Will the AFL’s cash cows run dry?
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It takes much more than a million-dollar contract to recruit players in order to build a successful football club.
As the football world’s beliefs have been confirmed, the foundations upon which the Gold Coast Suns and Greater Western Sydney have been built are unstable.
Within the past decade proud Victorian clubs such as Melbourne, Hawthorn, Footscray, North Melbourne and Richmond have struggled to keep afloat, both on and off the field.
Despite being proud, traditional clubs with loyal fan-bases these clubs were outright struggling to exist.
Yet each club respectively had board members to stand up and ensure that they remained financially stable.
Some have since delivered some sort of on-field success.
North Melbourne President James Brayshaw was an extreme advocate for his club, getting all North members on board to boost the club financially.
He kept them coming to the games, doing his utmost to ensure crowd numbers for home games remained respectable.
While North Melbourne are not by any means a financial powerhouse in the AFL they have come a long way since a few years ago.
Their facilities have improved, their list management is better and relocation talks have been put to rest.
The same story goes for Melbourne and Richmond.
While neither have experienced great on-field success – and both have had their fair share of controversies – both clubs are in a much better financial position than they were a few years ago.
So the one question that has been niggling for two years is, if there were clubs already struggling in the AFL then exactly how was bringing two new AFL teams into the competition going to eradicate this?
A few years on and we now have 18 teams in the competition, which also means approximately 100 new players in the AFL, excluding the new draft picks from the previous year who went to clubs elsewhere.
Furthermore, there are more run-of-the-mill players coming through the AFL ranks than ever before, to allow for the two new team lists.
This all equates to less authentic AFL-standard talent.
There are more recycled players lured by a hefty pay cheque. There are more non-contracted players being hunted from other clubs. There are more completely lopsided matches, week in, week out.
There is now a struggle to keep substantial crowds coming in for Gold Coast or Greater Western Sydney games.
The biggest concern of all remains these clubs’ ability to take uncontracted players from other teams in the competition.
Admittedly, players have always moved clubs for money.
The only difference from the past, in terms of attracting players from other clubs, is that back then players moved for both the money and the opportunity to experience success.
They knew it would make the move worth more than just the dollar value.
Can you imagine if Fremantle were given a great deal of cash back in their humble beginnings, trying to lure Brownlow medallist James Hird from Essendon?
Wouldn’t have happened.
These days, however, the two new clubs on the block have the money and the questionable right to offer the big bucks to uncontracted players from all over the league.
This, despite them likely to be sitting comfortably at the bottom of the ladder for some time to come in two non-Aussie-Rules states.
The re-signing of Tiger Brett Deledio for five years and Magpie Scott Pendlebury for a four-year contract at their respective clubs has put many speculating critics back in their place.
Players already know that a move to either Gold Coast or GWS is not going to be a fast road to success.
Perhaps now they’re realising that the hardships each club is set to face for a long time to come far outweigh the allure of the extra money.
It will be a true testament to the character of the non-contracted players as to who is enticed by cash and who remains a loyal clubman, in this greedy day and age of our game.
The AFL has encouraged and supported these two new teams endlessly.
Now the football world is left to simply ponder why the AFL has become so money driven and in turn oblivious to the struggles that these two teams will face for a substantial amount of time.
Hawthorn, Footscray (now Western Bulldogs), North Melbourne, Melbourne and Richmond were only able to survive via the loyal, passionate diehards of each respective club.
Without that network of support who knows where these clubs would be.
While the AFL can inject all the money, advertising and support into these new clubs, unfortunately clubs supporters’ loyalty and generosity are not buyable assets.
While this has been the inevitable situation for over a year now, it is becoming alarmingly apparent that the rush to get these clubs into the AFL was a botched one, built on a money-driven expansion plan.
If only the AFL had thought about the true assets that build the foundations of a football club.