Last Friday Crikey observed the fundamentally flawed logic behind the AFL’s Gold Coast push. However, while a 17th AFL side on the Gold Coast raises serious financial questions, the logic to create a team in Western Sydney side is completely non-existent.
The AFL’s motivation for entering Sydney appears two fold. First, the AFL is desperate to create a Gold Coast team but does not want an uneven number of clubs (which would give rise to a dreaded “bye”). Second, the AFL appears to want a foothold in every part of Australia, perhaps fearing that Victorian kids might take up Rugby League or Soccer should AFL not become popular in Western Sydney.
The problem with a team in Western Sydney is that it is Rugby League heartland. Simply putting a team in Bankstown won’t make rusted on League supporters suddenly become AFL fans. Not only that, a second Sydney team may alienate current supporters of the Swans, who follow the team because it is Sydney’s representation in the AFL. (Rugby League commentator, Roy Masters, also noted that AFL in Sydney isn’t as lucrative as some would suggest – the highest TV ratings achieved in 2007 for a regular match was 175,774 for the Sydney v Essendon game – the same level as the flop, The X-Factor).
The AFL’s bizarre logic in pursing a new team deep in non-AFL territory contradicts the expansion strategy adopted by arguably the most successful sporting competition on earth – the NFL. There are currently no NFL teams in America’s second most populous city – Los Angeles (the Raiders returned to Oakland while the Rams moved to St.Louis in 1995). There is however one franchise in isolated Green Bay, Wisconsin.
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The NFL knows that it is preferable to stick to its areas of strength, rather than operate unprofitable franchises simply for geographic reasons (this may also be because NFL teams (except Green Bay) are privately owned with their owners often electing for the most profitable location). The AFL does not appear to be aware of this, gleefully entering a market which it may find impossible to penetrate.
There is also the massive start up costs for a Western Sydney team, including developing a Bankstown base and huge operating losses for the first decade of the team’s existence.
The question for the sixteen current teams will be asking is how will two new clubs benefit current members of existing clubs?
When answering this question, existing clubs need to consider issues like increased interstate travel and associated travel expense, loss of draft picks for several years, lower ladder position as the new clubs receive priority salary cap treatment and significant start-up costs (upwards of $200 million) associated with the new clubs. Current struggling clubs like Melbourne or Essendon may find themselves at the foot of the ladder for a decade courtesy of the new clubs pilfering top draft picks and un-contracted players, preventing struggling clubs from undertaking a rebuilding cycle.
The significant start-up costs effectively mean that each existing club is spending more than $12 million for the expansion teams. Some AFL insiders have told Crikey that an eighteen-team competition would simply spread AFL talent too thinly and if anything, the AFL should be reducing the number of teams, rather than increasing the number.
While the costs appear clear, the benefits far more amorphous. Unless of course, you count Demetriou and Fitzpatrick’s legacy.