AFL players can’t win PR battle on pay rise

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    Gold Coast's Gary Ablett with the ball during the AFL Round 06 match between the Essendon Bombers and the Gold Coast Suns at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne. Slattery Images

    Gold Coast's Gary Ablett with the ball during the AFL Round 06 match between the Essendon Bombers and the Gold Coast Suns at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne. Slattery Images

    AFL players do a lot of work, but would have you believe that they are not paid well enough for their efforts. Sounds like a hard sell? I thought so too.

    The AFL Players Association (AFLPA) faces the mother of all public relations battles as it tries to agitate for an increase in player payments from an already lofty base without disenfranchising the public.

    AFL players earn on average $180,000 each per year, which is roughly three times what many of their peers of a similar age earn in the general workforce.

    Despite this, the players have reasonable claims that this amount should increase to reflect the growth in the AFL over the past decade.

    The battle to win the hearts and minds of the public will be a difficult one, as the AFLPA attempts to overcome a host of stereotypes and expectations the public holds of what constitutes fair and reasonable pay.

    Much has been made of the significant increase in earnings of Andrew Demetriou during his tenure as AFL CEO.

    Demetriou’s pay increase has been proportionally far higher than what the players are seeking, both in percentage and absolute terms.

    Yet the significant rise in his earnings has not seemed to bother the football public half as much as the AFLPA might have hoped, and the reason for this seems clear.

    Middle aged men in suits with titles like ‘CEO’ are expected to earn big money.

    We are conditioned to believe that large salaries with even larger bonuses are commonplace in business, and Demetriou’s income – while stratospheric by comparison with the average wage – seems reasonable when compared to his peers in the business world.

    We expect Demetriou to earn mega-bucks as the number one man at the AFL.

    On the other hand, twenty-something men who kick around an inflatable ball on the weekend aren’t meant to complain about earning close to $200,000 per year.

    We question their suggestion that this significant sum of money is not sufficient pay for a task that many of us do on the weekend purely for the love of the sport.

    The greatest challenge for the AFLPA is to try and convince the public that 20 year olds earning $200,000 are not being greedy by seeking a pay rise.

    The problem the players face is made more complex by the prism through which we view our professional sportsmen and women, and more broadly how we relate to them.

    In Australia, we believe our sports stars should possess an everyman quality. They are more talented and more athletic than those of us who sit in the crowd, yet we want to identify with each one of them as still being one of us.

    We want our sports stars to be our better selves, but still fundamentally ourselves.

    Our sports stars must have an everyman quality – think Pat Rafter’s bloke-next-door likeability or Shane Warne’s larrikinism.

    Any signs of extravagance or opulence are harshly criticised or are accompanied by circumspection from the public – just ask Michael Clarke.

    In turn, Australia’s professional sportspeople are quick to identify as “just an ordinary bloke” if the suggestion is made that they have strayed too far from the norm or that success has gone to their heads.

    How we view and relate to our professional sportspeople contrasts sharply with the different realm that sports stars in the USA appear to occupy.

    In America, sports stars exist in an otherworldly state. They are the demigods of American society – some higher ideal, and not the viewer’s better selves.

    American sports stars are only too happy to draw distinctions between themselves and the rest of the American public. They have minders and employ others to deal with the everyday mundane tasks of life on their behalf.

    They wear flashy jewellery, talk about themselves in the third person, and the suggestion that they are just “ordinary Americans” would likely be accompanied by a raised eyebrow and quizzical look.

    The idea that US sports stars should earn multi-million dollar salaries doesn’t seem to rankle as much as the demands of the AFL players, for US sportspeople seem to be a cohort of individuals entirely separate from the greater American public, and are therefore judged by different rules.

    Society views them through a different prism.

    Australian culture does not allow for such a distinction.

    When the AFL players gathered at Melbourne’s Crown Casino to discuss their pay negotiations recently they were accompanied by mates, not minders.

    They wore beanies and baseball caps, not bling.

    This was a collection of young men largely unremarkable except for their ability to play football.

    Were any of these men to identify themselves as being somehow better or different to the general population, they would be greeted with a host of uncharitable labels, ‘wanker’ foremost among them.

    And herein lays the difficulty for the AFL players. How does this group of ‘everymen’ win the PR battle with the AFL, and convince the public that they deserve more than three times the average wage as they currently earn?

    Maybe they could ask Demetriou for some tips.

    Follow Michael on Twitter @michaelfilosi

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    The Crowd Says (33)

    • Roar Guru

      July 11th 2011 @ 9:37am
      Mark Young said | July 11th 2011 @ 9:37am | ! Report

      On the other hand Michael….
      The huge amount of money being generated by the TV Deal and Bumber crowds is not just going into the bank is it??
      Who should be getting their hands on it?

