Former Cronulla Sharks star Valentine Holmes took his first snaps as a returner in what was effectively a cameo appearance during the New York Jets’ latest pre-season match against the New Orleans Saints.
What a great achievement by Jarryd Hayne to make the final squad (53 players) for the San Francisco 49ers.
While Colin Scotts (defensive end) and Hayden Smith (tight end) are non-punters who have already played in the National Football League (NFL), Hayne is the first Australian to make the final 53-man squad as a running player (either running back, wide receiver, or punt returner).
For Australia, Hayne’s success provides a further example of how we benefit from opportunities created by global sport. As of 2015, it was estimated that the entire global sport industry was worth $US1.5 trillion with USA sport worth $US500 billion alone.
With the National Rugby League (NRL) likely to attract greater attention from NFL scouts, there will be more opportunities for league players to try their luck in the NFL to help further boost Australia’s gain from global sport.
For Australia, global sport has already created considerable opportunities for both participants and spectators.
Take football. Growing interest in the sport over recent decades has made it one of the most participated sports among young Australians, which has enhanced the quality of our national teams (both male and female). An August 2015 list indicates that about 170 Australian males were playing for foreign teams, including in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and North America.
At the domestic level, in terms of spectator appeal, many Australians now view major football matches through both attendance or via television, with a recent article pointing to the A-League having an average attendance of around 13,500 – 14th highest of all national football leagues.
Of course, crowds are just one indicator. In the case of Australian basketball, the domestic league has struggled to maintain its number of teams despite considerable interest in the sport since the 1960s, and the National Basketball Association (USA and Canadian teams) via Foxtel television, although average crowds have remained at around 5300 for the past three seasons.
But again, a recent estimate indicates that over 200 Australian males alone were playing overseas, including a number in the highly lucrative NBA.
Even with regard to baseball (a relatively minor sport in Australia), as of May 2015, 31 Australians have played in the Major League (USA) while hundreds more had played in minor American leagues as well “as at the highest levels in Korea and Japan”.
Added to the opportunities created by major team sports, Australians continue to do well in individual sports overseas, such as tennis and golf. As of August 2015, Australia had two of top-15 ranked world golfers, with Jason Day at number three. With regard to tennis, although we’ve only had three grand slam winners since 2000, Australia still had eight listed among the top 100 male and female earners for 2015.
And Australia’s youngsters also have considerable interest and desire to succeed in new sports, as indicated by the popularity of the X Games, which began in 1995 in the USA, featuring sports ranging from bungee jumping to skateboarding.
Overall, of the 50 Australians who earn between $1.28 and $16.2 million in wages and endorsements per year (as of February 2015), 45 benefit from global sport, including 13 cricketers, nine golfers (one female), six surfers, five soccer players, four motorsport racers, four basketballers, and one baseballer, boxer, cyclist and jockey.
Only five of the top 50 earners were primarily beneficiaries of domestic sport, although none made the top 30, including three motor racers and one each from Australian rules and rugby union.
By also hosting major global sporting events (such as the Australian Open for tennis), in a market said to be worth $US145 billion in 2015, the Australian economy also benefits considerably. A 2014 report (Backing Major Events) indicates that 15 per cent of all international visitors (898,400) attended a cultural or sporting event during 2012-13, and spent more than twice the average of all international visitors.
Already, 2011 data estimates that Australian households spend around $AU8.4 billion on sporting services and products per year, with the 2011 census indicating that 95,590 Australians were employed in sport and physical recreation occupations, 17 per cent higher than results from the 2006 census.
But are there potential adverse impacts for Australia from global sport, as may be evident in other countries? For example, concern has been expressed that English footballers played just 32.36 per cent of playing time in the Premier League during the 2013-14 season after being 69 per cent 20 years ago, with the top clubs using the most foreign players (Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham). This had led to a target for English players of 45 per cent by 2022.
With regard to the Australian football experience, however, the growth of the global sport sector has hardly had an adverse impact upon our most important leagues, the Australian Football League (AFL) and NRL. Outside the major football leagues of the world, the AFL and NRL rank sixth and seventh of all world’s sporting leagues in terms of revenue generated. The AFL also ranks fourth in terms of average attendance of all sporting codes.
However, with four major football codes in Australia, each having average crowds above 13,000, it is only logical that there will be some competition for market share.
Take rugby union. Australian crowds for Super Rugby have declined from near 26,000 in 2005 to be just under 17,000 in 2015 against clubs from New Zealand and South Africa. In contrast to the NRL which prospers in a sport where just two countries have major rugby league competitions, Australia’s declining national performance since past World Cup victories (1991 and 1999) may be a factor against so much football competition.
Further, despite Australia’s considerable interest in sport, both at the global and domestic level, there is always a need to encourage more Australians to be involved in some physical activity, given an estimate that the proportion of Australians (aged 15 and over) undertaking such activity declined from 65 per cent in 2011-12 to 60 per cent in 2013-14.
Finally, Australia has some responsibility for sound policy involvement with regard to the development of global sport, both as a minor and major player. This includes football, given the recent arrest of seven top FIFA officials in Switzerland, with that government opening investigations into the bidding processes for the next two World Cups (Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022); and cricket, given the increasing domination of just three countries (India, Australia and England) with regard to the program and wealth distribution against concern by other nations.
To conclude, the entry of Hayne as a running player in the NFL does further highlight the immense opportunities that Australia has with regard to global sport. One hopes Hayne becomes a regular starter for one of the world’s most famous football teams, which averaged around 71,000 for home games in 2014.
I absolutely embrace the ongoing development of global sport and the opportunities it gives sport-loving Australians, both as participants and spectators. I suspect most Australians do.