With the AFL offseason raging on, and the media needing to fill column inches, talk of a three-game AFL Grand Final series has been discussed.
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The 2018 AFL All Australian team has just been announced, and what a star-studded team it is, featuring Lance Franklin, Alex Rance, Patrick Dangerfield, Dustin Martin and more.
But wouldn’t it be great if they had another team to show off their collective talent? If those talented players could represent Australia in a meaningful international competition?
But how? Professional Australian football is not played in any other country, so surely this is impossible, just a pipe dream. But rather than just put it straight into the too-hard basket, let’s think about how we could make it happen.
I believe that a ‘if we build it, they will come’ strategy would work. Of course it will take time and inevitably must start small, but from little things big things grow.
I believe if we put in place the right incentives, Australian Rules football can grow exponentially and organically around the globe.
I’m old enough to remember how the interest in the America’s Cup grew and grew as each challenger was defeated by the New York Yacht Club. It was 132 years before the first successful challenge was mounted by Alan Bond in 1983 with Australia II. Who would’ve thought that a yacht challenge could generate that much interest? Something similar could work for Australian Rules football.
I believe a similar format to the America’s Cup challenge series would make for a successful international Australian Rules competition. A significant and suitable cash prize and a perpetual ‘Australia’s Cup’ trophy would be necessary.
If introduced, I envisage a similarly long, slow burn of international challengers to wrest the cup from Australia’s grasp. I concede that at the start it would be just a novelty interest, but over time I expect that would change.
How much would the AFL Commission and any interested sponsors, be prepared to invest to establish Australian football as a meaningful global game? Would it be $2 million per annum or $5 million per annum? This doesn’t seem that expensive when compared with the lucrative broadcast rights that the men’s AFL competition attracts.
The AFL challenge series would involve an annual, biennial or triennial tournament whereby the winner of an international knockout event would qualify to challenge for the ‘Australia’s Cup’ against that year’s AFL All Australian team. This could involve qualifying teams from different geographically aligned affiliated federations – for example, from the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania et cetera.
For example, if the AFL Commission invested a startup $20 million as prize money to the first international team to beat the Australian team and then topped this up with an additional $2 million for each unsuccessful challenge, the funds and the incentive and the interest would grow exponentially.
Under a scenario of topping up an initial $20 million in prize money by just $1 million per annum the total funds would be over $50 million by 2050 – assuming the All Australian team was still unbeaten of course. Heaven forbid the embarrassment and humiliation that would befall the first All Australian team to lose the international challenge.
The prize money funds would probably need to be held in trust, and with astute investment the interest would eventually cover the annual top-up. Of course there would be other costs, but they would be manageable.
The challenger knockout series could be held in Australia in September – either annually, biennially, or triennially – and the successful challenger would compete against the All Australian team in early October. Imagine an Irish team featuring Zach Tuohy, Conor McKenna, Pearce Hanley, Mark O’Connor, Ciarán Byrne, Cillian McDaid and Colin O’Riorden, a US team led by Mason Cox or a Fijian team comprising with Nic Naitanui and Esava Ratugolea. I believe there would be interest.
Of course Australia should win easily at first – and maybe a half-time or points differential mercy rule could be included – but over time I think the competition would become more competitive.
I was envious of the FIFA World Cup held in Russia this year. What a spectacle that was with such worldwide interest. Wouldn’t it be great to see just a small portion of that international attention and focus on our own indigenous game? And then maybe people would start to appreciate and enjoy the beauty and skill of our game.
I’m biased, but I believe that Australian Rules football is the best spectator and participation sport on the planet. My objective means for assessing its relative appeal with other sports is to compare the level of interest and engagement on the spectators’ faces as the camera pans across the crowd.
In most AFL games the crowd engagement is clearly evident, whereas when the camera pans across the crowd at most other sports, the level of crowd engagement is generally much less. Ice hockey, netball and Gaelic football are other sports with quite good crowd engagement.
This may be a pipedream, but if we don’t dream and don’t take an initial step, then sure as eggs, nothing will eventuate.
I’d Appreciate any comments and possible improvements to my suggestion.
By Joseph Lee