The AFL needs this money to function as an 18-team competition and to ensure the survival of its 10 traditional Victorian clubs. And let’s be honest, if the AFL was starting tomorrow, there’s no way in the world they’d start with 10 teams in Victoria. Rather, to ensure each team had their fair share of support and corporate sponsorship, they’d probably start with four.
Yet while their growing media rights deals makes the current competition viable, the AFL’s cash cow is not the force it once was. In fact, it’s never been more difficult for television networks to make a dollar as advertisers increasingly abandon traditional mass media in favour of digital organisations that enable them to reach their target audience. Seven recently announced a full-year $444 million loss due to “the ongoing disruption” to the advertising market.
So, for the AFL to continue to grow its media rights deals, they first need to grow the value of their product. In other words, they need more viewers watching on TV and more fans engaging with the game online. And where will they find these new fans? Yep, NSW and Queensland.
For the AFL, the GWS Giants represent their biggest chance of growing the AFL brand, increasing viewing and attendance and importantly, increasing their revenues. Of course, traditionalists hate the idea of money superseding tradition. They vigorously argue that the AFL’s newest clubs, the Suns and Giants, have been given a free ride, that they lack culture, that they’re plastic and unfairly favoured by the AFL.
This might be true, but they do serve a purpose, for without them the AFL has little hope of increasing its supporter base and the overall value of its product. And if it fails to do either of those things the next question to ask if you’re a fan of one of Victoria’s 10 clubs is whether or not your club will still be around in the next 30 years.
Sam Duncan is a lecturer in sports media and marketing.