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The AFL has slowly screwed their most loyal constituency, AFL Members, over the years as these three articles by AFL members Irwin Hirsh and MrMOB explain.

Two days later the AFL Membership received an indication that the AFL was being true to their word, when 4,000 randomly selected AFL Members (out of a membership list of 52,000) received a survey seeking their “views on your AFL Membership and of Australian Rules Football in general.”

This is not the first time the AFL has undertaken a survey of its Membership. A survey performed in the 1990 season found that “the ability to attend finals matches is of paramount important to AFL Members. It appears to be the driving force behind their continuing membership of the AFL.” It isn’t specifically mentioned, but the anecdotal evidence (that is, the attendance figures) suggest that the Grand Final is the single most important match to AFL Members.

After a lockout of AFL Members at the 1992 Grand Final, the League undertook another survey. A questionnaire was mailed to a random 2,000 members, for their views on entry to the Grand Final. The December, 1992 issue of the Members’ Newsletter reports that 1,083 questionnaires were returned and that:

The questionnaire probed various alternatives including:

Maintaining the current first come, first served system for entry , 05 on Grand Final Day.

Reducing the annual subscription but giving AFL members the chance to purchase a reserved seat in the AFL members’ reserve for the Grand Final.

Introducing a ballot system where member number ranges are given an opportunity to pre-book entry to the Grand Final until all tickets area allocated.

Of those surveyed, some 72 per cent favoured retaining the current system of entry – that is, first come, first served – for AFL members on Grand Final day.

And so it was that the League decided to continue with the system that had operated from the time its own membership had gained entry to the Grand Final: turn up on the day, show your membership badge/card, and you’re in, and all part of your annual membership fee.

Five years later – during the first year of Wayne Jackson’s CEOship – the League undertook another survey of its membership. Nothing wrong with that – it is important to keep up to date with what the membership wants. 1,500 received a questionnaire, though I’m not sure how many responded.

And out of this survey came a change in the Grand Final arrangements, beginning with the 1998 Grand Final. Members being now being “required to obtain a reserved seat before the big day”. The October, 1997 issue of the membership newsletter reports that “60 per cent of members opted for the proposed new system over the current system of ‘first-in, first-served’,” and the cost of a reserved seat being $25 for an adult.

Interestingly, while the 1992 survey put forth the idea of reducing the annual subscription in order to balance out the cost of AFL members purchasing a reserved seat, in practice this didn’t happen. The subscription for the 1998 season increased in line with the CPI, with the cost of reserving a seat being an additional $25 (for an adult.) In effect this change meant that an AFL Member who attended the 1998 Grand Final had a ten per cent membership fee hike, when the CPI increased by roughly two per cent. The AFL had introduced a nice little earner for itself.

As it happens I have no problems with the idea of AFL Members reserving a seat in advance of the Grand Final. Except for the League using it to slug us for the extra cash it is my preferred option. However I do have a concern about the results of that 1997 survey. I wasn’t one of the selected 1,500, so I have no idea of the way the survey was structured, but the results don’t ring true.

In 1997 no more than 40% favoured a system that 72% preferred just five years earlier. That’s a change of at least 32%. Nothing had happened in the intervening five years to cause AFL Members to have such a dramatic shift in opinion. If AFL Members had been locked out of each of the 1993-97 Grand Finals I could understand the change but even then only to a limited degree.

To understand what I’m getting at have a look at the ALP’s performance in the federal elections held since World War II (which is when Menzies formed the Liberal Party). If you took the Labor Party’s best and worse results in those 22 elections you’ll find a change of 20%. And the extremes can be explained by the events of the time. The ALP was really on the nose in 1975 and 77, when it received just 42.84% and 39.65% of first preferences. By contract the Coalition were looking rather tired in 1972 and 83, when the ALP received 49.59% and 49.48% of the first preferences.

Like I said, just a 20% shift, in 55 years and across 22 elections. By contrast the AFL is saying there was an even greater shift, in just 5 years and across 2 surveys.

Which brings us to the 2001 survey. I’m not one of the randomly selected 4,000, but I’ve been able to check it out. (You can too; point your web-browser to http://viking.ma.swin.edu.au/synaval/survey.html And surveying this survey shows why I can’t trust the 1997 survey.

