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Why the AFL's China venture misses the point

thanksbasil new author
Roar Rookie
2nd June, 2019
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thanksbasil new author
Roar Rookie
2nd June, 2019
75
1877 Reads

For years the AFL has talked about growing the game. If done correctly, our native sport can become massively popular overseas, as it is very often heavily admired by non-Australians. The AFL have attempted to do this by playing one game a year in Shanghai.

Playing one game a year in China will not grow the game. Why would it? Few Australians live in China. You can’t bring this uniquely Australian game to a country that doesn’t have any clue what it is and doesn’t have many Australians there to help support it.

If the AFL were actually interested in growing the game, they would play games in the USA or the UK or New Zealand, where there are several Australians already living there.

Every time an American watches a highlight reel of Aussie Rules football they marvel at the athleticism and fast-paced nature of our sport. After living in America for four years I am still yet to find an American sports fan who is not interested in our native game.

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The US has an enormous market for sport, and with the emergence of popular Australian basketball players like Ben Simmons, Joe Ingles, and Andrew Bogut combined with American native Mason Cox slowly becoming one of the most popular figures in the AFL, the time has never been better to grow the game in the USA. Ben Simmons even publicly stated on his Twitter account that he was interested in playing a season for Essendon before his career was over.

The only way the China game will be able to help grow Aussie Rules is the fact that rich Chinese businesspeople will invest in the AFL. The advertising boards at – get this – ‘Adelaide Arena at Jiangwan Stadium’ say “Invest in Adelaide”. This game was never about getting Chinese fans; it was always about the increased investments and funding.

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After announcing that an AFL office would be set up in China, the AFL general manager of China David Stevenson explained to AFL.com.au: “They (The AFL’s China office) will be primarily focused on driving commercial outcomes and building long-term partnerships with either Australian companies trying to grow into China or Chinese companies trying to grow into Australia.”

The focus on the Chinese market is not about growing the game, it is about the money. The only people who attend this game are AFL representatives and the Port Adelaide faithful who travel out to Shanghai every year for the match. Very few Chinese locals seem to attend.

The AFL must work on getting new fans from overseas. The NFL is a prime example of native games becoming popular around the world – American football is only played in America yet the NFL is the richest league in the entire world and has a massive following overseas.

But as long as we’ve got our funding, right?