Welcome to football’s industrial age

“Life expectancy today worldwide is more than twice as high as it was when the Industrial Revolution began. However, the quality of life has increased only for a small percentage of humanity, with a very small percentage in control of the majority of resources.”

So according to the AFL, players, coaches, administrators and broadcasters our plebeian hearts and minds are no longer invested in a sport.  No siree, it’s the ‘football industry’ we lemmings support in various ways each week.

Personally, this head wobbling reference rankles more than any modern jargon to have infected football.  Despite the common lament the AFL and its clubs have lost touch with the common person, notwithstanding the ‘The Year of the Fan’ ballyhoo, we’re reminded time and again of the needs of the industry.  And yeah, for those in the industry it can be ruthless, tenuous place to earn a crust.  But am I alone in thinking the industry comes across a wee bit self-important?

Sure, the AFL and its stakeholders are in fact part of an industry, worth well over a billion dollars no less.  Furthermore, the football industry is a big wheel driving several others; TV and media, travel, accommodation, tourism, corporate and public entertainment to name a few. To gain an understanding of the enormity of the AFL, check out their impressive 176 page 2014 Annual Report.

Strangely though, for all the immense level of detailed information, one thing that can’t be found is anything resembling a mission or vision statement, nor any overarching objectives or statement of values.  Ditto the AFL’s website, though if you search hard enough you might uncover 22 League policies and a Corporate Governance document that chiefly outlines the role of the Commission and sub-committees.


One of Gerald Scarfe’s iconic images from Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ concept album.

This isn’t to say the AFL does not have an overarching mandate or strategic direction, perhaps it’s just not for the great unwashed to know or hold the AFL accountable to.  Hence the industry has for a long time done what the industry wants, consuming all things Australian Rules in its path.

What will $2.5b over six years mean? The last TV rights windfall ($1.5b) seemed just as gargantuan at the time, but once the money was filtered through the industry there seemed precious little left for the fans who were instead forced to pay more to watch their team play.

Nor have battling clubs found themselves any better placed financially.  They too have put the onus on supporters to stump up more in order to survive and thrive.  Already the Players Association is putting their hand out for the next big pay rise.

They say money doesn’t buy happiness. To my mind, the worst part about self-referencing a sport as an industry is that it strips away any sense of fun.  And if there’s one thing the AFL appears to be missing most, apart from all else that has been taken to power the League’s hungry turbines, it is fun.

Whilst there’s been swings and roundabouts so far as attendances go, or more so dangerous slides in Victoria, the atmosphere at games in the past couple years has been as flat as the spectacle.  One doesn’t even need to attend games to appreciate that – take a look at the crowds at matches from the ‘70’s, ‘80’s and ‘90’s.  The only truly happy campers left are at Hawthorn.

Funnily enough (well not funny at all), it has been the better remunerated players and coaches themselves who’ve complained of high stress levels and lack of enjoyment.

That it shows is hardly surprising.  Being part of an industry is no game, it’s serious business.





About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.


  1. Well said Jeff. Yep, footy is fun. AFL increasingly less fun. And we are now regarded by the “industry” as “consumers” or “punters” – NOT FANS. Bombarded with ads, announcements, deafening music, “offers” – anything to exploit the gullibility of the young or naïve – and confuse us while the AFL’s “Commercial Partners” pick our pockets.
    $40 million annually to the AFL from Crown Bet!!! It ain’t a donation. They know they get it back many times over. The AFL are just money whores selling themselves to the highest bidder. What does an “official gambling partner” have that dozens of other companies don’t – except a higher bidding price.
    Stealing pennies from the eyes of dead men.
    Have a look at last weekend’s Footy Record – on page 12 – the survey of all 18 coaches – “What do you believe is the biggest threat to player welfare?” Answer: “Recreational drugs 12%; lack of direction 18%; idle time 25%; GAMBLING 44%.”
    Turn the page and there is a full page ad from the official partner/thief – “Bonus Bet $100” “Round 20 Special” etc etc.
    Vomit. With the usual small print disclaimer at the bottom about problem gambling, never actually implemented, just inserted by the lawyers to limit liability when some poor bastard jumps off a bridge or steals a million $ from their employer. I have met both situations – and 2 (then current) AFL footballers in problem gambling support programs.
    There is a Norm Smith Medallist who had to resign his high profile job after he pawned the office fridge, tv and microwave to feed his habit.

  2. Don’t get me started on the infiltration of gambling Peter.

    And the media are part of the conpiracy for they are averse to any criticism because of the advertising spend coming their way.

    I pitched such a piece to a national sporting magazine years ago and was rejected on the grounds of not wanting to upset their buttered bread.