The Grand Final is the big issue for AFL Members. The AFL knows this, for it has consistently used the Grand Final entry as the major aspect in its promotion of its membership. I have a membership nomination form and Member Newsletters that headline “Five good reasons to be a member”. The first listed benefit of full membership is “your membership guarantees you free admission to every Grand Final, no matter where it is played.”

Questions 38 – 40 of the 2001 survey are related to the Grand Final. Q39 asks for opinions on the system used for allocating seats to the 2001 GF and is prefaced by an explanation of the system:

In 2001, the AFL has introduced a new system for allocating seats to the Grand Final, as follows:

1. 50% of available tickets will be made available to Members via a ballot.

2. The remaining 50% of tickets will be made available only to AFL Full Club Support Members whose Club participates in the Grand Final. These will be available on a first come first served basis the Sunday after the Preliminary Final.

3. Should any tickets remain, they will be made available to Full Club Members who did not receive one via either of the first two methods.

Q40 then looks at the Grand Final for the years beyond 2002.

Q40. Please consider the following four suggested options for allocating Grand Final tickets. In the first column, please select your most preferred option. In the second column, please select any other options that would be acceptable to you.

The four options given are:

All FULL AFL Members should have an EQUAL opportunity, regardless of Club Support Package. ALL tickets are allocated in the one ballot.

All FULL AFL Members should have an EQUAL opportunity, regardless of Club Support Package. All tickets to go on sale on the Monday prior to the Grand Final. (i.e no ballot).

The current system, where 50% of tickets are made available via the ballot and the other 50% are made available to Club support Members whose team plays in the Grand Final. Should any tickets remain, they will be made available to FULL Members who have not acquired a ticket via the above two allocations.

FULL AFL Club support Members whose team plays in the Grand Final have first option the Sunday before the Grand Final to purchase a ticket and all remaining Tickets are made available to all other FULL Members on the Monday. This system would see no ballot.

Missing from this question is the option that was preferred by 72 per cent of those surveyed just 9 years ago. Missing from this question is the option that was actually used as recently as 4 years ago. Missing from this question is the option that still has a lot of support. Missing from this survey is the option of “first come, first served system for entry , 05 on Grand Final Day.”

The AFL interest in listening to the fans is only up to the point where it can control what it is that comes out of the members’ mouth. Looking at what is in and not in the 48 questions in the 2001 AFL Members Survey I come away with the feeling that it has been generated with a PR perspective, when as a Member I want it to be generated with a Service perspective.

**********

Irwin Hirsh has been a Full AFL Member since 1982. On Saturday, 26 August 2000 he was told by a member of the AFL Membership department that”the AFL expects that every AFL Member who wants a seat (at the 2000 Grand Final) will be able to purchase one.” A day later he queued for six hours for the privilege of encountering the House Full sign.

A member of an informal email discussion list of AFL Members, Irwin would like to thank his fellow list members for their ideas and views. Anyone interested in joining the group can do so by visiting: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/aflmembers http://groups.yahoo.com/group/aflmembers

Now, let’s look at the orginal piece on Crikey about this issue by MrMOB who was heard expounding his views on Virginia Trioli’s 774 ABC radio Drive time program on August 13.

How the AFL screws members

By and large, AFL members are just ordinary folk who love to watch their football live. However, unlike members of AFL Clubs, the MCC and other similar bodies, AFL Members have no voice or representation on its governing body, no voting rights, no AGM and no formal means of airing grievances.

Despite AFL Members being among the game’s most dependable supporters – and despite paying our money up front each year in good faith – the AFL Commission has chosen to ride roughshod over its own members for years, consistently eroding benefits while continuing to increase the annual fee and other charges.

There are two levels of membership. After a waiting period as a Restricted Member – at one stage up to 15 years – Full membership is offered. The key difference between the two is access to the Grand Final. Until 1997, this was virtually guaranteed for Full Members on a walk-up basis, and Restricted Members had the chance of getting a ticket in a ballot.

[Until then there had only been one Grand Final where some Full Members missed out. The single exception was 1992 when the AFL sold guest passes, worried they wouldn’t get a full house with an interstate side (West Coast) competing for the first time. Even then, it was only a few hundred who were turned away and the AFL – under CEO Ross Oakley – apologised profusely for what he called an “error of judgement”.]

