The AFL Player Spectator Current AFL Threat Level

Millionaires with a Year Ten Education
<     >

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Aussie Rules or Rafferty's Rules?

I believe it was William S. Burroughs who counseled against dealing with a religious man, on the grounds that he owes you nothing and is convinced he answers to a higher authority. Well, in this town, football is religion.

So similar warnings apply to the intellectual munchkins at the AFL, who show absolutely no capacity to be bound by honour, answering to the higher calling of making fistfuls of cash. In fact, they can ride roughshod over the most basic tenets of natural justice and decency without flinching.

The first example is that of Barry Hall, a key player for some team or other. This huge strapping thug-for-hire punched an opposition player in the stomach as he ran past him. Of course, he was subjected to the pseudo-judicial procedures of the AFL. As he was clearly guilty - caught on tape and with about three million witnesses - he received a one match suspension, in line with other rulings.

Barry's Playful Nudge
Source: Herald Sun

At this point, a crowd of football fans assembled at AFL HQ brandishing pitchforks and flaming torches, led by the usual media hacks, failed players and armchair biff-artists. Bizarrely, the Sydney Catholic Archbishop George Pell got swept up in the furor and offered the suggestion that it was "a playful little nudge"! It's Catholic moral leadership like that that kicked off so many pogroms, witch hunts, inquisitions and crusades. (We're also entitled to question whether a man whose appalling judgment about acts of violence could be trusted to not down-play kiddy fiddlers within his own organisation.)

The AFL Tribunal, unable to stand up to such pressure, quickly capitulated and let Barry Hall play at the Grand Final. Their rationale? When Barry punched the other bloke it was actually "in play" rather than "behind play". Even a five year-old child could point out the ethical bankruptcy in that line of reasoning. Not to mention the idea that a player should get off because missing the Grand Final would be a shame. Still, this is not an isolated incident: the AFL Tribunal let Travis Gaspar off for elbowing a guy in the face before the ball was even bounced!

Still, what should we care? If they want to cage over the Telstra Dome and have Thunderdome-style rules - two teams enter, one team leaves - then that's their prerogative, right? Unfortunately, it's not that simple. What happens on the ground doesn't stay there. An "anything goes" policy gees the boys up and increase the overall levels of violence off the field too. But also, these thugs are pin-ups and heroes to hundreds of thousands of boys and young men. And when they see them assaulting their opponents - and having that condoned by the tribal elders and judiciary - then it legitimises violence for all. And the rest of us have to walk the streets with kids who think that going the biff is okay.

Of course, the AFL Tribunal's cowed performance and willingness to roll-over is even more disturbing when you consider the AFL's proposal to have its judicial authority extended to include rape cases. Imagine if a crowd gathered out the front during such a hearing, shouting "Let him go - the bitch deserved it" or "There was only three of them - she's had worse" and similar. Horrifying.

The next case of the AFL disregarding the rules when it suits it is the question over who will sing the National Anthem at the Grand Final this year. The AFL had contracted acclaimed singer Ms Silvie Paladino for the gig.

Seasoned Board-Treader Ms Sylvie Paladino
Source: Bandshop

Fair enough. But then, the AFL shamelessly welched on the deal on the grounds that Brittney Spears impersonator Delta Goodrem might be able to make it. Possibly. Although, why this hadn't occurred to anyone at the AFL or Delta's camp months ago is a mystery. Ironically, Delta will use the occasion to push her latest saccharine offering (A Little Too Late):

Ex-Neighbours Starlet Delta What's-Her-Face
Source: Delta's Marketing Machine.

Of course, Sylvie is entitled to be upset at the shitty behaviour of the AFL:

I'm very disappointed to say the least," Paladino said. "I'm angry, very angry the AFL weren't honest from the beginning. I don't have any grudges towards Delta, but you don't contract another artist and then bump her at the last minute. It's absolutely disrespectful." Her manager, Mark Gogoll, said the AFL had acted "unprofessionally" ... (The Age, 22/9/2005)

Hear, hear. The AFL - and, I suspect, Delta's management team - should hang their heads in shame.

