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The Disneyfication of the AFL

Saw this article on the University of Melbourne 'Pursuit' website.  Very interesting read.

The Disneyfication of the AFL

Australian Rules football is a grassroots sport, but the AFL’s increasing corporatisation is distancing the game from the fans

By Dr Andy Fuller, University of Melbourne

The game of Australian Rules football is a grassroots and mass sport. It’s played by millions of girls and boys, women and men in casual and informal ways: on streets, in backyards and on muddy suburban ovals.

It’s a means for imaginary pleasures: we dream of being stars, while in reality, we can’t kick with our non-preferred feet. For some of us, when we realise the limitations of our own playing ability, we channel our passion into being ardent supporters of our beloved clubs.

Marvel is the latest of several corporate sponsors for the stadium in Melbourne. Picture: Supplied

Team jumpers and handknitted scarves are passed down from one generation to the next. For many fans, going to the footy with their children is a part of maintaining a tradition.

But the corporatisation of Australian Rules football at the professional level is increasingly interfering with the everyday fans’ enjoyment, and ownership, of the game.

This corporatisation is writ large through the AFL’s recent alliance with Disney, which is being hailed as a whole “new era of entertainment” in Australia. Meanwhile, the AFL remain in a lock-step partnership with the gambling industry and are heavy-handed toward anyone who is perceived to infringe upon their copyright.

Welcome to the club? Women in football

Even the simple act of buying tickets for games is becoming more expensive and opaque – fans are even unable to clearly compare prices.

The end result of the game’s corporatisation and now ‘Disneyfication’ is increasing sameness in the sporting experience and the creation of a more streamlined, slick and consumer-driven experience.

The Australian Football League is an anomaly – rather than the norm – in the landscape of Australian Rules football, but it monopolises attention through its wealth, celebrity glamour and the skills of many of its star players. The success of the AFL is founded on the decline of the SANFL, WAFL, TFL and VFA.

The AFL, to the annoyance of many, has consistently sought to establish ‘AFL’ as a synonym for Australian Rules footy. Even legends of the game such as Leigh Matthews use the phrase, ‘play AFL’ and the term is now accepted in New South Wales.

Such is the price of ‘expansion’.

Bulldogs Marcus Bontempelli, Ed Richards and Bailey Smith celebrate after winning against the Sydney Swans at Marvel Stadium. Picture: Getty Images

Footy exists on a broad spectrum of cultural practices within the Australian sporting landscape. The Victorian Amateur Football Association (VAFA) has around eight divisions for men, and seven divisions for women.

It’s in this league that Fitzroy Football Club lives proudly on and is watched by loyal fans from the beautiful grandstand of Melbourne’s Brunswick St Oval. In amateur footy, the division between ‘fan’ and ‘volunteer’ is negligible.

In the VFLW, women’s footy is played throughout winter – well beyond that brief burst of summer attention given it by the AFL. In the VFL (M), the re-emergent Frankston Football Club is back and, along with great stalwart clubs like Williamstown, Port Melbourne, bucking the trend of affiliations with big-brother AFL clubs.

Footy, history and a changing Australia

The AFL is increasingly distancing itself from the grassroots fans who have formed the foundations of the current elite version of the game. Instead, the AFL is cosying up to and forming profitable but problematic alliances with large and multinational companies: Disney being the latest and largest.

Despite the long list of professional players who have had gambling addictions, the AFL still regards it as good practice to adorn their ‘product’ with logos of gambling companies. Geelong, to their credit, have recently opted against having gambling advertisements at their stadium.

The AFL’s executives and the players enjoy their high incomes in part because of the boom in gambling sponsorship and lucrative TV rights. Children aged eight, now, would never have seen an AFL match without gambling advertisements. The ubiquitous gambling logos are normal for a new generation of fans.

They’re on your phone, your TV, your footy record, and on your social media feed too.

Julie Bishop, Mark Ruffalo, David Peyton, Kylie Watson-Wheeler, Brad Winderbaum and Chris Hemsworth arrive for the premiere screening of Thor: Ragnarok. Picture: Getty Images

Some sports fans prefer the World Game of (Association) football – that Australians call soccer – and regard footy as a parochial obsession of the folk who have never ventured beyond the borders of Oz.

