Today AFL’s head honcho, Andrew Demetriou, came out and said something abhorrently dodgy.
Here’s the relevant quote:
“I’m on the record as saying both Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau have returned our investment in spades,” he said.
“In fact they’re in credit.
“What we invested in them from the promotional aspect, they’ve returned it over and above what we could’ve imagined.I would’ve paid significantly more to get the return that we’ve got.”
The quote has been lifted from a story slotted in on the AFL’s online news stream, AFL.com.au.
Absolute piffle, it is.
Now first thing’s first.
I’m a massive Karmichael Hunt fan.
There’s a heap to like.
I saw him up close when he arrived at the Gold Coast Suns and watched him shrug off all the naysayers, don his boots and get on with the job of playing and training. I spent time with him on a Suns promotional tour of North Queensland and saw him chat with kids and parents until he was hoarse and all but asleep on his feet. I watched him work his arse off on the track to get himself up to speed in a new game. I damn near spilled tears when he slotted that terrific running bomb against the Cats last season. Footy aside, he’s a ripping bloke – humble, thoughtful, interested, keen. And I absolutely love watching him have an honest crack on the field. His numbers as a defender weren’t eye-poppingly great last year, but no one could begrudge his effort. He scrapped with the best of them. He did all the little things coaches delight in. Few opponents could look you in the eye and say they ever shook him completely. This year he’s slated for a run in the middle. He’s been learning his midfield chops in the ’12 NAB. Already he’s showing glimpses.
But at the end of it all Hunt – just like his similarly-plucked-from-league mate Israel Folau down at GWS – is a rookie-level player on a superstar’s paypacket.
Hunt’s original deal was $3 million over three years. Folau’s is said to be in the order of $6million over four.
Their combined total annual cost to the game in 2012 will be something like $2.5 million.
The base salary of an AFL rookie is around $50,000 a year.
Hunt’s original contract was worth 20 times that. Folau’s is probably worth nearer to 30.
And good old Mr Demetriou and his posse reckons they’re both worth more.
Look former Gold Coast Sun Marc Lock in the eye and tell him that, Mr Demetriou. Lock learned his footy as a junior on the Gold Coast. He captained the Suns at Under 18s level. He won their B and F that year. He skippered the Suns in their warm up VFL year in ’09 too. Did his fair share of Sunsian poster boy stuff while he was at it if I recall correctly. He managed just one game when the real stuff started in 2011 – it was the club’s first game against Carlton – and otherwise quietly, thanklessly and tirelessly plied his trade in the magoos. At season end he was arguably the bloke who missed by one list spot his shot at a lifelong dream. In no small part this happened because the AFL saw fit to lure an alternative coder from beyond enemy lines.
Reckon Locky’s gonna go for the whole ‘worth five times their weight in gold’ schtick?
But these League converts, the AFL has us believe, their marketing value is immense.
Well is it?
We keep hearing this dazzling little tidbit of corpspeak, but what does it actually mean?
The Suns are now into their third year of a concerted membership drive. So far they’ve convinced 10,000 to part with their dough for season 2012. There’s still a little time left to up the ante, but even there’s no way to disguise it – the 2012 number is a low compared to last year’s 15,000 or so. That’s not a criticism by the way. Given the splash of their arrival in the AFL last year it’s perhaps no surprise that there’s something of a post coital haze as the club embarks on AFL campaign number two. From now on you’d reckon their numbers will rise as their onfield fortunes improve. That may or may not have something to do with Hunt’s ball-winning and goal-kicking ability. For sure and certain it won’t have anything to do with his picture on a brochure some kid lifts from a letterbox in Mermaid Waters. In the cold light of day, the the Suns are down on flag-wavers by a good third despite Hunt’s presence at Carrara.
And down the highway, smack bang in NRL heartland, the Giants are struggling. They have 6000 paid up followers so far. A basic membership package sets you back $195 at the Giants. 6000 of them realises $1.17 million annually in total. That covers a tick over two-thirds of Israel’s annual cost. But what of the other 45 or so players on the list? What about the club’s facilities? What about the club’s staff and coaches? What about the community programs? What about the junior clubs? And most importantly, what about the start up debt payable to the expansionists at AFL House?
Sorry. It doesn’t even come close to representing a good deal.
Oh, but these two NRL converts draw interest from new, non-captive places.
Well do they?
By my rough calculations, last year AFL attendances dropped by 9%. NRL attendances dropped by 8.5% (go to Wiki and check the numbers yourself).
Even if it is by just a smidge, NRL is arguably better off sans two superstars. Go figure.
But they’re watching on TV aren’t they? Our broadcast deal was worth a motzah bellow the powers that be down in Melbourne town.
Until of course the Federal Court threw everything up in the air and forced the domestic sporting landscape fuse with modern definitions of copyright. As things now stand, Optus can show on a few seconds delay what Telstra paid $150 million to show live.
The appeal of exclusivity has been horribly diluted. What once was a gold-laying goose is serving up eggs made of copper and tin. Bet your bottom buck Telstra is scanning the contract with a fine tooth comb looking for an ‘out’. It’s likely the deal will need renegotiating. Can’t be certain the bidding will be so hot next time around.
So who’s winning here?
Two players shrewd enough to pick the right time and athletically gifted enough to stay upright when they did. That’s who.
Kudos Hunt and Folau. Regardless of what you do on the field, you succeed. Massive sporting challenge. Brave leap. Smart, too. An athlete’s life is short. Bravo to you.
And battle on, you brand new clubs who’ve each netted yourselves a curious pair of crossover talents. Go your hardest. Do your best. Run with your concession picks and get in while the getting’s good. Make hay as they say. A bird in hand and all that.
But as for the rest of us in the bleachers, we’re left with a code unsure of what it’s broadcast deal is really worth while too many well supported traditional clubs are in significant debt. To the tune of $40 million in fact. Hardly loose change. And all the while the AFL sees fit to doll out just shy of a quarter of that on two untried players. And they talk of a deal well done?
So spare us the code-hopper-value-add charade, Mr Demetriou.
The joy of watching these two magnificent sportsmen improve is some solace for us football fans. If I try, I can see past their price tag on athletic grounds alone. But painting their achievements as some sort of commercial windfall or triumph of an expansionist agenda is, frankly, utter horseshit.
At the end of it all, it is what it is: an expense borne at any cost to bully a rival and pinch a media free hit.
But that’s all been and gone now. And now, in it’s faint wake, nothing adds up.
It doesn’t even come close.