But, of course, this is football, so the normal rules don't apply. Whether it be commerce or justice, the AFL just is not bound by decency and will do whatever it can get away with. Anyone entering into agreements with the AFL should keep this in mind - if the can, they'll rob you blind.

Word Count: 840

Labels: , , ,


<     >

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Hard Work Pays Off at Brownlow

This week we saw the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice at the Brownlow Medal count. So, congratulations to the hundreds of young ladies who made it to the AFL's night of nights.

The Brownlow Medal Count, as a televisual spectacle, is perhaps akin to the Eurovision Song Competition - but without the singing and dancing. That is, an auditorium is booked and several hours ensues of grey men reading out votes. To add a little colour, the footballers' wives (and girlfriend and dates) frock up.

This famous image of alpha-female Tania Buckley baring her flesh and g-string shows the origins of the Medal's name (ie fake tan and low-cut):

Who could have imagined a diamante encrusted g-string would lend a touch of glamour and class to the occasion? When you say it, it just sounds stupid. But when you see it ... Naturally, given the shit she copped, Mrs Buckley toned things down for subsequent appearances. Happily, while the artiste moved into the use of oils, she stayed within the confines of the theme ("brown" and "low"):

In any case, reams of Brownlow photos have been published in the press. I don't intend to add to the commentary on the ladies' frocks, having neither the expertise nor inclination.

What I will say is that the efforts of the footy groupies are often unappreciated. In the same way that the AFL players have their established hierarchy, their women have their own too. Clearly, marrying a famous, fit, millionaire is the end-game (as for Mrs. Buckley) - but how do they get there?

I don't know, but it must be a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, early in your career you have to get to know the players. Perhaps only briefly, in the rear toilets of the Cricketers Arms Hotel. On the other hand, too much, err, "familiarity" at this point could nobble any chances of later marriage: no self-respecting footballing great would marry a woman who's been with half the AFL. You have to walk the tight-rope between getting known, and getting a reputation. It must be tough out there.

Next, there's the leap frog, that is transitioning from an entry (or exit) level player to a one with better prospects. The say you shouldn't swap horse mid-stream for a good reason: it's dangerous. Yet, these are precisely the skills that will see Brownlow chicks get ahead. They know who's on the way up, who's on the way down and who's just going in circles. It would be a bad idea to enter a footy tipping competition with these women, with their formidable knowledge of player performance and prospects. (And, in a game where player's groin can take up hundreds of column inches, you should not bet against a group of people who have spent so much time face-to-face with this crucial region.)

So, while a young Brownlow chick might not have the best footballer this year, she can always position herself to have a better showing next year with a quickie in the loos. Be warned though: if you're too blatant (like Kelli Stevens during the Carey/Stevens Affair) it can back-fire.

Don't Laugh.
Mutual co-incidence of wants?
No, really, it's their personalities that drew them together.

Many people deride these women with bleached hair, fake tans and desperation as "died, fried and put aside". Well, that may be true, but I say: Good on them! For one thing, they're performing a vital public service. By putting their bodies on the line and taking the big hits, they're absorbing a hell of a lot of sexual aggression that would otherwise flow out into the general public, where it's unwanted.

They also allow the buffoons on The Footy Show to make sly references to "predatory women" whenever a rape (or just a particularly sordid romp) goes public. Being able to spin the AFL players as victims provides valuable PR cover during such times, propping up the interests of the corporate-types at AFL HQ and the media.

Also, their rare and considerable capacity for personal debasement should not go unacknowledged. How many people would have the stomach to let a professional footballer urinate on them? Or put their own nascent sexual needs second (or third, or fourth ...) to satisfy the porno fantasies of a 19 year-old with some five-girls-in-a-spa action? Or get text messaged at 3am and told to come over to a stranger's house and "bring a girlfriend"? Or be shared around from player to player as part of club initiation and bonding rituals? Not many people would have the drive or ambition to put up with treatment like that, so these women are clearly exceptional.

