Confusion or Deception: Mixed Messages from AFL

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(Ed. note: the following is an editorial from the management of AFANA in response to recent public statements of the AFL CEO.)

Once again, the AFL has muddied the waters and discouraged those working to develop the game internationally  It reinforces the feeling that the AFL talks out of both sides of its mouth. Fans outside Australia are left wondering if they matter to anyone at the AFL headquarters.

Recently, AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou, as reported by the Australian Associated Press and the Melbourne Age newspaper, told the American Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne that the AFL does not plan on being an "international sport". Our colleagues at the World Footy News have expressed their difficulty in understanding what Mr. Demetriou meant. I'm guessing his audience in the room was also a bit perplexed. What exactly does his statement mean?

If he means that the AFL does not plan to have clubs outside Australia, that is at minimum an insult to those working in New Zealand and the fans drawn to the game by the recent St Kilda vs Sydney match played in Wellington. Most fans in North America know that the chance of an AFL team here in the next few decades is very remote. However, those fans in New Zealand should have a realistic hope. Or they did until this.

If he means, and this seems to be at minimum true, that they see international fans as merely fodder for their international sponsors and TV revenue, then it begs the question of why organizations like AFANA, the USAFL, AFL Canada, and AFL Europe exist. If we serve merely to enrich the AFL's TV and sponsorship coffers, and perhaps feed one or two players every few years to the rookie lists* then we serve no purpose in existing except to service players and fans here and that purpose is severely compromised. *[Ed. note: not a single player signed out of the USA or Canada to the 'international rookie list' has ever made it to play even one game at AFL level. Players like Mike Pyke of Sydney came a different route.]

More importantly to AFANA and fans who support us, if we have succeeded in helping to raise the AFL's international TV revenue (and every indication is that we have done so significantly over the past 19 years), then we should benefit directly and fans should benefit. However, AFANA has not seen any substantial revenue from the AFL since 1996. Fans have seen just one exhibition here in that time frame and it was poorly promoted, not televised, did not count for anything in the preseason comp, and did not help grow the game here. Television coverage has improved but remains on a premium channel unavailable to significant numbers of fans. More widespread coverage on MHz was lost last year after the AFL and MHz failed to come to contract terms.

As for international sponsors, the AFL might try to please their Australian officials, but has done little to generate any benefit to the North American arms of the same corporations. Companies such as Toyota, Burger King (aka Hungry Jacks), and others have neither helped to promote the game here nor as far as we can tell, care in any way. Far from pleased, the AFL isn't known to them. Almost every sponsor of either AFANA, AFL Canada, or the USAFL is a primarily American / Canadian company or more likely an Australian based company with limited international presence seeking to market to Austraulophiles and ex-pats but not the broad American and Canadian markets.

He indicated they are like the NFL. No, they are not. The NFL is serous about international promotion and has left the door open to international expansion somewhere down the road.

For too many years, the AFL through the departments of Football Operations (for the USAFL) and Commercial Operations (to AFANA) have told us that we matter and they value what we do. If so, then it is past time for the CEO and other top executives to stop the double talk and to state plainly and publicly their objectives on the international front, and then take action to prove they mean what they say.

Your staff has my number, Mr. Demetriou. I'll be waiting for the telephone call.

-Rob de Santos
Chairman, AFANA

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