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Demetriou vague on Australian football's international future

  • Thursday, May 09 2013 @ 08:41 am ACST
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General News

A rather odd article appeared in the Herald Sun today.  It quotes AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou speaking at an American Chamber of Commerce function in Melbourne.  The headline read "The AFL admits it will not become an international sport".  That's pretty blunt and depressing for supporters of the growth of our great game.  But is that really what he said?

Yes and no.

The AFL has improved its international commitment in leaps and bounds over the past decade.  Some of that is clearly driven by commercial interests and talent outcomes, which in themselves are not bad, but there are also good intentions amongst the many staff involved in this area, and some developments are not so obviously just about revenue or talent raising.

So why the negative declaration by Demetriou?

It's worth removing the jounalist's interpretation and looking at just the relevant quotes.

"We are unashamedly an indigenous code.  We don't purport to be anything else".

I don't think this is particularly a problem, the AFL is keen to promote the game within Australia as our only home grown sport.

"We don't expect to grow internationally, it's not what we are, we're a bit like the NFL".

You see now the angle the CEO was taking, aligning the AFL with the NFL amongst his American guests.

"But it is important when you're in a globalised world when most of our clubs, if not all of our clubs and ourselves, are sponsored by international sponsors ... you need to be thinking about playing games abroad."

The sponsorship imperative.

"Each year our international broadcast rights go up.  They may go up only marginally every year but at a point in time they may go up significantly."

OK, so why would they go up?  Presumably he knows this is only partially due to expat-Australian viewing numbers.  The game must be increasing in popularity or they must hope that it will to suggest the international broadcast rights may go up significantly.  So then clearly Demetriou is talking about increased popularity abroad.

So on the one hand we have the statement "We don't expect to grow internationally" and on the other hand it seems clear, including in the same set of quotes, plus recent comments by AFL Deputy CEO Gillon McLachlan, and through their ongoing of the International Cup, that the AFL intends to:

  • grow international TV audiences
  • increase attractiveness to international sponsors
  • provide a talent pathway for athletes from overseas
  • support the amateur leagues around the world, and one day may have
  • a club based in New Zealand

Now if that doesn't add up growing internationally then one of us needs to consult a dictionary.  One can only imagine the comment was a throw back to a less visionary time, was poorly phrased, and really meant "We don't expect to become dominant internationally in the foreseeable future".  But nevertheless, Demetriou said what he said (unless misquoted), and for all the above dissecting, it surely is not particularly helpful to the international cause that this site and so many of our readers hold dear.