And let's not forget the other hardships: how many meals were thrown-up in the months leading up to the big night? How many hours on the stairmaster or doing crunches at the gym? And the grooming - manicure, pedicure, waxing, plucking, tanning, hair, make-up etc - all come at vast expense to time, money and fragile egos.

So, three cheers for the young women of the Brownlow, who help make the game what it is today!

Word Count: 875

Labels: , ,


<     >

Friday, September 16, 2005

The AFL Meat Market

The description of AFL players as "Millionaires with a Year Ten Education" warrants further support. In an earlier article, I argued why professional footballers are (in general) so lacking in education, and the broader consequences for the rest of us. Here, I'll examine the first part of the claim - just how much are AFL players paid? Who are the most paid? Are they really millionaires? And what does this mean for society?

Firstly, I'll point out that their contracts are somewhat secret, in contrast to most other athletes. Secondly, they operate under a salary cap (which limits the total amount a particular club can officially spend on its players) so from time to time a club will engage in unusual practices to bolster a player's benefits. Hence any guesstimates tend to be a bit wild, and probably on the low side. A final consideration is that footballers - especially high-profile ones - don't pay for stuff. Star-struck footy fans give them free booze, free meals, free clothes, free accommodation, free sex and - as we saw with the Gary Ablett profile - they also get free drugs. So, they probably retain more of their earnings than you might initially think, given their expensive lifestyles.

The most comprehensive write-up on AFL player earnings was provided by The Age. For your convenience, I've compiled a graph showing the breakdown of player earnings for last year:

What is the Least an AFL Player Earns?

According to an earlier piece on Carlton rookie Karl Norman, he was "earning" $80K a year for his efforts. This seems to be a bit above the entry level wage for an AFL footballer, including match fees and other add-ons. The above graph indicates that 35 players (6%) are on less than $60K a year (how do they survive on such a pittance!). However, The Age's figures assumes there were 542 AFL players last year (33 per club) - which sounds high to me. I suspect that the bottom 50 players are being tried out or played just a couple of games or in some other way are exceptional (and hence should be disregarded).

A report from Deakin University suggests that in 2001 the base salary was $42,000 plus $2000 per match, yielding perhaps $70K a year for a newbie. Another piece from The Age puts the base earner in the AFL at $1150 per week (=$60K per year).

So, in short, the least a full-time professional AFL player can expect to ever earn in their career is around $70K. Most likely, that's still more than you.

What is the Average an AFL Player Earns?

According to The Age's figures for last year, there were 542 players earning a total of $93.75 million dollars, giving an average (mean) of $173,000 per player per year. Note that this includes a suspiciously large number of players on less than $60K, as discussed above. Also, the "mode" (or most common amount) was the $100-200K range. The "median" (or point at which half of players earn more, and half earn less) is close to $200K - if we exclude the <$60K group. Another set of figures from The Age stated an average AFL player makes $4,050 per week ($210K per annum).

Based on this, it's fair to say that the average AFL player earns around $200,000 a year.

What is the Most an AFL Player Earns?

Well, according to the above graph, only 20 players (4%) are in the half a million bucks a year category. The other figures from The Age cite a top earner on $16,300 a week ($850K). Yet more analysis for 2004 comes from the scuttlebutt purveyors at Crikey:

Anthony Koutoufides (Carlton) $900-000 to $1,000,000

Aaron Hamill (St Kilda) $800,000

Michel Voss (Brisbane) $700,000

James Hird (Essendon) $700,000

Nathan Buckley (Collingwood) $650,000

Shane Crawford (Hawthorn) $650,000

Chris Grant/Luke Darcy (Western Bulldogs) $550.000-600,000

Ben Cousins (West Coast) $550,000-$600.000

Matthew Richardson (Richmond) $550.000

David Neitz/Jeff White (Melbourne) $550,000

Glenn Archer/Anthony Stevens (Kangaroos) $550,000

Mark Ricciuto (Adelaide) $500,000-$550.000

Matthew Pavlich (Fremantle) $500,000

Ben Graham (Geelong) $500,000

Barry Hall (Sydney) $500,000

Warren Tredrea (Port Power) $450,000-$500,000

(Source: Patrick Fitzgerald, Crikey, 12/6/2004.)

