Geelong Brian Cook

Geelong did a strange thing in the footy world today. They were honest.

While the AFL and Melbourne continued to spin around the “not tanking but fined and suspended” debacle, and Essendon briefed journos that ASADA turning up to tell players there was a loophole they might yet squeeze through as a “good thing”, Geelong addressed one of the most important issues in the game, that of the growing inequality between rich and poor clubs and how league addresses it, head on. And they did it publicly.

Early in the afternoon, Geelong put the following document, entitled Geelong Cats Response To AFL On Equalisation (attributed to CEO Brian Cook and President Colin Carter) on their website. Some hours later the AFL put their own take on it – Cats call for salary cap re-think. For mine this is a very disingenuous take (from the AFL? Heaven forfend!) because contained in the document are far more interesting and telling observations about the state of the modern football political economy than merely one of the recommendations towards the back.

In this light, I’ve picked out my top eight points from the Geelong response and added some of my own take on each one. My view is by no means right, it is not pretending to be anything other than opinion. The words that really count are those of Cook and Carter.

As well, from an ‘equalisation perspective’ we believe that the strategy was flawed. Allocating funds to the most wealthy clubs was unnecessary but, more importantly, fuelled football inflation and actually increased the spending gap between rich and poor clubs

Having issued the perfectly reasonable but eminently expected complaint that they got a raw deal from the Club Future Fund distribution, Cook and Carter leap straight for the jugular early on page one with this gem. And they are right.

You don’t close inequality by giving poor clubs $10 and then rich clubs $2 and then claiming that with their extra $10 the poor clubs are $10 better off than they were.

No, in reality the poor clubs are only $8 better off. And, as the Cats explain in detail, a rich club is able to multiply every dollar it gets far more effectively than a poor club, so the “benefit” is lessened even further. This for mine is the salient point of the whole document. Everything else leads from it.

We also say that ‘supporter base’ drives sponsorship because decision-makers in firms will be influenced by their club allegiances.

Another fascinating admission and one that bears the voice of experience. Essentially, they are saying that the more supporters you have, the more likelihood some of those supporters will, instead of making rational business decisions, actually spend company/business money with their hearts. We all know this is true at a fundamental level – look at Pratt and Carlton for but one example – but to see it laid out in black and white is refreshing.

We also accept that ‘fixture’ and ‘stadium returns’ are important influences on revenue potential. We welcome the AFL’s acknowledgement that smaller clubs are being disadvantaged because of the AFL strategy to maximise attendances and TV audiences.

Heartening. This view is just the whinging of “small clubs that won’t help themselves”, it is the simple reality of how footy is governed.

The financial gap between clubs is driven by the revenue raised by the richest teams. They set the cost benchmarks and smaller clubs go broke trying to keep up.

Again, shouldn’t be that difficult a concept to grasp but one that seems to elude so many. Seeing as the best administrator in the game has put his name to that sentiment, I think we can now accept it as gospel.

If variable pricing is introduced to selected ‘blockbuster’ games and the additional revenues shared with other teams and, in particular, allocated to smaller teams, the equalisation objectives would be met

WAHEY! Cooky waves the hammer and sickle, loads the AK and charges that great citadel of late capitalist footy theory, the ANZAC Day game. You want the ANZAC Day game and all the associated benefits it brings, then you have to share the benefits. They don’t go into enough detail here as to what “variable pricing” could entail, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where he is going. This would put your average Bomber fan in quite the pickle – would they still go to the ANZAC day game if they knew North or the Dogs were directly benefiting? Can they explain why other teams shouldn’t benefit if they are shut out of the time-slot?

Of course, good and bad management makes a difference but not enough to overcome entrenched inequalities. Even wealthy clubs have had periods of very bad management – but they can dig their way out of trouble because of the size of their supporter base.

In two short sentences, Cook and Carter “pwn” hundreds of big club supporting Internet trolls with the warhammer of decades of experience at the footy coalface.

There is little evidence that the relative size of supporter bases has moved much between clubs over the last 50 years. A few clubs may have lost a little ground after decades of poor performance and arguably only one club has gained due to a level of sustained on-field success 30 years ago that cannot be repeated.

Another fascinating point from the Cat hierarchy. I’m not sure how much I agree with this: surely the club they refer to is Hawthorn and I dispute that cannot be repeated. North’s surging membership numbers, which should take it into the middle bracket of Melbourne teams membership wise in the next two years, can clearly be traced back to the Carey Generation coming of age. Still, it is a point well made and one worth bearing in mind.

There is even evidence that some smaller clubs have done a relatively better job than some of the larger clubs – such as converting a higher proportion of their supporters to members and often getting a higher yield per member. As well, some of the smaller clubs have achieved better win/loss records over the recent decades than have some of the stronger clubs and it isn’t plausible to argue that they can do this consistently with inferior management.

Again, stating the obvious, but gratifying to see the point made by a footy luminary like Cook.

There’s a huge amount in the document that I haven’t picked up here, especially as regards the salary cap and stadium deals. I encourage everybody to read the document in full. It is as good an education into how footy is arranged right now as you will ever get.

I’m also unsure as to why the Cats chose to release their response publicly. Maybe they are just trying to prove a point about how a very well run sporting organisation manages its affairs?