A better way to raise the curtain on young talent
The AFL’s recent merchandising masterstroke – footy cards of kids, for kids, received a pretty swift kicking by the media last weekend.
Besides psychological concerns around the pressure on the 78 youngsters featured, and that few will actually make it in any case, one does struggle to grasp the business case for a product with limited appeal beyond the subjects’ nearest and dearest.
Nonetheless, Darren Birch (AFL general manager for commercial operations) reasoned the new set is just “a natural extension to (their) existing card program”. Personally, purchasing a pack of ‘kiddie cards’ (for my son) would feel anything but natural.
More attuned to the junior burgers’ interests, talent identification guru Kevin Sheehan defended the product on the grounds the potential draftees are used to publicity by now and if not, then here’s a chance to learn.
The AFL is rightly lauded for their pioneering participation and elite pathway programs, so this dubious concept might reasonably be filed away quietly in the bottom drawer with the underwhelming umpire cards still in vogue (anyone for darts?)
But if the AFL and clubs are concerned by the big leap to the big league, then there is a far more compelling way to shine a light on the kids and give their underdeveloped bodies a third dimension.
The A-League do it. So too the NRL, Super Rugby and AFL venues outside of Melbourne. It used to be intrinsic to the football experience every week, everywhere. That is of course the good old curtain raiser.
There were plausible reasons for its local demise, precipitated by the merging of the old reserves competition with the VFL. Ensuring pristine surfaces has been a priority however, since the advent of grow lights, the trials of Etihad have been consigned to recent history.
While Foxtel Cup matches on the rare occasion treat fans to a support act, TAC Cup games remain hidden from general view – even more so since the competition decider was booted from the grand final pre-match, leaving a lengthy vacuum filled with unwanted fluff.
Meanwhile, regular season attempts to entertain a diverse demographic with middling rock bands have fallen on deaf ears, literally (God did invent the iPod for a reason). Half time even warrants a D minus this year. Unfathomable ‘adult little league’ games have at times bumped the children.
Yet despite the AFL’s push to have us buy into ‘the journey’ and make the national draft a sizean>able event, for rank and file footy fans it’s nothing more than a list of unrecognizable names harbouring too many ‘y’s’ and ‘why’s'?
To the layperson there is no apparent journey – most players debut sight unseen. Theatre goers may be ambivalent, but the rusted-on Dreamteam/Supercoach playing collective just might gravitate to a clearer window on tomorrow’s crop. A slightly more interesting pre-game could also ease the last minute squeeze at the turnstiles.
Most importantly for the young hopefuls, as a means of acclimat class=”suggest suggested”>izing to the ominous coliseum-like atmosphere at the top level, the experience would be priceless.
The AFL’s hunger for a buck might not quite rival certain mining magnates, but it’s fair to say the cynical masses would welcome a pure initiative from Headquarters.
TAC Cup games as curtain raisers won’t make any dollars, but I dare say to the average punter, the clubs, the players and their parents, compared to footy cards they make far more sense.
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