(These figures are estimates and are claimed to be +/-$50,000. I strongly recommend reading this report to understand how the market for sports pros works.)

Overall, there seems to be a rough agreement that (salary cap short-circuits notwithstanding), the most an AFL player could expect to earn right now is about million dollars a year, with the next step being about $500,000.

How Quickly are AFL Salaries Rising?

Pretty bloody fast. For example, this report for the Victorian Government states that total AFL player earnings were $27 million in 1992, growing to $48 million in 1995. Now, The Age puts the total at about $94 million. So, average AFL salaries have increased from $48K to $200K (four-fold) in less than 15 years. Over roughly the same period, average weekly earnings for all Australians rose about 50% (according to the ABS), while AFL players' rose 300%. There's a lot of fat still in the system (players take about a quarter of the AFL's revenue, not a half or more like in other leagues), so there's no reason this dramatic rise won't continue.

In other words, AFL players' wages are increasing six times faster than yours.

So Are Most AFL Footballers Millionaires?

Put it this way: if you're averaging $200K a year for five years you'll earn a million dollars (and pay half of it in tax). But, even with all the freebies, you'll probably spend most of what's left. Why? Because what 22 year old in his right mind would save and invest when getting that kind of money? Particularly when he's indestructible, the best thing since sliced bread and about to sign a huge multi-million dollar contract any day now.

So, to be a millionaire footballer (ie having at least a million dollars in cash and assets), I reckon you'd need to either be in the top 50% for a ten year career, or be in the top 5% for a five year career. So, that's what - the best 10% of AFL players? Maybe 20%?

So Does This Mean Your Tagline Is Unfair?

Nah. The bulk of them might not be millionaires (and some may even have been to university!) but they still behave like they are spoilt princelings from an oil-rich Gulf State. I think footballers are quite capable of being obnoxious, even dangerous, arseholes on a mere $200,000 per year, or just half a million in the bank.

Are AFL Players Paid Too Much?

How would you decide if anyone is paid too much? Here's one approach. Ask yourself: what would they be doing if they weren't playing AFL? How much more are they getting paid than in their next best alternative? I would argue that if you have lots of options close to your current salary, then you're probably not being overpaid.

For example, a stockbroker might make $150K a year. If that career wasn't possible for some reason, she might have been an accountant, making $130K a year. So, she's being paid about right. By contrast, if you're a crane-operator on the docks on $90K and the next best job is a crane-driver at a building site on $50K, then yes, I'd suggest you're being overpaid.

Can we apply this principle to AFL footballers?

Some AFL footballers have turned down lucrative careers in other sports, like cricket, soccer or tennis. A very small minority may have turned down careers in the professions where they could expect to make good money as well. (For example, James Hird could have averaged $100K for 40 years if he'd stuck it out as a civil engineer.)

But, for the most part, there's no reason to think that AFL players (as a group) would earn any more or less than the public at large, if it weren't for footy. If anything, they would earn less than the public, given their unusually poor education.

In Australia, the average salary is around $50K, while footballers average $200K. If we all put our collective foot down and said "Look guys, you love to play the game, we love to watch. But you're only going to average $75K from now on," then they would still accept that and be grateful. Hell, they were happy with that about ten years ago!

So, yeah, for what it's worth, I reckon AFL players are overpaid by at least a hundred grand a year.

Still, that doesn't stop their union getting all sulky about wanting more money - but can you blame the poor dears for asking? (These are people who don't hear "no" very often.)

What Are the Implications for Society for Overpaying Footballers?

