The stories have been bubbling along over the AFL shutdown period.
It appears that everyone just concedes that it has to happen.
I’m taking about reducing the player numbers and getting rid of all those assistant coaches. That will fix everything, apparently.
But what are we trying to fix? Is it the short-term cash crisis caused by the coronavirus? Or is it the long-term viability of some AFL clubs?
The obvious problem facing the league is the potential shortfall in TV rights this year. But will there be that much of a shortfall if the season gets away in June and we get 17 games and finals?
That is just five lost weeks or about 20 per cent of the season. If the AFL gets 25 per cent less than the expected revenue, does this justify such dramatic changes?
The real question is how is it that one bad season could bankrupt the competition? If this is the case then we need reductions in the current administration, not necessarily players.
The long-term viability is a different issue and it involves a number of issues. The reality is that Australia only has 24 million people.
For the AFL to be viable in the long term, the league needs supporters from all over the country, in particular NSW and Queensland.
We don’t have an international competition, so to keep the advertisers funding the game the AFL must be a national competition.
The people who complain about the cost of the financial support the AFL provides to the clubs in the northern states miss this point. This is an investment in the future.
The AFL must have clubs in NSW and Queensland. And if they want full engagement, there must be at least one game played in each state every weekend of the season.
Another key issue not understood in Victoria is that to be a true national competition, at least half the teams need to be located outside Victoria. Why should the non-Victorian sides believe that this is a fair and balanced competition? The unbalanced travel arrangement gives the Victorian clubs an unfair advantage.
A good example is the NRL. Does any Victorian believe that the NRL really want the Melbourne Storm to keep winning grand finals?
The answer is obvious, and harsh. Some Victorian clubs need to merge or fold and new clubs need to be created interstate.
As long as the AFL keep on supporting unprofitable teams in the saturated market of Melbourne, we will never have a national competition
Clubs like the Pies, Tigers, Hawks and Bombers already have a stranglehold on the Melbourne market. For North, Saints and the Dogs to get bigger, they must steal supporters from each other or from the big clubs.
Life for the small clubs in Melbourne is unfair and that is unlikely to change in the future.
Everything has to go right to succeed in the Melbourne market and some of these small clubs have been cursed by history.
The Western Bulldogs – my second favourite team – are trying to sell the red, white and blue British bulldog in the multicultural west of Melbourne.
North are trying to sell the shinboner spirit. How do you sell the idea of being as tough as a kangaroo’s shinbone to today’s kids?
Moving North to Tasmania is not going to help. Add their history of disappointment and you have a two clubs that are really hard to sell. Both of them can’t succeed.
The unfortunate reality is that these clubs need to be merged, repackaged, renamed and focused on their supporter base in the west.
A similar reality faces the Saints and Demons but here the history of Melbourne being the inaugural club makes things much more difficult.
The AFL doesn’t want to reduce the number of teams because this would reduce the broadcast rights. The obvious place for a new team is Perth. The city has nearly two million people and only two clubs.
The Eagles are one of the wealthiest clubs in the AFL so the money is there. Surely one or even two new sides in Perth would work.
To work in Perth, they would need to be new teams, not relocated teams from the east. The new clubs would need to be supported for the immediate short term but in Perth they may become self sufficient.
They certainly won’t become self-sufficient in Melbourne. Imagine four teams in Perth. That is better use of their magnificent stadium. It would also be much more even travel for all clubs.
What about a team in Tasmania? Now that is starting to look like a true national league.
If we have to change, then let’s make sure the change is for the long-term good of the AFL.