The juxtaposition could not have been more
stark: on the same day that interest rates were increased, meaning greater
budget difficulties for those living on Struggle Street,
the AFL announced salary increases for players of just under 25% over the next five years.

In times gone by, the League and its players might have been a little sheepish
about announcing such an increase – especially on a day when much of the rest
of the country was feeling the pinch. But not this time.

For yesterday’s pay announcement was about much more than rewarding and
remunerating AFL players and ensuring they shared in the windfall from the latest
round of TV rights money. It was also a clear and unequivocal attempt by the AFL to “sell” Australian
football as the sport of choice to future generations of talented sportsmen.

League boss Andrew Demetriou made no bones about it. “This is a great
story for
any young person out there who wants to come and play AFL football
instead of a
rival code,” he said at yesterday’s press conference. “Come and play
AFL football, because you will be remunerated at the highest level.
This is a great story. So come along, let’s advertise it, let’s not
apologise
for what the players earn.”

The AFL’s pitch was further enhanced by changes aimed specifically at young
players – an extra $10,000 for the Number One draft pick, a 15% increase
for rookies next year and 10% increases for first and second year
players next year.

So yes, it’s a great package, but the way it’s been developed and is now being
sold speaks volumes for how spooked the AFL has been by soccer’s
recent advances in popularity.

And sadly for a sport trying to sell itself to a whole new market of kids, and
their parents, the other big AFL story of the day – the latest episode in a string of “AFL men behaving badly”
incidents – could not have come at a worse time.