AFL fans didn’t need any more proof that they are seen as cash machines in team colors by those at AFL House, yet the AFL generously offered some over the weekend.

The Age’s Dan Silkstone reported on Saturday that Telstra Dome has banned kicking a football on the concourse and has banned passouts, raising the ire of fans and legend Ron Barassi, who made a point obvious to all but AFL management: “We should be helping our fans because they are helping us by coming.”

It’s a nostalgic view and one that fans will agree with, but it conflicts with the AFL’s strategy for re-engineering the game.

AFL supporters have again been hit with higher ticket prices. The Age noted that the cost of a general admission ticket has increased by 164% in the last 20 years, well above the inflation rate. However, premium seat holders have fared even worse. Only five years ago, an AFL membership and premium reserved seat for a Telstra Dome-based club would cost around $500 – this year, it costs almost $800.

Which brings us to the pre-season competition. Someone at the AFL forgot to do a cost-benefit analysis of playing a match in Cairns which compels clubs to rest virtually all star players, draws a tiny crowd and leads to television coverage that looks like it was shot in the 1950s. By contrast, last week’s Geelong v Hawthorn match at Skilled Stadium drew a crowd of more than 9,000, forcing the club to throw open the gates to accommodate supporters.

Continuing this trend, the AFL scheduled this week’s Carlton and Kangaroos match for the Gold Coast – despite both teams being Melbourne-based. If the middle managers at AFL House want to call it game development, fair enough, but the pre-season competition already lacks credibility. It’s obvious how seriously clubs take it. It’s value to sponsors must be a hard sell for the AFL’s marketing team. Decisions like this don’t help.

Unlike most other international sporting competitions, the AFL faces virtually no competition in the southern states during winter. By contrast, in the US, the baseball, basketball, ice hockey and football seasons to a large extent conflict. Like any poorly run monopoly, the AFL’s management, which is led by a dentures salesman and third-tier lawyer, is seemingly doing its utmost to alienate its supporter base in search of grand expansion plans.

Despite record revenues, AFL fans are paying more to see less, and to have fewer rights while they are doing it – in fact, it’s difficult to remember the last thing that the AFL has done that actually benefited fans. (Can you think of anything? Let us know: [email protected])

Peter Fray

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