State of the footy nation: time to address a few issues about good ordinary football at the second tier.

by Terry Logozzo

 

The VFL/AFL had killed off the thriving, proud and community/tribal VFA about 1990, after televised Sunday AFL games commenced in the ’80s – ending the VFA’s high rating and financially lucrative Sunday football game and television monopoly. VFA crowds boomed in the ’70s (some Div.1, H & A games up to 10,000, finals up to 30,000 occasionally). Throughout VFA history post 1897, its crowds were generally about 20-30% of the VFL. Crowds were also very strong in the ’30s and late ’40s.

 

Pro rata crowds to population, Melbourne football has been DECLINING. In 1970, the VFL (six Sat games) averaged about 130,000 per week – and the VFA averaged about 30,000 per week (total 160,000). Melb. population about 2,200,000. In 2016, five weekend AFL games in Melbourne, average crowd per week about 195,000 – VFL total 5,000 per week? (Total 200,000) Melb. population 2016 about 4,500,000.
I understand there are similar pro rata declines, crowd to population, for Adelaide, Perth, and Tasmania senior competitions from 1970 compared to 2016, but don’t have precise figures. A Grand Final in Adelaide about 1965 had 52,000 spectators – and Adelaide’s population then was about 600,000. The TFL Grand Final in Hobart in 1970 had 24,413 spectators, the Hobart population about 150,000.
It now appears that the proud SANFL, WAFL and Tas. comps., a hugely important part of OUR football culture and passion, maximising player participation etc, are on the same declining trajectory. Per capita, soccer and basketball grassroots player rates have increased greatly, overtaking football in the southern states. But the ever increasing army of AFL administrators, advisors, media staff, coaches, coach assistants, physios etc and 700 elite players are now being paid salaries far above CPI increases, and also well above average wage increases of the general workforce. And the AFL players are now demanding a significantly higher remuneration. Perhaps community clubs should get transfer fees – we created the nursery and their opportunities.

The AFL claims it is the “guardian of the game”. It is doing a very good job (ie increase player participation rates) in female football, and in the NT; and a good job in the middle class areas of Sydney, and in all classes in S/E Qld. The GWS and GC are wise investments. However, in the ACT football was the most popular code until the ’80s – but now is behind the NRL, and probably equal to rugby and soccer on most metrics (after intro. of the Raiders and Brumbies).
Re. Tasmania, whose state team beat both a Victorian team in 1960 & WA team in 1970, and also produced Baldock, Howell, Stewart, Lawrence, Hudson, Hart, Crosswell, Jones, Greening in the ’60s – then Sproule, Lynch, Eade, Bonney, Greening, and Armstrong later. It is now dysfunctional, declining Senior crowds, no stars drafted since 1990, except for M. Richardson. Any Tas. draftees now a rarity! The AFL’s shame! Tasmania has been shafted. Imagine the result if a Tasmanian state team played Vic., WA, or SA state teams now.

 

I believe there should be a national conference to address the crucial issues of revitalising crowds and prestige of the second tier adult male competitions; declining pro rata AFL crowds; and declining player participation rates (per capita, cf. soccer and basketball player rates, which are booming) in Vic., WA, SA, and Tas. The reduction in tribalism and local football/community consciousness impacts on all areas of football. Live football AFL TV coverage is far more pervasive now cf. 1970.

 

A suggestion from left field. For the second tier football competitions, how feasible and popular would it be for games to be played on Sat. or Sunday mornings; or under lights mid week, or early Sunday evening? To obtain “clear”media air, better live TV coverage (essential NO direct competition from a live AFL match local or interstate), better attendances – and therefore greater financial/commercial returns for 2nd tier clubs and players?
A more radical suggestion – play the 2nd tier competition in AFL off season (if enclosed grounds can be found, evening games only in hottest months). Clear media air, NO AFL competition!
Can we learn from British semi -prof. women’s soccer -initially played during the men’s EPL season, and it attracted pathetic crowds, very poor TV ratings. After it moved to the summer, the women attracted respectable crowds, and good TV ratings.
This lesson has been learnt by the AFL. It will be playing the AFL women’s competition in the AFL off season to monetise its value to sponsors and broadcasters. It gives the women clear media air, with no competition from the AFL, which will also maximise TV ratings, crowds and general interest in the women’s game.

 

The two live televised AFLW exhibition games, with no concurrent AFL games, have both attracted massive TV ratings, and crowds up to 6,500. The AFLW game on Sept. 3 attracted the highest Sat night rating for the year, 750,000 average -and peaked at 1,050,000.
Female player numbers are booming in Vic. & Qld, and the 2017 televised AFLW will promote another surge in female player numbers (SA has been pathetic, a long way behind in recruitment).