In 1997, Wayne Jackson became CEO of the Australian Football League and since then has constantly cut away Members’ entitlements, especially access to the Grand Final. In fact, the Full Member of 2001 has about the same rights and conditions that a Restricted Member had in 1998, despite paying hundreds of dollars more for the privilege.

Other areas of concern to members that have occurred during Jackson’s reign include:

introducing booking fees over and above the annual subscription for finals and “blockbuster” games

closing Waverley (purpose-built with VFL Membership), yet giving AFL members an incredibly raw deal over seating at Colonial Stadium

lowering the Junior Membership subscription age from 7 to 4

drastically reducing eligibility for absentee membership

reducing access to VFL (reserves) games: in 2000 it was free access to all games; in 2001, only home games of the reserve side affiliated with your nominated club

sending out renewal letters in November, requiring full payment in less than four weeks. Once they used to have a competition to entice you to pay early, but now they demand our cash up front ($16 million) although members don’t get any real benefit, ie going to a football match, until almost March

And, most telling of all, last year without any fanfare or explanation the AFL Members Reserve was subtly renamed the “AFL Reserve”.

[The one sop the AFL has offered is increasing the number of games a member can attend from 24 to 30 a season. But, according to the AFL’s own statistics the average member attends only 10 games a year. So there probably aren’t too many of us overwhelmed by this largely empty gesture, which costs the AFL effectively nothing.]

The last straw for many AFL Members was when, in an attempt to make the flagging $5000 a year Medallion Club at Colonial Stadium more attractive, it was decided to grant “priority Grand Final access” to Medallion Club members – in the AFL Members Reserve. (Pathetic isn’t it that the best way to market premium memberships at “the world’s most technically advanced stadium” is to include a match played at some other ground…)

In one fell swoop, up to 5000 seats in the Members Reserve disappeared to ordinary Full Members, many of whom had had to wait for up to 15 years on the restricted list to receive this privilege.

Last year, despite Wayne Jackson assuring members that he was confident the “vast majority” wanting to reserve a Grand Final seat would be able to do so, thousands of AFL Full Members queued and missed out.

The last thing the AFL needs is more television footage of disgruntled football fans, so this year there is a new telephone Ticket Ballot system. Although the telephone ballot might deflect some bad PR for the AFL, it does nothing to address members’ grievances about Grand Final entry.

Rather than assure me of entry to the Grand Final, the hefty premium I must pay to be a Full Member ($136 more than Restricted) now entitles me to take my chances in a ballot. $136 is a lot of money for a glorified raffle ticket. And in the event I’m successful, I’m obliged to pay a FURTHER $29 to ‘reserve’ the seat the AFL balloting system has already allocated to me.

The new “Ticket Ballot Guide” uses the ambiguous phrase “available AFL Members Grand Final Tickets”, but nowhere does it state the actual number of tickets that will be available to AFL Members on Grand Final Day.

There are 24,000 seats in the AFL Members Reserve but we have not been told how many of these are actually available to Full Members for the 2001 Grand Final. (It was bad enough in 1998, when I fluked great seats on the wing. Apart from North losing to bloody Adelaide, my day was marred by the fact we were in a small knot of mixed supporters surrounded by dozens of A-list freeloaders who weren’t particularly interested in the game. I don’t think the well-lubricated members of the Oarsome Foursome were used to having “Sit down dickhead” shouted at them by irate Crows fans each time they got up during play to stagger off for more corporate hospitality.)

Last year, it appears that only 16,000 seats were available to members, the rest going to VIPs, sponsors, the clubs, an ever-increasing number of corporate packages and of course 5000 Medallion Club chardonnay sippers.

Because the AFL doesn’t give a number, for all we know this year it could be that only 10,000, 2,000 or even 500 seats are actually available to ordinary Full Members. There are 32,000 of us, plus another 16,000 on the restricted list.

AFL Members are getting used to spin and doublespeak in communications from Wayne Jackson and his corporate minions on this issue. One pearler was in this year’s initial AFL members newsletter, where Wayne said: “In conclusion, please be aware the AFL understands, and appreciates the value of you, the AFL Members, and is keenly aware of maintaining AS A MINIMUM (my emphasis) Member’s benefits”.

