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Friday, May 12, 2006

Hanging Chad - Sponsorship and the AFL

It's been nearly two weeks since Chad Morrison of Collingwood copped his massive $20,000 fine. While I agree with money being stripped from AFL footballers - particularly when they're bloody, selfish, life-threatening idiots - I'll surprise my regular readers (thanks for the recent donation, by the way!) by saying I can't support the underlying logic of the Collingwood Football Club on this one.

But first, let's get the facts of the boozer's bust.

Collingwood footballer Chad Morrison has had his licence cancelled for six months due to a drink-driving offence.

The club released a statement saying Morrison was breath-tested in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond on Saturday night [22/4/2006] and allegedly returned a blood alcohol reading of 0.093.

Morrison also received an on-the-spot fine of $314.(ABC Sport, 24/4/2006)

It's also worth noting that Chad is old (28), not playing games this season and (seems to me) on the way out. Hardly a star player. And - here's the crux - the TAC is a Collingwood sponsor.

Since Richmond's infamous Sgt Jay "I know nothing" Shulz incident of one year ago, the footy clubs have been walking on egg shells over losing valuable TAC sponsorship money. You can almost feel the rage in the Collingwood boardroom at having hundreds of thousands of dollars a year jeopardised by a washed-out has-been that they probably didn't even want.

Their response was hanging Chad: cop a $20K fine or get dropped from the club. Sounds good, right? A club taking drink-driving seriously. Sending a signal. Role models. Spotlight. Et cetera.

The AFL Union, under Brendan Gale, issued a predictable "wah, wah not fair!" press release threatening to abandon the code of conduct:

However Gale added that in his view, for Collingwood to subsequently threaten termination of Morrison's employment or impose a fine of $20,000 was unfair, unreasonable and not commensurate with his offence.

"... if the rights of players cannot be protected under the code then we will review our commitment to it," concluded Gale. (AFLPA, 28/4/2006)

Before I explain why Comrade Gale is right, let me explain why he is wrong. Firstly, if the prospect of several hundred footballers running amok, bashing, marauding and raping their way up and down the countryside is a legitimate bargaining chip, then I guess I don't understand modern industrial relations. Secondly, he must concede that the $5,000 fine allowed under the Code of Conduct is manifestly inadequate. Fines are two-fold in purpose: disincentive and compensation. While it's not clear how much drink-driving has been deterred by the fines, at least some incidents are still occurring. It's hard to see how footballers - who earn an average of $10K per match - will be dissuaded by a piddling fine of that size. Five grand is a mere few days' (ahem) "work". How is that fair, reasonable and commensurate? And from the club's point of view, $5000 is hardly comparable to the ongoing sponsorship deals worth several million dollars over a number of years.

Which is precisely my objection, but the one Brendan Gale missed. Eddie and his buddies at the Lexus Nexus treated the matter as a standard commercial contractual matter. Chad put at-risk a certain amount of money. Collingwood moved to protect its valuable asset (relationship with TAC) at the expense of a near-worthless one (washed-up footballer) . End of story. It's nothing to do with this dickhead's reckless behaviour, poor judgement, selfishness, or even bringing himself, his club and the game into disrepute.

Certainly Collingwood would not have levied the fine were it not for the sponsorship deal. Collingwood - like all the clubs - seeks to maximise its value to sponsors. One way is through exclusivity arrangements. Collingwood, for example, would love to be sponsored by Red Rooster and would get more cash for such a deal if it could fine players for eating at KFC. But, for legal and practical reasons, it can't do this. Eating at KFC (stupid as it is) is not yet illegal and goes unmonitored by police. Ditto for shopping at rival outlets, using rival banks and so on. The backlash from supporters for such "owning the player" moves may also impact membership revenue.

By contrast, drink-driving is one area where the sponsor's wishes can be enforced by the law. But Collingwood is wrong to use this as a cover or excuse for downplaying the moral dimension to Chad's actions. The crime was not jeopardising Collingwood's cashflow. The crime was jeopardising the safety of road-users. For that, footballers must answer to the legal system, in most cases the specialist AFL Division of the Melbourne Magistrates Court. (Admittedly, the soft-serve justice dispensed to footy heroes in this town is patently inadequate, but it's absurd to suggest that clubs - motivated by sponsorship deals - will dole out a superior form of justice.)

The game of footy is not advanced by clubs fining players for stepping on sponsor's toes. Unless Collingwood announces a policy of $20,000 fines on players for all offences regardless of sponsorship deals, they come out looking like grubby, mercantile, desperate hypocrites.

*** UPDATE ***

It seems that Collingwood's rank strategy worked. The TAC announced that they will keep on sponsoring the team. Sigh. Remember when TAC was less about getting its senior executives into the corporate box at the 'G and more about reducing the road toll and looking after the injured? Think about that the next time you're paying your car rego.

*** UPDATE ***

Chad Morrison, formerly of the Magpies, copped his conviction today in the Melbourne Magistrates Court (AFL Division):
RECENTLY retired AFL footballer Chad Morrison has been fined $500 and had his licence suspended for drink-driving.

The former Collingwood utility blew 0.093 after being breath-tested while riding his motor scooter in Richmond in April ...

The 28-year-old, who was not in court, was also charged with breaching his motorcycle learners' permit conditions for riding with a passenger.

Magistrate Simon Garnett fined Morrison $500 and cancelled his licence for six months.(The Australian, 16/10/2006)

Chad retired at the end of this season. Was it in order to spare Eddie McGuire the shame of a record-smashing four court appearances in a month for his beloved Collingwood? Was it part of a contra-deal after his $20,000 "fine"? Or was he just clapped out, as a footballer?

In any case, without a licence he's going to be looking to Chris Tarrant to organsie his lifts from now on.

Citations: ABC Sport, 24/4/2006; AFLPA, 28/4/2006; The Australian, 16/10/2006

Word Count: 1113

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  • What got me was the ex-players players on the footy show all carping on that Chad was hard done by because he had to earn $40,000 to pay $20,000 after tax. So the fine was really double the amount.

    What do you think would happen if I worked in the real world for a major corporation on a $150,000 salary and jeapordised the continued cash flow of a key sponser or investor by gettng pissed and embarassing them in some way? Add to this that I've been a passenger for the past few years and the organisation would possibly be better off without me anyway...

    Do you think I'd get my salary docked $20,000 and have an uncomfortable meeting with the president??

    Or would I be dragged off the premises by my gonads, never to be seen again??

    By Blogger Phillip Rupert, at 10:35 am, May 16, 2006  

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  • Yes, it's amazing that the ex-players even grasp the concept of marginal tax rates. Goes to show how self-interest can motivate even the thickest of us.

    But I think you're looking at this all wrong. If you worked for a major corporation and got done for drink-driving - would you get fined, sacked or told off? No. It's a private matter. If you needed your licence for work, or were a public figure then it would be handled differently. (For example, if Eddie Maguire were caught drink-driving, then it would be newsworthy and would impact on his performance and PBL stockprice.)

    It's very dangerous for us to see this as "pissing off a sponsor" rather than "breaking the law". Chad did the wrong thing, and should be punished by the courts. His employer should also remonstrate with him for disrespecting the club and being a foolish nong.

    But it is a wrong view to compare this to an architect getting drunk at a client's Christmas function and losing the big account.

    Let's not lose sight that Chad's wrongness does not depend on whether or not Eddie struck a deal with the TAC.

    By Blogger Greg, at 11:58 am, May 16, 2006  

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