male and no Australian woman contesting the Australian Open final in the past 25 years, the spectacular AO continues to go from strength to strength. Whereas Australian golf currently boasts two of the world’s best players, both recent major event winners. Yet marquee golf events languish in this country and the sport is largely funded from below, a far cry from the heady days when we even had high purse skins games televised for the purpose of promoting real estate developments. I am sure lots of club golfers would love to see successful major golf events again in this country. Conversely,, those sports that have successful events are feeling squeezed out in club land.

    To yours and Glen’s point, despite not being the flavour of the month with government, those sports with a federated model do have a say. How they choose to exercise their power is uncertain, and we are seeing plenty of variety at the moment. However, I suppose the one constant is the reflected glory of being associated with large events. .

  4. Citrus Bob says

    Well said Robbo. We (ABC Rural) discussed these issues this morning on radio and came to the conclusion that everything will be OK in the long term. However the headlines in the media this week have only left Tennis Australia alone (good boys Bernie & Nick) with every other major sport in crisis in some way shape or form.
    The loser in all this is “grass roots” sport but in some cases they are their own worst enemy also as they try to keep pace with the “big boys” and pay ridiculous amounts of money to has beens and never will bees in an endeavour to win premierships.
    The next few weeks will be very very interesting in the off-field machinations that will be taking place.
    Citrus Bob

  5. I was listening to David Parkin on the radio whilst driving into work tonight. He said that for the first time ever, no Tasmanian player was taken in the national draft. This from the state that produced Ian Stewart, Peer Hudson, Royce Hart to name but a few.

    Does that reflect a lack of money being spent in Tasmania? We’ve seen oodles spent in non-footballing parts of Australia, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Sydney. I’m not going to debate the pros and cons of that expenditure but it is concerning if Tasmania can’t produce a player worthy of drafting. What’s happening to grass roots footy down south ?


  6. Peter it is a complex question as re afl level the lack of support to state leagues is a total and thorough disgrace and how they can not see having a national reserves competition should be a number 1 priority so to stop having compromised state leagues has me stuffed.Citrus Bob is spot on tho re grass roots footy paying idiotic wages to players trying to win a flag paying no attention to a budget and what it can afford.I remember a article in inside sport where a survey was done at numerous clubs and the overwhelming response from males was winning the flag was the most important thing while the majority of ladies replied was breaking even or making a little bit of money to tide us over, the ladies are
    100 per cent correct

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