The cover letter that came with the Ticket Guide was no exception. Shaun Welch, the AFL’s new Membership Manager assures us, rather disingenuously, “At the AFL, we are mindful of the high value our Member’s (sic) place on having access to apply for the Grand Final”.

I think if the AFL took the trouble to ask its Full Members, Shaun would find that we in fact place a high value on having ACCESS TO the Grand Final, not ACCESS TO APPLY FOR tickets, with no guaranteed chance of getting them.

The irony is, long ago the AFL (in its VFL days) happily used Members as a bargaining chip in its tussle with the MCG over building the new Southern Stand, threatening to move the Grand Final to Waverley if they were not better looked after. At the time they stressed that a survey of their members found that “the ability to attend finals matches is of paramount importance … It appears to be the driving force behind their continuing membership of the AFL”.

These days, while the AFL is often accused of not giving a damn about the common fan, it’s clear it now stoops to treat its own Members with similar contempt.

Because we have no one batting for us at the AFL, I guess we have to rely on the Membership Manager to air the very genuine concerns of Members at the Commission level and seek redress [*]. Either that, or next time the AFL wants to shaft us I suggest Shaun Welch just be up front about it rather than hiding behind the anodyne statements we find in his letter like “available tickets”, “access to apply” and “absolutely committed”.

[*] Unfortunately, the Fraud Squad has been called in to investigate Shaun Welch’s predecessor, who was abruptly terminated after massive financial irregularities were discovered late last year. It seems that rather than having the members’ needs at the forefront, she is alleged to have had our money on the tables down at Crown.

(source: http://www.afl.com.au/news/story_224385.htm)

Acknowledgements:

Thanks to Irwin Hirsh, Michael Agrotis and the other participants in the AFL Members Yahoo e-group for many of the facts and figures used in this article http://groups.yahoo.com/group/aflmembers

MrMOB has been an AFL Member (Kangaroos Club Support) since 1993. He attended the 1996 and 1998 Grand Finals as a Restricted Member (overseas in ’97), but missed out on a ticket in 1999 despite his Full Membership status (couldn’t go in 2000 because his wife was due to give birth). You can check out the Footy Scrapbook he made for his dad, a former No.12 for the Shinboners, at: http://www.ozemail.com.au/~mrmob/dobfootycard.html

Now, let’s look at a piece on the same subject by Irwin Hirsh.

How AFL members get screwed

By Irwin Hirsh

AFL Member

The MCG is the temple of Australian sport – but what do the people who worship there get for their money.

For the sporting spectator Melbourne Cricket Club and AFL memberships are about on par. They are both focused around football and cricket events at the MCG, have a limit on the size of their membership and a waiting list, and occupy a niche which is ‘above’ the general admission and club membership (where there is no limit on membership size), but is ‘below’ the various high-priced, reserved seat, coterie groups. In 2001 the Full AFL Membership annual fee is $20 more than that of the MCC, and this is what AFL Members get for that $20 premium:

AFL Members attending the cricket get a valuable 50% discount on the price of general admission and access to about 10% of the MCG; MCC Members get free admission to the cricket and have access to about 25% of the MCG.

AFL Members get no entry privileges to other sporting events (for instance, the two big soccer matches being played in November); MCC Members get free admission to those sporting events.

AFL Members have to reserve a ticket to the AFL Grand Final, at the cost of $29 for an adult; MCC Members have the option of reserving tickets (for $22) or going for a free, ‘walk-up’ seat on the day. When lodging their reserved seat application MCC Members are able to express a preference for seats in particular sections of the stand, AFL Members don’t have this option.

MCC Members have a vote at an annual AGM; AFL Members never have to concern themselves with the question of giving up a valuable night in front of the TV in order to express an opinion about how their Membership is administered.

Irwin Hirsh has been a Full AFL Member since 1982 and on the MCC waiting list since 1990. Over the years Irwin has met quite a number of AFL Members who intend to give up their membership once they graduate from the MCC waiting list. By contrast he has never met an MCC who is so eagerly waiting to become an AFL Member.

A member of an informal email discussion list AFL Members, Irwin would like to thank his fellow list members for their ideas and view.

Anyone with an interest are encouraged to join the group, by visiting http://groups.yahoo.com/group/aflmembers

Peter Fray

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