Well, for one thing, ticket prices are too high. Presumably lots of families miss out on going to see the game they love because it's just too damn dear. The AFL has to win a bigger pound of flesh fron the TV rights to pay for the footballers. End result: more ads during the match than are strictly necessary. But, these are fairly peripheral: whose to say what is the best price for tickets or the best number of ads anyway?

No, the real damage is done through the application of ruthless, free-market, commercial principles to what is, after all, a very high-stakes game. It's one thing for these price mechanisms to be brought to be bear on, say, commercial QCs - highly educated, intelligent, worldly professionals with twenty years of experience in such matters. It's another thing if it's a slightly dim 19 year-old who just wants to play footy.

Oddly enough, noted Celebrity Big Brother piker Germaine Greer explains it best:

All athletes live on a knife edge. All are only as good as their last performance. All are incessantly reminded there is only one way to go after reaching the top.

The footballers' situation is the most precarious of all. As the last in the pecking order, after club owners, directors and managers, players are denied adult status. They are "boys" to be bought and sold, transferred or dropped or left on the bench; as they are denied autonomy, we can't be surprised if they lack responsibility. (SMH, 23/3/2004)

So perhaps this is the price we all pay for treating AFL players like A grade choice cuts of meat to be bought, sold or traded on the open market. Society ends up with a large pool of spoilt brats, lacking the capacity for any other useful contribution and behaving like no one else matters, egging each other on to greater and greater excesses.

In other words, after one hundred years of supposed egalitarianism, we've gone ahead and created our own parasitic aristocracy. Way to go, Australia.


Why a Free Market is Bad for Sports Fans, (Crikey, 12/6/2004)

The Business of Sport, (Sport and Recreation Victoria, 1997)

Sport Management Newsletter, (Deakin University, 2001)

Cap in Place to Stop Clubs Being Scalped, (The Age, 21/4/2005)

More Please, (The Age, 15/3/2005)

Yearbook Australia: Labour - Earnings and Benefits, (The Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2005)

Grubby Sex Has Just Become a Bit Noisier, (Sydney Morning Herald, 23/3/2004)

Word Count: 1973

Labels: , , ,


<     >

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Police Deliver Player Away From Delivery

It's a familiar scene: a pregnant women in labour, an anxious dad-to-be, a police car speeding along with lights and sirens. But wait - the police car is heading away from the hospital! What's going on? Welcome to the wacky world of footy finals in Melbourne.

Kangaroos forward Saverio Rocca made it on time to the delivery ward for the Fathers' Day birth of his second child. But the delivery was taking longer than hoped and, not wanting to miss playing in a football match, he scooted out of there 50 minutes before the bounce. Happily, the birth proceeded without his presence and he was informed during the quarter time huddle that he had a new son. Before we rush to judgement about his priorities, it's worth remember that Sav is a professional AFL footballer.

However, police rushed him to Telstra Dome from Heidelberg at 135 km/h with lights and sirens, a journey of some 15 km through heavily-built up areas of the city, including the CBD.

Police initially denied reports that Rocca had been taken to Telstra Dome in a police car.

But in a radio interview, Anthony Rocca thanked the police for getting the pair to the game on time. He said he had been happy to take the ride with sirens sounding. (The Hun, 5/9/05)

This is a disgraceful use of police resources for the private benefit of a famous and wealthy individual. Suppose that the speeding police car had knocked down a pedestrian or been involved in a collision? It's one thing to subject the public to such risks when chasing down criminals, but helping out a footy team? Even this footy-mad town would not tolerate dead or injured citizens in the name of Sav getting a kick.

Let's not forget that primary mission of the police is public safety. The next time you need police assistance and are told to wait because police are tied up with more important work, it may well be because they are ferrying AFL players around. Or picking up their dry cleaning. Maybe washing their cars. Who knows to what extent the police are willing to do favours for the glamour boys of the AFL?

This special treatment takes on sinister overtones when we think back to remarks by one of our most senior police, Simon Overland, about his lack of confidence in police investigations into AFL players. We've also seen the "light touch" approach to policing AFL players in Geelong. Reports like this about cosy arrangements are further flamed by incompetent official denials by the police themselves. Not only will they break the law to help out their sporting stars, they're prepared to it cover up too! Disgusting.