The (Disney owned) Marvel-isation of footy is seen not only in the frolics of the new cut down version of the game – AFLX, but also in the Thor-inspired “worst footy strip of all time” worn by the Western Bulldogs in their Round One game against the Sydney Swans. It should be no surprise that Bulldogs vice-president Kylie Watson-Wheeler is managing director of The Walt Disney Company Australia and New Zealand.

It seems tradition washes away swiftly.

Footy isn't life or death - it's more important

Meanwhile, the AFL plays a dictatorial hand whenever anyone, like a regular fan, innovates and reproduces an image related to a player in the AFL.

The game, its images, its iconography is part of our shared history, mythology and memories. It’s an outcome of shared and collective passions. We use this passion to express ourselves, shape our identities and, of course, to have fun with family, friends and strangers – people we’d meet nowhere else.

But, the AFL relegates the interests of fans to the margins. We see that in the continual ticketing fiascos, the ceaseless gambling advertisements and the Disneyfication of once proud, supporter-driven clubs.

The intensifying promotion of Marvel products within the Australian Football League may provide fans with a moment of pause to re-consider their own connection to the game.

Hawks fans during the VFL Grand Final between Casey and Box Hill. Picture: Getty Images

In the AFL, fans are only valued as consumers rather than as contributors to footy culture.

Fans have their own agency to choose sports and clubs which best reflect their communities, families and everyday shared experiences. They may just decide to go elsewhere rather than spend their hard-earned cash on the AFL, Disney and any number of gambling companies.

Banner: Marvel Stadium/Wikimedia

Wally from Will...
Wally from Williamstown's picture

well written thought-piece, and why i attend about one AFL game a year, if that. Having said that, I still watch in on TV religiously but I have little or no interest in actually going to a game. Maybe in 50 years time the goose may well have killed the golden egg ....

Wally from Will...
Wally from Williamstown's picture

AFL players dress up as Game of Throne characters ahead of final season


April 9, 2019 11:48pm

Footy’s best are on high alert that “Winter Is Coming”, with Game of Thrones hype hitting the AFL.

The much-anticipated final season of the record-breaking fantasy-drama kicks off at 11am on Monday.

And Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury, Hawks defender James Sicily and Richmond forward Jack Riewoldt are backing the show’s leading man, Jon Snow, to take the throne.

Scott Pendlebury has backed Jon Snow for the Iron Throne.

Buddy Franklin is among the league’s Game of Throne fans.

“Jon Snow, I like the way he operates and he’s a bit of a rooster,’’ said Pendlebury.

Sicily said: “Jon Snow. That’s just the fairytale ending I think. Hopefully the script’s written that way.”

Riewoldt added: “I think Jon Snow will end up on the throne, but this show is known to kill off a good character, so episode one he could cop it in the neck and be done.”

With Game of Thrones launching exclusively on Foxtel, Fox Sports will celebrate the world’s biggest TV show across its programming slate from Monday.

Every show and game during Round 4 on Fox Footy will embrace the spirit of the show with hosts and commentators like Nic Naitanui, Nathan Jones, Jordan De Goey and Aliir Aliir dressed up in character.

New Game of Thrones Season 8 teaser


Sydney superstar Buddy Franklin also donned the fur and wielded an axe for Fox Footy’s game of dress-ups.

Collingwood ruck-forward Mason Cox said he had been a fan of servant Hodor. “He had a very, very important job in that series,’’ he said.

North Melbourne’s Todd Goldstein and Jasper Pittard are backing Cersei to take the throne. “When you’ve got dragons on your side it’s a good sign,’’ Goldstein said.

“I think Cersei will get the chocolates there,’’ Pittard added.

Sydney star Isaac Heeney, regal in red.

Jordan De Goey is ready for winter.

Bulldog Easton Wood.

Luke Shuey in his winter best.

Aliir Aliir embracing the spirit of Game of Thrones.

Tom Liberatore rugs up for the final season.

Nathan Jones cuts an intimidating figure.

Taylor Adams looks ready to take the Iron Throne for himself.

Brodie Grundy looking uncannily like Jon Snow.

Nic Naitanui embraces GoT.

Magpie Jamie Elliott prepares for the final season.