To the gimlet eyes of the AFL marketing supremos the Melbourne Football Club — the oldest sporting club in the world that is still alive — is simply a supermarket item. The Age’s Caroline Wilson reported yesterday that the AFL has told Melbourne this week “that its brand was meaningless and that it virtually stood for nothing in 2008.”
The AFL’s attitude tells you one thing — the markets and PR flunkies have run riot, and clubs are now reduced to being bottles of shampoo placed on the supermarket shelves for the consumer to pick one up simply on the basis of its packaging and how it makes you feel. Will the punter buy Sunsilk or Pantene? Melbourne or West Coast?
But let’s stick with this flawed marketing babble for a moment and take the AFL on over its assumption that Melbourne’s brand is bereft of meaning.
The foundation of the Melbourne Football Club in 1858 coincides with the origins of the game that gives the AFL its reason for being. Melbourne’s home ground is the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the arena that gave football its first paddock on which to play. In the same way that the Marylebone Cricket Club based at Lords is fundamental to the heritage and spirit of cricket, so is Melbourne to football in Australia. One would have thought that such lineage would please the AFL no end given its efforts of the past few seasons to promote the heritage of the game.
And Melbourne, given its history, is the antithesis of the meccano set clubs like Brisbane, West Coast and Adelaide. Clubs created by the AFL in recent years to enable it to expand its empire nationally. Once again, that contrast is surely important to a sporting competition that believes it can speak for all Australians down the ages.
The AFL has managed to insult the thousands of Melbourne supporters in this country and overseas with its disdainful attitude this week. It is essentially saying to us, you are supporting an empty vessel. The years you have spent watching the inevitably mixed fortunes of your football club are wasted years, because the club you support stands for nothing and has no relevance in the AFL’s collective mind in 2008.
The AFL has already killed one club with its arrogant do as we say or die attitude – Fitzroy. It declared war on the Roys from 1989, when a merger with Footscray did not go ahead, starved it of oxygen and kicked the carcass around until it was dead, dead, dead. It appears to be gearing up again to ensure Melbourne meets a similar fate.
The AFL is a ruthless organisation for which sentiment and history are simply useful tools to tap into dollars and consumers. Its insensitive and crass comments on one of the most important elements in Australian sporting history – the Melbourne Football Club – is testament to this.