      Why not the players?
      They are the ones providing the show. They are the performers on the stage.
      They are currently making a little bit more on average then an NRL player, but their game is generated (probably) about twice as much revenue. I think that justifies them getting more dosh.

      The biggest weakness in their case is that unlike players in other codes, they don’t have a ready made alternative to walk off to. League players can bail to Union, and visa versa. And Football players can bail to other leagues around the world. AFL players haven’t got history in making it other sports so they are over a barrel in that respect.

      • Roar Guru

        July 11th 2011 @ 2:26pm
        Michael Filosi said | July 11th 2011 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

        You make a good point, the AFL players don’t have any ready made alternative to change sports if the money isn’t good enough.

        However, my article is less about whether the players deserve more money or not, and more an examination of how we view our professional sportspeople.

        • July 11th 2011 @ 9:42pm
          dasilva said | July 11th 2011 @ 9:42pm | ! Report

          Personally I think the way we view sportsman is out of date and unfair

          I do think this is a twisted version of tall poppy syndrome

          I mean twisted because it seems like society would prefer money to be distributed to fat cats in suits instead of the players that people pay to watch. You would think that real tall poppy syndrome would be trying to tear down the owners, administrators etc

          If I was a muso and the CD sell millions of record. I may well have a decent amount of money out of that. However if I found out that large percentage of that sale goes to the administrators/owners/advertisement etc. I have the right to demand a receive a larger percentage of the sale and negotiate with the company to receive it without being called greedy especially when people paid money to get entertain by the musicians not the administrators.

          I take the same principles toward sports player.

          It’s not about whether they are everyday people or above society etc.

          • July 12th 2011 @ 12:18pm
            Jaredsbro said | July 12th 2011 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

            But Democracy really isn’t about the high-fliers, sad but true fact! It’s about securing that which is for the public’s good (that’s right a free market approach to morality is part of the problem too isn’t it?) In the United States for example, enough people seem to be getting enough of the pie (and I say seem to be as of course their system seems to be very VERY skimpy on getting that which is in the public good.)

            Of course we can’t entirely leave it to democracy to decide how much players should get, as then there would be no incentive, but why can’t we get away from this idea that players are inherently better just because they play their game professionally. Surely being somewhere in between the corinthian spirit and the celluloid spirit isn’t too hard for such an otherwise democratic culture.

            • July 12th 2011 @ 11:15pm
              dasilva said | July 12th 2011 @ 11:15pm | ! Report

              I hate celebrity culture. I absolutely despise it and the way people act like they are better then normal people.

              However just because I don’t think they are better then normal people, that doesn’t mean I don’t think they deserve to earn more money than normal people.

              The reason why players deserve to get paid more then the average joe is because they are employee of an industry and assisting that industry to make millions of dollars.

              I don’t believe that rich people are better human beings than poor people. Far from that actually but I do believe that for the most part (unless people make money out of unethical and illegal means) then they deserve more money than poorer people.

              The average joe aren’t working in company and business that is generating that much wealth. If the average joe wants that kind of money, they have to develop the skills necessary to be hired by a company that generates that much wealth. The AFL players do, the average people don’t.

              Now I believe that the government should intervene in the free market to further public good (yes I consider myself left of centre by the way), however players being paid a lot of money is hardly an issue that I would want government intervention in and therefore shouldn’t be an issue for public to vote on. It’s not really a democratic issue.

      • July 12th 2011 @ 3:04am
        Ben G said | July 12th 2011 @ 3:04am | ! Report

        I can’t really pretend to have any knowledge of how money in AFL is specifically distributed but I think it’s a bit simple to just say that the players put on the show. So much goes on behind the scenes in grassroots, player development, marketing, administration etc. All of these aspects go in to making AFL as popular as it is. Personally, I have always been of the belief that the grassroots are far more important than the actual players. The players exist in any code only because they were grabbed at the grassroots level. If I was given a choice, I would always pick subsidising junior players over paying the “elite” (with in reason).

        Beyond that, how do the players think they get on every week? It’s the trainers, coaches, administrators, backroom staff, club CEOs, marketing departments etc that put all the grunt work in to organising a national sporting competition. Yet, none of those people (bar the coach and CEO) are likely to be on a salary that is even remotely comparable. Is that fair?

        I don’t know if there is an aspect of jealousy to my opinion but I just find it very hard to sympathise with young men earning $180k to kick a ball. I think the headline of the article is perfect. Even if they do deserve, it’s not a PR battle they will win because of people like me.

