AFL's Next Generation - international component
Saturday, September 30 2006 @ 08:48 am ACST
Contributed by: Brett Northey
On 14th September 2006 the Australian Football League announced its much anticipated budget for the next five years, with all eyes on how they would allocate the significantly increased revenues from television rights and other media. Australian media had closely followed the often public debate over how the money should be carved up, with the Players Association demanding a large increase, and AFL club presidents insisting on a distribution far above the AFL's proposals. There were also calls for putting money back into grassroots footy and of course from a small but dedicated minority there were hopes for more to be done on the international front. We discuss the final numbers and talk to AFL General Manager of Game Development David Matthews about where the international program fits in.
The AFL's new plan has been called the "Next Generation - Securing the Future of Australian Football", and outlines where AU$1.4 billion will go over the next 5 years. Fronting the announcement were CEO Andrew Demetriou and acting Commission Chairman Bob Hammond. They were keen to demonstrate that the distribution first of all ensures the survival of the 16 AFL clubs, rewards AFL players, builds further on Game Development, assists lower level leagues and invests AU$82 million in a future fund.
All AFL clubs will receive a major boost to their annual distribution, above increases to player payments, and the list of clubs receiving special assistance has been expanded. AU$208 million is to be spent on growing the game in schools, Auskick, club recreation, women's football and indigenous and multicultural programs. AU$100 million has been allocated to game development in New South Wales and Queensland. The AFL has an Australian target of 700,000 participants in Australian Football by 2011, an increase on current numbers of 25%.
These are large sums of money and big participation numbers, and international readers would do well to remember the relatively small size of the Australian economy, with a population of only 20 million. Clearly Aussie Rules is now a massive business, and although it receives healthy competition from the Rugby codes, they can't hope to match this kind of investment, with their much lower crowd numbers and still not receiving a significant following outside of New South Wales and Queensland. The only genuine threat to Australian Football is soccer, which it should be noted, despite all their chest beating, moved to a summer season to avoid confronting the other football codes. Certainly the AFL hopes its Next Generation package will keep Aussie Rules in the pre-eminent position and continue to increase its share of NSW and Queensland. Perhaps the most interesting question is under what conditions the future fund will be used?
The AFL website features all of the publically available information on their plans.
Of concern to supporters of the international growth of Australian Football was the lack of emphasis on that aspect. A quick scan of the documents released revealed the term "international" only mentioned once. Although no great announcements were expected, a slightly higher profile for this area may have been hoped for. WFN took that concern to the AFL's General Manager of Game Development, David Matthews. He was quick to allay fears that a low profile might equate to no increase in the AFL's efforts there, which have been widely praised in the past year as an improvement on efforts in the past, which some saw as moving too slowly.
Matthews: "The document articulated the broader vision and plan. It simply referenced Auskick, Talent, International etc which are all far bigger and more specific plans. The international budget is a component of total Game Development expenditure".
So, after some good news stories from the AFL regarding South African footy and an overhaul of how the AFL works with international leagues, will there be an increase from the current annual budget of around AU$600,000, which has crept up from around AU$500,000 the year before (see International funding arrangements by the AFL)?
Matthews suggests there will be a rise: "The international budget for 2007 will represent a serious increase on 2006. Allocations to specific work will be based on the quality of the plans we are collaborating on with each country."
As always the proof is in the action but clearly the AFL has made a firm committment to continue its increasing role in assisting international leagues develop the game. Exactly how much a "serious increase" equates to remains to be seen. We look forward to bringing you more specific information later in the year as plans are finalised.