The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on sport right around the world. In Australia, all of the major sports codes have suspended their seasons. The Australian Football League (AFL) – the most popular competition in the country – put the season on ice after just one round.
This has had a major financial impact on the clubs, with 80% of their staff being stood down. While the players have been kept on, they have taken a pay cut of at least 50%. The pandemic means nothing is going to stay the same, and this also goes for the AFL competition.
Unemployment is set to skyrocket, perhaps as high as 15% in 2021. This will cut workers ability to spend on sports and entertainment, and have a knock-on effect, diminishing the membership base of the clubs.
Corporate sponsorships will also be less which means less money in the game’s coffers. It will be some time before crowds are allowed back into the grounds which means gate revenue will also be down. The broadcast dollar has also taken a big hit.
The AFL is hoping to restart playing soon, and is trying to cobble together a shortened fixture. But without the crowds it will not be much of a season. That said, it would probably provide punters in lock down a little relief.
Over the years, football has been transformed from a game into a huge corporate business. The profit perspective has undermined the fundamentals that underpin the game. That’s being exposed in the debates going on about when the season should restart.
Just the same as other industries, the big wigs are focused on making money rather than looking after the health and safety of the fans, the players and the workers associated with the clubs and grounds.
It’s time for the supporters and club members to take the game back from the unaccountable business tycoons. They have thrashed football’s grass roots traditions.
We want to enjoy the simple beauty of the game without all the corporate hype. We have to get rid of all the spin doctors and bureaucrats and use the revenue raised to make the sport more accessible to fans, and to those with the talent to play at the highest level.
There is a dire need to immediately bolster local competitions, including junior and women’s teams. These are the places where communities come together and social bonds are built. The game’s real growth and survival is predicated on healthy local football.
With a number of clubs struggling to survive, the football bosses are already discussing what can be cut. It is imperative to shore up the financially stressed teams and guarantee their future stability. In these clubs is embedded the heart and soul of the game.
The women’s competition (AFLW) has provided a grass roots fillip to the game and it must be defended at all costs.
Let’s not allow the game’s profiteers to use this time of crisis to further their ambitions. Part of the struggle over the next few years will be to return football to its working class roots.
By Michael Naismith