    • Roar Guru

      July 11th 2011 @ 9:56am
      TomC said | July 11th 2011 @ 9:56am | ! Report

      Wow. Great article Michael.

      I’ve never really thought about it like that, but you make an extremely strong case.

    • July 11th 2011 @ 10:21am
      Andrew Leonard said | July 11th 2011 @ 10:21am | ! Report

      Michael – I wrote about this “Sports stars are greedy or getting their 2 cents worth” and got hauled over the coals by the readers…. I agreed with your premise that it is more a PR battle with the public than arguing over waht they actually deserve witht he AFL.

      Mark Young is correct to an extent though – if there is a heap of money there then why shouldn’t the players get it. However from the AFL’s perspective – the game is not the number one across the entire country, it has two new teams in markets that are not even 50% sold (even less in West Sydney) to pay for and still has clubs haemorrhaging money all over the place.

    • July 11th 2011 @ 10:22am
      Handles O'Love said | July 11th 2011 @ 10:22am | ! Report

      The first question that always occurs to me is why we get so upset about sportsmen, and AFL footballers in particular, earning lots of money. In the cold hard business sense, they are putting on a show which generates huge revenues, and they get less of a share of this revenue than almost all other professional sportsmen, and less than movie actors, musicians and other specialist entertainers.

      It is often reported that in NFL, MLB and NBA, (and EPL, I think) players salaries represent between 55 and 65% of total revenue, and in AFL the players are accused of being greedy when they want to get to 29%. Why should this be the case?

      I should come clean and note that this is a subject close to my heart – perhaps a little too close. My son is a potential 2011 draftee, and I have seen the struggles and the effort that he has put in over the last three years, and the injuries and other setbacks he has already dealt with. (So far, he has received a bunch of nice tracksuits, some good interstate travel, excellent coaching and physio, and one $30 match payment!)

      If he is successful (he is a fringe candidate) there is a strong chance that the next 2-7 years will be filled with the same, plus a wage. What would be certain is that he would end up forsaking his potential university education, have a high chance of developing chronic or life-long medical conditions, and spend his early 20s without the social life and freedom that most of us take/took for granted.

      I think that the average AFL career is 4 years, and the average salary somewhere around $180,000. This should clearly indicate that the average AFL player is not getting ‘set for life’. I wish the AFLPA all the best in their battles, and don’t begrudge them anything that they can get.

      • July 11th 2011 @ 1:30pm
        Matt F said | July 11th 2011 @ 1:30pm | ! Report

        handles – The reason the NBA/NFL etc spend so much more (% wise) on player salaries is because they don’t have to spend much, if anything, on grassroots and junior development. Because of how the American High School/College systems are run all of the work is done by the schools/colleges and the NFL/NBA just take have to run the competition itself. The AFL however has to do all the grassroots/junior stuff like Auskick, draft camps, U18 championships etc. and has to give money to state/local aussie rules bodies to administer the game at local levels. This takes up a substantial chunk of what they can spend.

        Good luck to your son! It must be a very exciting time for him

      • July 12th 2011 @ 12:27pm
        Jaredsbro said | July 12th 2011 @ 12:27pm | ! Report

        No I’m sorry that argument is just getting to me now 🙁 I respect your very close eye-witnessing opinion, I really do…but how is compensation for injury the right approach to paying for someone to put on a show. Surely the professional structure should be paying for something like further education not in case one’s career ends quickly, but even if it goes the full hog.

        Sure paying for a degree would cost the managers heaps…but its more that received logic, that the game should compensate which peeses me off…really the game should develop growth (like they’ve been doing outside just football, in community initiatives) in terms of not just after-football…but simultaneously at the same time as football.

    • July 11th 2011 @ 11:21am
      Ian Whitchurch said | July 11th 2011 @ 11:21am | ! Report

      If you assume working-class young men who are the very best at what they do shouldnt ever get paid what they are worth, then, yes, you have just made the assumption they will lose the PR battle.

      A top quality I-banker gets a lot more than $200 000, even if he is 25. Ditto a lawyer who makes assistant partner at that age.

    • July 11th 2011 @ 11:31am
      BoomBoom said | July 11th 2011 @ 11:31am | ! Report

      You need to be careful to compare apples with apples in regards to talk about revenue sharing. In the US, there is a very clear delineation between professional sport and grassroots development. For instance, in the NBA, development is done at high school (AAU) and college (NCAA) by independent organizations who have their own funding models – the NCAA for example has sold the tv rights to their national championships for billions. Here in Oz, as well as funding the top flight AFL competition, the AFL is responsible for development and growth if the game at all levels from auskick through juniors through U18’s through state based leagues. This would easily allow for the 30% difference in revenue shared…

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