Australian rules football is the biggest sport in Australia, with the AFL boasting the largest attendances of all sports in the country. Cricket, rugby, soccer, and basketball also tote a strong following, but footy is the undisputed titan of sports down under. The international name of the sport itself suggests that it is secluded to one country, which is true, to an extent.
Outside of Australia and the Oceania continent as a whole, the AFL has very little exposure and very few fans. Despite the sport being so popular in such a large market, there is a sense that the sport, specifically the AFL, has the potential to grow by appealing to international markets. But how does a sport so poorly understood away from these shores manage to expand its visibility, appeal, and popularity in other markets?
Directly promoting the sport abroad
The AFL may host the AFL International Cup every three years, but the league does very little to promote itself or its international stars in big foreign sports markets. Naturally, it seems like a risky move, but if US sports have proven anything, it’s that foreign markets love big, new sporting occasions – particularly in England.
In a move that raised eyebrows all over the UK, the MLB came to London for games between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. In England, baseball isn’t a big sport, it’s barely a sport, with football, cricket, rugby, ice hockey, and even American football having a bigger profile among other sports. However, the weekend in London was a colossal success for baseball, with the MLB’s first two games in Europe bringing in the sport’s highest attendances in 16 years.
It shows that with enough promotion, the right teams, and the right arena, there will at least be enough intrigue to bring in the crowds, which in turn grows the sport. The UK boasts a lively and inquisitive sports market, and something that the AFL has over the MLB and even the NFL is that it boasts many players native to England, Scotland, and Wales, as shown by the multicultural map of players in the AFL 2017. Hosting a game abroad that has one or a few players from the target nation could go a long way towards promoting the sport and the league.
Integrating into pop-culture
Pop-culture drives much of the modern, social media-scrolling public. To become more appealing in pop-culture around the world, the sport needs to become more visible to the general public and integrate itself through popular outlets. As the sport doesn’t have much exposure and few understand the rules, terms, or even the common sights from a game in the AFL, promoting through gaming could be a smart move.
One of the best avenues for this would be through online slot game developers. The smaller studios will still pump out at least 12 games a year, with the bigger developers releasing new games much more frequently. Due to this, they are always looking for new ideas and themes, often dipping into pop-culture as can be seen in the list of casino games with the likes of the Tomb Raider slot.
An Aussie rules slot game would not only be a viable option for a slot developer due to its sporting appeal, but it would also subtly shift the sport into pop-culture and enhance its visibility – especially if the game boasts very sport-specific features and is as rewarding as other pop-culture-themed slots.
The other, much more expensive option, is for a video game publisher to invest big in a licensed AFL game and promote it in foreign markets. This could go hand-in-hand with games hosted abroad, appealing to the game-day fans, but the fundamental aspect is that the game is of very high quality and easy to get to grips with, which, unfortunately, the most recent AFL Evolution did not achieve.
AFL Evolution 2 has been delayed until the offseason with a planned launch before the start of next season, but it will need some stark improvements if it wants to attract non-AFL fans. If the game is enjoyable and engaging enough, it can help to grow a fan base. Some credit the EA Sports titles of US sports as being key to helping them understand the game and grow their fandom.
Aussie rules football is an exciting sport that thrills thousands of AFL fans across Australia every week for six months of the year. The AFL has the potential to attract a larger audience abroad if it puts on a show and increases its visibility.