You can’t talk about entertainment in Melbourne and not talk about AFL. The city is built on AFL, so much so that the chief commissioner Andrew Demetriou is considered among the likes of Victorian Premier, Melbourne Mayor and Chief Police Commissioner such is his power in the town.
Australian Rules football is the original football code of the southern Australian states and is the most supported of the football codes Australia wide. There are 756,717 AFL club members nationally in 2013, a 6.94% rise on last year’s totals and 439,538 of those members are Melbourne metropolitan based which is 11% of Melbourne’s entire population. Not much when you think about it, but this stat only measures paying members. It seems everywhere you go in Melbourne that everyone has an opinion when it comes to AFL and despite the casual fan not being measured, you could bet that more than half of Melbourne’s population would classify themselves as an AFL fan.
On an average weekend, four AFL games are played in Melbourne and in 2013 these four games per weekend were played in front of an average crowd of 37,637. That figure alone is larger than the entire membership bases of North Melbourne, Melbourne, St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs.
As ticket, membership and merchandise revenue is an important source of income for the clubs and teams with smaller supporter bases, like the aforementioned will struggle to make a profit in the current market. Financial troubles caused South Melbourne and Fitzroy to depart to Sydney and Brisbane respectively. Despite Melbourne having four million people, having nine AFL clubs within a 35 kilometer radius of the CBD is a congested market.
A total of 3,726,029 patrons filed through the gates of the MCG and Etihad Stadium to watch a game this season, a record number, shows the game is still growing. Unfortunately for the smaller clubs, the rich just keep getting richer as their history and success draws in major sponsorship deals and more fans. this has led the AFL to consider an equalization plan, similar to the one used currently in the NFL.
The equalization plan would redistribute revenue from the richer clubs like Collingwood and Carlton to the smaller clubs like North Melbourne and the Western Bulldogs. This would hopefully level up the playing field as recent studies have shown that teams spending more money tend to have greater success and success is one of the determining factors in getting fans to invest in club products. Without this equalization plan, clubs like the Western Bulldogs may struggle to be a sustainable, profitable organization.
An AFL membership can cost anywhere from $50 to $700 so patrons want value for their dollar. A standard adult’s general admission ticket costs $26. Add rising transport and food costs on top of that and the AFL becomes a very expensive hobby. People understand that clubs and businesses need to make a profit but there becomes a point where even the most diehard fans will stop forking out their discretionary income and find a cheaper alternative.
Ben Sathananthan is a second year Sports Journalism student at Latrobe University. You can follow him on Twitter at @bensathsports