  3. A friend of mine made an interesting observation about our society.
    He emailed the betting agency who hadn’t refunded the promised amount as his team had led at a break but lost. Within 15 minutes they had rung him, apologised, and resolved the issue.
    No bank, government department, online shop, retailer, would provide such service

  4. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great stuff JD. Good seeing you at the old ground last Saturday. For 2.5 hours there was no industrial disease to be seen or heard. It really started going down hill when people began to believe that they play and follow ‘AFL’.

    As PB stated above, footy is mostly fun. AFL? If they’re not careful the latest tv rights could be the last rites for many fans. Love the Pink Floyd cartoon. Says so much about so many parts of our neo capitalist existence from education to the game we grew up loving to watch and play.

  5. Football is a commodity, and like all commodities, has two values, a use value and an exchange value. In 2105 the latter is the primary one. Read Debord on the “Society of the spectacle.” Sports nowadays are primarily about making $$.

    Gambling, alcohol, tobacco ( though less so now), junk food and more have coalesced nicely with sporting events to maximise their money making. Football, AFL at its peak, i sa business , and that’s the reality in our world. let’s savour the spectacle, enjoy the thrills and spills, but have no illusions about it.


  6. Whoops again i submit prior to checking !!!! 2015 not 2105 !!!


  7. Dave Brown says

    Yeah, well put JD. My favourite hobby horse, the AFL’s tax free status rests upon its purpose being “solely the promotion, administration and development of Australian Rules Football. That’s what Gil’s talk was about yesterday – ensuring they can maintain a claim to meeting that description. When most of the money generated through the system disappears into the pockets of administrators, and players and staff of the 18 clubs, a reasonable question can be asked about whether this meets the “solely” description. It’s an industry masquerading as a game just so it can avoid paying 30 cents in the dollar and the only people with commission voting rights are the 18 clubs – accountability much? How and why did we end up giving national control of the game to these people?

  8. Some very pertinent points there Phil, Glen & Dave.

    Gotta say, it was some kind of deal the AFL wangled at such a low point in its history. Shows how desperate the TV industry is to obtain big sport in order to fend off Netflix and other content on demand operators.

    Gil is at least proposing that grass roots football will get a fair share this time but how much more are they going to sink into the expansion clubs and Shitihad Stadium?

  9. Skip of Skipton says

    The Great Unwashed need something to hold the AFL accountable to, Jeff. It is our game/religion, and without us what is there?

    The old VFL used to be the pinnacle of the sport of Australian Rules. Now this AFL thinks it is the sport and pinnacle.

    I’m a Victorian but I find that the SANFL is the last bastion of Australian Football. A coup involving the SANFL, Collingwood, Essendon, Carlton is bound to succeed.

    The AFL as it is must be destroyed.

  10. John Butler says

    Love the dark satanic ‘G image JD Your Photoshop work?

    Been (as usual) bemused by what passes for analysis in the tattered remains of our mainstream press. So Gillon’s legacy is already secured by the deal? What a load of horseshit.

    How little is expected of our so-called betters – those who are in a position to contribute so much more.

  11. Skip of Skipton says

    Cheers for posting the old Hafey era stuff Jeff. Brilliant. Collingwood were bad-ass, and a strange ‘troupe’ in that time. They kept rising to the challenge. ‘ Eclectic ‘ might be the word.

  12. Skip of Skipton says

    I have an old Footy Record from 1977, Collingwood vs. Richmond at Victoria Park, with autoghraphs from Bill Picken, Ian Cooper, Phil Carman, Kevin Worthington, Stan Magro, Len Thompson, Terry Wight and Wayne Gordon (RIP) which I got in the rooms after the game. There is also another autograph which I can’t identify/remember.

    The cover has Ron Wearmouth about to handpass, with Barry Cable on his tail.

    It is a treasure of mine, but is just gathering dust. I have no one to hand it down to. My daughter prefers ballet to footy. I blame her mother.

    I would like to pass this on to a genuine Collingwood supporter from that era, if they would like it and care for it. Lord Bogan or D Ballassone etc. I also have some Finals records from that time too. All included.

  13. Thank JB, yes that was my (very average) Photoshop handiwork. Gil’s legacy will be what is done with the $2.5b. Sadly the football industry is a runaway train so I’m not holding out much hope.

    Glad you like the Hafey’s Heroes piece Skip. Those old footy records – even the unique smell of them brings back fond memories. I hate myself for throwing out my earlier ones and my mum turfed out most of my older brothers’, as mums tend to do.

  14. TheBlackCat1859 says

    “The game has passed from being a game to a huge business, in which the players are professionals, and each club has a staff of servants from the medical officer down to the man who looks after the bootlaces, all of whom derive profit from the sport.”

    The Argus, 9 September 1926.

  15. I’ve seen a number of similar references through the years, probably a couple more predating that one BlackCat. It’s interesting when you go back and also find references to the same bugbears of today such as ugly scrimmages and the holding-the-ball rule.

