Contributed by: Christopher P. Adams, Ph.D.
Disclaimer: The opinions in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the USAFL, its board, its member clubs or WFN.
While it is all well and good to say that developing footy internationally is important or to say the U.S. is an important market for talent and supporters, developing footy in the U.S. takes money. How much money? Does the AFL need to bear the burden of the funding? Is USFooty self-sustaining?
It seems to me that in order for USFooty to make the next step it needs money for three full-time positions. In no particular order, USFooty needs a full-time administrator, an executive director and a national Auskick coordinator. An administrator is someone to answer the hundreds of emails, answers the many phone calls, forwards people to the appropriate people, coordinates the hundreds of volunteers, clubs, meetings etc. I did this job for about four months in 2001. It was absolute hell. A decent full-time administrator would cost between US$40K-$50K annually (depending on city location). The office itself probably costs another $10K or so in paper, phone calls, computers, internet connections etc. An executive director is someone to run the league, pretty much taking the day-to-day jobs of the President plus hob knobbing, letter writing, grant writing and fund-raising. To get someone half-decent you would need to pay around $100K (including travel expenses). A national Auskick coordinator is someone that would run USFooty Kids, promote the program to clubs and schools, run clinics, run teacher training, write teaching materials and travel all over the country. Such a person would probably cost about $80K including travel expenses. Given these numbers, it seems to me that USFooty needs about $230K annually to take the next step. I don’t know how much the AFL gives to USFooty annually, but I do know it isn’t anywhere near $230K. Should the AFL up its stake? Could USFooty get money from other sources?
Taking the second question first. What are possible sources for USFooty? There are basically four: fees from clubs, profits from the National Championship Tournament, merchandise, grants and sponsorship. It is not realistic to rely on money from the Nationals, which often loses money. Merchandise may be an option, but it is probably better to leave sales to private firms. Could the clubs pay $230K? Let’s assume there are 23 clubs in the country (there aren’t, I’m just making the math easy). That would be $10K per club in fees. Let’s say a club has around 50 players so that would be about $200 per player. Certainly, that is steep, but not ridiculous. Of course, the clubs will not easily agree to a 20X increase in fees. I’m sure the resounding response to the proposition would be “F*** Off.” The clubs would have a legitimate point: “What would we get for the money?” It is hard to see the benefits to a club struggling to recruit players in Florida to paying $10K to have someone answering emails in Milwaukee. It is also difficult to provide the clubs with the necessary incentives to pay their fees. Probably the only way to do it is to make them a requirement in playing in the Nationals, but that could dramatically reduce participation.
Could USFooty get a sponsor to drop $230K annually? I doubt it. Sponsors and granting institutions don’t like their money being sucked up by administrative expenses. It is also not clear that USFooty has $230K worth of “eyes” to offer a sponsor. In the end there is not enough participation or support for the game in the US to generate $230K worth of sponsorship. Now this could change if the ASTN deal comes through, but even then it would likely be some time before USFooty has an obvious payoff to a sponsor.
My personal opinion is that the AFL should commit to 10-year plan to pay for these three full-time positions in the U.S. That’s $2.3M (in US dollars) over 10 years. A lot of money - no doubt about it. But a good investment. The payoff is opening up a huge new market to AFL football. There is no doubt in my mind that during that 10 year period, the US will become an excellent recruiting territory. With globalization, more and more firms are looking for sports that transcend national barriers. Will USFooty become a major player in the US sports market? No. But a bit player in the U.S. is huge! The U.S. market is about 100 times the size of the Queensland market. A 0.5% share in the U.S. is equivalent to a 50% share in Queensland.
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