 

The VFA was also severely damaged by very poor business/spending decisions in the 80’s, which also contributed to its demise (In the late 30’s, it recruited Nash and Todd in their prime, paying wages VFL clubs could not surpass). 2nd tier competions, if they are to survive and prosper, will need to be
fiscally prudent, transparent, and disciplined.
Victoria has introduced a Player Points System for the metro & country leagues, where recent decorated/accomplished players are automatically allocated a certain number of points according to a published formula -and clubs are unable legally to recruit beyond a certain number of points. This is designed to stop clubs trying to “buy premierships”-which often causes clubs to be become bankrupt after a few years, causes high player turnover and resentment, and is designed to even up competitions. A more level playing field where, over a cycle, all clubs can aspire to making a grand Final.

 

2nd tier football is of paramount importance to the long term health of the game – both at the grass roots, and for the AFL itself. In an era where community identity and participation is being eroded across a range of areas, community football was a “glue”that gave added meaning and a sense of belonging to many people. We must fight for it.

Comments

  1. Chris Lines says:

    The fundamental problem is that there is no national governing body for our game, which is a joke. The AFL acts in that role in a de facto sense _ Ozkick, some grass-levels spending etc _ but it is ultimately compromised by the fact it will do nothing to divert funds from the elite 18-team comp to fund state leagues, suburban and bush leagues, no matter how deserving. A summer league is a non-starter; many of the footy grounds are used for cricket in summer and its simply too hot. nb the English women’s soccer league is moving back to winter, the summer experiment is being ended.

  2. Chris Lines says:

    Didn’t there used to be something called the National Football Council or similar? Need that revived. While the AFL clubs and players would not like any of the money they generate going outside the league, ultimately it could benefit them. Paul Roos is among a few key people who’ve said we badly need to bridge the gap between state leagues, u18s and the AFL, because draftees come into the AFL system totally unprepared physically and tactically. If they’re more closely matched to AFL standard, they could make an impact from their first year, rather than needing 2 or 3 years of preparation, which means teams could quickly rise from the bottom of the ladder rather than slowly rebuild

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    A outstanding post but under lights only works really at the start and end of season re weather and and Saturday morning you would be competing with school sport and work,Sunday morning junior club sport the timeslot which works re spectator wise would be early Sunday evening ( but players would hate and may be lose them to SAAFL and country even more ) as Chris has said above there is a desperate need for a national controlling body for the game,The lack of financial support fom the Afl towards all the other states major competitions is a total and utter disgrace how the Afl can not see if the other competitions die off there can not be a Afl has me completely stuffed.
    ( very interesting re comparing attendance figures re population from the past mind you that is another article and debate in itself ) thanks Terry greatly appreciated

  4. James Stocker says:

    Elephant in the room not mentioned. The AFL’s white-anting slowly eating state leagues and their 100+ year old clubs out of house and home with their reserves and corporate media agreements that deliberately shut down decent print and online coverage of any football league that is not the AFL. Undermining the integrity and the very existence of state leagues with their threatening and bullying behaviour.

  5. bring back the torp says:

    The FA Women’s SL move to a summer competition in 2011 has increased women’s soccer attendance cf the previous FA WPL. The move back to a winter comp from 2017 has been based on the viewpoint that the British women will be better prepared, and increase their chances of success, for the European and world women’s soccer comps.

    Is it certain that no enclosed grounds can be found for the WAFL, SANFL, Tas. comps (and new VFA? ) in summer, due to cricket occupancy. I know in Melbourne some enclosed grounds not used in summer?

    For a State comp. in AFL off season, it would need to be a floating fixture ie no male players should be expected to play when temp. is over 25 deg- switch game to night game same day; or cancel, play another day or night. It would be a floating fixture,times and days not guaranteed – spectators would understand need to check times on hot days.

    There are a very small number of private schools which play sport on Sat. mornings. Club spectators and supporters need to decide what is more important -the continuing existence and success of 100+ year old State League Clubs and competitions, or watching your kids run around very early on Sat. morning? (Also, State League football matches would probably start around 10.30 -11.30, school sport often over by 10.30).
    State Leagues are on the brink, spectator numbers falling fast in the current situation.

    Re junior sport on Sundays, same argument -what is the priority when the future of State footy is at risk?

    Agreed under lights mid week in Tasmania in the evening is not an attractive proposition -Sunday 5pm game there perhaps ok. As for mid week evening games in WA, SA, and Victoria in middle of winter temperature is usually still over 12 degrees about 7pm – personally I dont consider this too cold. Adelaide and Melbourne (including Monday nights) get AFL mid winter night games starting after 7pm, and attract massive crowds -cold doesn’t appear to be a problem.
    The coldest time of the day is just around dawn.

    A thriving State League would get plenty of media attention -it is in media’s (and their advertisers)interest to meet the public’s interests.

    The VFA got huge media interest from 1897 to about 1990, even though it competed with the VFL. Learn from its success -when it decided to play on Sundays only in the 70’s, NO direct competition from the VFL, big attendances and TV ratings.
    Should the State Leagues decide to try a new direction (like the AFLW from the summer of 2017) -and not be played concurrently with a local or interstate AFL game?

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