Kennett is right, the AFL must temper its arrogance
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Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett is known for making outlandish statements, however he was completely justified yesterday in labelling the AFL “bloody arrogant” for the way it switched official airline partners from Qantas to Virgin Blue. The reason behind the switch, it’s believed, is that the AFL were demanding Qantas not sign agreements with other major sporting codes.
Kennett’s primary concern was how the change could affect player welfare, given (until Virgin expands to include business class) clubs won’t have the luxury of upgrading players from economy if they’re injured or simply need the extra space. And it seems to be a concern held by a number of clubs.
However, Kennett also didn’t shy away from the apparent reasoning behind the AFL’s decision.
“The reason that has (been) given to me and was publicised at the time was that Andrew Demetriou said if you don’t give us exclusivity over soccer and union, then we’re going to change the airline,” Kennett said on 3AW. “I think that is just so bloody arrogant, as to be very, very upsetting.”
Jeff’s right. The AFL have really come across as arrogant on this one.
Sure, the league has every right to be competitive and to seek out the most beneficial deal for the game. But it’s nothing short of provocative to other codes to ask Qantas – who hold naming rights to both the Socceroos and Wallabies, in deals that would have to be worth millions annually – to end sponsorships with rivals of the league.
What’s truly troubling with the AFL’s mindset here is that the league is currently expanding into New South Wales and Queensland, markets where this kind of behaviour is unlikely to go down well.
Firstly, because the sports that would be most affected by Qantas removing its sponsorship are so prominent in those states. (Aside from soccer and rugby union, Qantas are also involved in rugby league.)
Secondly, because history shows that even the hint of arrogance from the AFL tends to lead to hostility in the northern markets.
The league should have learned from the failure in Sydney of its ad campaign a couple of years back spruiking “The Game That Made Australia”. Not only did the ad fail to resonate with locals, the Daily Telegraph’s Tim Morrissey wrote at the time, “The AFL could not have come up with a better way to alienate Sydney if it tried.”
And thirdly, it’s an issue because it doesn’t fit well with the AFL’s public mantra that all the codes can work together or at the very least coexist.
It’s one thing for Andrew Demetriou to talk the talk (like in this recent Herald Sun piece, even if he does plug his own code one too many times) but it’s another thing entirely to walk the walk. The AFL don’t always back up their words with actions.
That’s not to say the AFL should be diplomatic with other codes at the expense of all else. Far from it.
There are times where the league needs to stand up and protect its own turf, and I’m happy to see it happen.
However, the request of exclusivity from Qantas was provocative to other codes and the assumption that the airline would want to partner solely with the AFL at the expense of two of our country’s most popular national teams was bigheaded, to say the least.
Given that, the response of Qantas spokesman Ken Ryan last month was unsurprising: “It’s been a good partnership, but the AFL had issues with our arrangements with the other codes. We have a proud history of supporting all sports in Australia, including all codes of football and that’s not going to change. We will not enter into exclusive arrangements with any sporting body.”
You can’t blame Qantas for holding that attitude.
Just like you can’t blame Jeff for his comments.
Michael DiFabrizio is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio
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