The AFL preliminary finals kick-off tomorrow night, with two seemingly straightforward preliminary finals.
In 2008, the Federal Government relaxed laws restricting bookmakers from advertising. Although it took a little while to gather the momentum it now has, the government must not have realised the monster they had created.
I would imagine that seeing Luxbet on the Tigers jumper, Centrebet on the Saints jumper and the like was their intention when relaxing this law. Personally, I have no issue with that at all, if alcohol companies can take a place on a sporting jumper, or fast food outlets for that matter, then brand awareness advertising is fine by me. I mean the value of that advertising is debatable anyway.
I know I have absolutely no intention of using a company just because they sponsor the football team I follow and support. Of course that kind of advertising brings with it many other benefits that generate value for the advertiser. And we can’t ban brand building sponsorship of every business who may have some sort of moral cloud over their head. These businesses are legal, and deserve their right to speak to their target market. It is the individuals choice whether they do business with any type of firm, be it bad for your health, addictive or otherwise.
But there needs to be a line, and for me, the line was crossed on a cold Monday night late in September last year. The night Chris Judd won his second Brownlow medal. The night, which for me as a TV viewer, is about reviewing the highs and lows of the season, remembering moments in games and trying to guess who will get votes in what games. It is not the Melbourne Cup.
The consistent updating of odds, the moves, the bets, it was cringe-worthy. Since then, and even before that to a degree, you can’t watch a football preview without having the odds of the match, or a bet to do with the match rammed down your throat. That’s not right. Kids 13 and 14 years old will barely remember that team line ups were about who’s in, who’s out and where the match is played. They could probably tell you the line margin for the underdog or what Jimmy Bartel is paying for first goal.
But how do you balance it? That is now the key. The Federal Government announced on Friday that there is to be no more agreements entered into that announces the live odds as the match progresses. I don’t believe this new ruling will take much effect to the AFL. I don’t think any of the TV networks give live odds (mainly because they are showing the match on delay!) and for the radio stations that do, they will need to limit themselves to pre-match odds only. As to whether this will extend to the blaring betting market updates at the ground at the end of each quarter, one can only hope so.
I personally have enjoyed a bet every now and again, but if I want to know the odds, I’ll go to the TAB. Or online to one of the bookies or whatever. Just like if I want a beer, I’ll go to the bottle shop or pub. Alcohol is available at every AFL ground just like betting is. But at no stage on the big screen at the end of a quarter does the ground announcer start exclaiming the price of a pot in the members bar. Never will a kid turn to his or her dad and say, “Hey Dad, you should get a pot now because VB is at a cheaper price than when the game started.” Well, beer will never be cheap at the Footy, but I’m sure you get my point.
It’s not so much about hiding sports betting or forcing it underground. The dire situation that cricket finds itself in, particularly in the sub continent, is an example of how not to control it. Thousands of people can’t take that sport seriously anymore, and I truly hope match fixing never takes hold of our great game. It’s also important to remember that it is legal for people over the age of 18 and of course all those ads encourage everybody to bet responsibly. As a nation we love a punt. I mean, we live in a city that has a holiday based around a horse race! But our children do not need the odds of the match they are enjoying rammed down their throat.
Australian Rules Football is not horse racing. Our game survived long before the commercial arrangements the AFL made with sporting bookmakers, and will continue to survive long after. Horse racing, while there is an element of spectating, is about backing a winner. A good day at the races is generally about how your wallet looks at the end of the day.
AFL is about supporting your team, the passion and love of the players and the game. It is not, has never been, and I dearly hope never will be, about whether North Melbourne can cover the line on Saturday afternoon.