    I guess it comes down to degrees and at least until more recent times one could at least contend footy was a ‘business like no other’ that retained some semblance of freedom and joy that goes with games. Now it just seems predominately business, on and off the field, as the industry players strive to meet their KPI’s.

  16. Jeff – Your heart’s in the right place and I share your fond recollection of the good old days and your loathing of the concept of football as an “industry”, but I have to play devil’s advocate and ask what you think the alternative is?

    The days when Australian Rules dominated the hearts and minds of young people without needing to try are long gone. Like it or not, the game is competing fiercely with other football codes for our hearts and minds, but most importantly, participants. To do this effectively, the AFL knows it cannot simply trade on what you and I regard as empirical fact – that it’s the best code in the world. It needs money, profile and a professional image.

    There’s a prevailing chardonnay socialist sentiment on this site that money in sport is the root of all evil, but without the $2.5 billion from the media deal, what else has Australian Rules got to engage in this battle? I actually take it as a great sign that our local game is regarded highly enough by the media moguls to warrant such an enormous amount for the broadcast rights. If the trade-off for this pot of gold means that we have to sacrifice a bit of character, then so be it. The game has plenty to spare. Besides, I’m not sure that the lost “character” we mourn is actually that precious. Do we really miss the primitive stadiums, the drunks, the thuggery (on and off the field). We bag Gillon and his cronies for presiding over an “industry” and removing all the fun, but do we really want to return to the amateur hour antics of the VFL as they ripped the guts out of South Melbourne and Fitzroy, tried to herd fans out to Waverley and allowed charlatans like Edelsten, Skase and Bond to play with footy clubs like trinkets?

    The alternative to going down the big business path, I’m afraid, is to sit back and watch as Australian Rules loses profile and gradually succumbs to the relentless march of the “world game”. At best it’ll be marginalised as an arcane curio, played and watched by a few old diehards on suburban ovals, while the rest of the country obsesses about soccer, not because it’s the best game – far from it – but because, like Microsoft, it’s the most pervasive.

  17. I agree with a lot of what you say Stainless and as Black Cat’s quote from 1926 alluded to, the notion of football as merely a game has long since flown the coop.

    In theory the TV rights money is a fantastic coup and necessary to fortify our provincial code against the world game and other competitors.

    Some of those amateur hour antics you mentioned were based on economic realities at a time when the League didn’t have the wherewithal to glean the dollars it might have from TV and the corporate world. One by one those decisions had already begun the process of diminishing the game’s unique character.

    But what I’m railing against here is that now with the rivers of gold flowing through the sport, every decision still appears to be made with the short sighted aim of making more money, not necessarily bettering the competition (which is hardly a proper sporting competition anymore, more so a tightly arranged theatre production) or being true to the fans who ultimately drive the revenue streams.

    To date I would say Gill is a vast improvement on his predecessor but for me above all else there was two watershed moments – the advent of the Docklands and more recently the expansion clubs – that have stripped the heart out of the game, I mean industry.

  18. Very interesting and thought-provoking stuff, Jeff.
    As the number of comments in the thread proves.

    Like it or not, there is an increasing disconnect between the AFL – the actual game onfield, and everything else off it – and all other types of footy (from VFL down). It is like they are two completely different sports. I watch a lot of Amateur footy, but I also watch a lot of AFL on television too. The two are just so different, but I enjoy them both.

    There has been a bit of hankering for the good all days lately – and a fair bit of it on the Almanac site. People need to realise that the AFL industry is so huge now, with so many people getting their cut from it, that there is no winding back. This feeds into the actual game, which means that the on-field side of things will never revert back to full-forwards kicking 100+ goals etc. (Unless there are radical rule changes such as zones etc.)

    By the way, I had not seen the Scarfe diagram prior to referencing Floyd in my Ashes review. Freaky. Tear down the wall !!!!

  19. G’day Jeff, just trying to ascertain the criteria you use to determine Gill is an improvement on Andrew. To me both are a quantum leap on characters like Oakley who were rapaciously mercenary in their behaviours. Gill presents the image of who he is meant to be, a switched on CEO of a major business. Good on him.

    If we acknowledge the AFL for what it is, a profitable player in the entertainment industry , we have at least a realistic understanding of who/what we’re talking about. I’m in the lounge now watching the Tigers V Pies, alternating with the Gee-Gees. It’s a lazy-hazy Saturday afternoon with the AFL playing its role of entertaining many thousands, while making many millions SSS !


  20. I certainly had fun at the G on Saturday!! Richmond no. 29 with a funny hairdo terrorizing Collingwood’s defence. Friendly banter between players and supporters behind the goals. A couple of punch-ons in the crowd. Could have been 1980!

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