We can't really blame the Roccas for this. As superstar AFL players feted day-in, day-out, it's only natural that they expect (and accept) such privileges. Victoria Police who need to take responsibility for this, but it's only now that they've been caught out that any serious examination is going on. Superintendent Tim Cartwright admitted that "We've done similar things before" and that the police officer in question could face "counselling" or a "penalty notice". Hardly adequate for endangering public safety, wasting police time and resources and adding to a perception of police "looking out for" AFL players. Shame, VicPol, shame.

Citations: The Hun, 5/9/05

Word Count: 562

Labels: , ,


<     >

Friday, September 02, 2005

Review: The Footy Show (Ours and Theirs)

The culture surrounding AFL footy is much like that surrounding yoghurt left in the sun. Nowhere is this better exemplified than the loathsome AFL Footy Show. For those not in the know, this is a Channel Nine sports/variety show (presumably screened during prime-time only in the AFL states of SA, Victoria and Tasmania and possibly WA). Australian television has a strong tradition of sport/comedy television, particularly on the ABC. There was Denton's Live and Sweaty (later taken on by Elle McFeast), Tony Squire's The Fat, Roy and H.G., and who could forget Graham and The Colonel from The Late Show.

There is a "northern" (or rugby) version called the NRL Footy Show, following the same format, production values etc made out of Sydney. As a Melburnian, I'm incensed that theirs is far superior. Dammit! Why is that?

For starters, the regulars on the NRL Footy Show are ex-players. These guys - Fatty, Sterlo, Chief and Matty - have a genuine rapport that can only come with being a part of the game for so long. They actually seem to like each other and are not afraid to be affectionate, even sentimental. This was evident last night when Fatty returned after a couple of months recovering from some sort of accident. You could really feel the love in the room!

The humour is undeniably Australian, and they're not afraid to put themselves down, look stupid or take the piss from the assembled guests and players. But it's all done in good fun, devoid of viciousness or nastiness. While they clearly love their sport, they're not fawning or rude and have a sense of perspective.

By way of contrast, the Aussie Rules (or "southern") version is excruciating and lame. For starters, the line-up is weak. We've got millionaire media figure and club owner Eddie McGuire, floundering out of his depth. Somewhere a used-car is going unsold because of his involvement in this show.

Then, we have Sam Newman (the only host to actually play the game), a man who has spent much of his life being the only person in the room to have read an entire book. In AFL circles, this qualifies him as a Chomsky-like public intellectual, and it's warped his personality. He's not shy about inflicting his catchcry "You idiot" on the public, especially the elderly or people for whom English is their second language. Har, bloody, har.

Lastly, to add some showbiz razzle-dazzle we have Trevor Marmalade. I've got no view on his basic decency or good-bloke status, but I find his brand of humour (vaudeville-style gags straight out of "The Bumper Book of 1001 Gags Guaranteed to Make You Wet Yourself") very dated and old-fashioned. It might play well down at the RSL, but we won't be seeing his innovative comedy stylings at the Fringe Festival any time soon.

The on-stage vibe is aggressive, sometimes hostile. The humour is nasty and frequently sexist and racist. The five minute soap parodies are cheap, humourless and lame beyond description. Some (ex-)players are feted as gods while other guests are humiliated for a laugh. The hosts and guests show no talent for self-deprecation or taking the piss out of each other - key requirements for Australian humourists. It's all egos bumping up against each other, leading to an ugly undercurrent permeating the entire show.

In short - where's the love? The AFL Footy Show producers should take a long look at the NRL Footy Show and follow their example. It's telling that they can't find any thoughtful, talented, funny bastards from the ranks of retired AFL players to make the line-up.

C'mon, surely Melbourne deserves to wrest back the crown of footy-based comedy - or is The Fifth Quarter the best we can manage?

Word Count: 655

Labels: , ,


«           *           »