Make AFL great again: the Trump factor influencing the chopping and changing in modern football.
The rhetoric that politics and sport don’t mix has due justification as the latter provides for brilliant feats, entertaining atmospheres and an escape from our otherwise dull lives at work and under the watchful eye of government. And the former... well, they are the watchful eye of the government.
Ironically, it seems as if the landscape of our great game in contemporary times has been redrawn on the back of political tactics, with none other than the polarising US President Donald Trump acting as the key source of inspiration in defining AFL in the 21st century.
I like to think of the Trump factor as a marketing ploy to create controversy, evoke out roar and provide added enthusiasm, all of which translate to a growth in the games support.
Indeed, it was Trump who defied the odds to win the 2016 Presidential election, and today AFL CEO Gil McLachlan faces a similar battle in preserving consumer interest in AFL football.
So, how has Gil drawn on Donald’s bag of political tricks to drive change and increased support in the world of AFL football?
1. Spreading the code’s appeal
A key reason behind Donald Trump’s surge up the political ladder to the office of US President came off the back of a Presidential campaign which targeted all pockets of the USA as well as a variety of different USA cultures and citizens. By developing a strong breadth of support, Trump was able to consolidate support from the USA as a whole.
Similarly, Gil has been out on the campaign trail, targeting regional and rural Australia as a prime location to extend the reach of AFL football. The revamping of the preseason competition to now feature games in rural communities has received positive support. Many fans have applauded the AFL for better focusing its resources on grassroots level football in recent times and this has translated to stronger participation in the sport among the younger age groups.
The wider demographic support has bolstered the AFL’s position in shoring up support to propel the game forward, much like Trump’s mixture of supporter groups has allowed him to maintain stable growth and praise despite receiving continual criticism from the press.
2. Being bold
While Donald Trump’s political proposals and decisions are often rightly ridiculed and mind-boggling, one can’t ignore their flare and intrepid nature. Who can forget Trump’s “build a wall” catch cry or his shout of “drain the swamp”, the latter being hard to rail against? Ideas and policies so errant in diplomacy but nonetheless so rich in provoking a reaction and ultimately drawing a crowd.
Gil took a chance in fast tracking the introduction of an AFL Women’s competition. Yes, perhaps the competition still requires more time and resources to become more widely received but the sell-out crowd for the first ever AFL Women’s contest speaks volumes of the benefits associated with being bold. Since the formal AFL Women’s competition has commenced, female participation in AFL football has soared by more than 15%. While pundits will continue to deplore the game much like US citizens will not stop despising Trumps policies, an increase in supporters speaks for itself.
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3. Playing the role of peace and feel good promoter
Everybody saw the pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un shaking Donald Trump’s hand earlier this year. Everybody reacted with shock and disbelief at the sight of two perceived foes symbolising world peace. Naturally, many people across the world applauded Trump for facilitating a meeting which allegedly endeavoured to define a new wave of diplomacy between the nations. In reality, the political meet and greet was merely a successful ego and supporter booster for the US President.
Gil has drawn on Trump’s egocentrism in many ways to ultimately grow AFL football and has been equally successful. There has been a growth in the partnerships between charities and the AFL, with a focus on the empowerment of women, stamping out domestic violence and preventing drug and alcohol abuse. Don’t get me wrong, these facets of the wider part of the game are brilliant initiatives; however it can’t be denied that they also act as ego teasers in drawing increased community support in AFL circles. Many have accused the AFL of attempting to become the community's moral compass, and this is difficult to argue against.
Then there has been the creation and growth of ‘Freeze the ‘G’, an annual fundraiser for motor neuron disease at the Queen’s Birthday clash between Melbourne and Collingwood. Again, the basis of the cause is fantastic and the support by the AFL’s players and coaches has been superb but the reality is the event also adds to the positive brand image of the AFL.
The little ‘sweeteners’ in Trump’s political actions mirror that of Gil’s pursuits to grow the AFL into a more community-focused and family-friendly brand, moves that will in the long-term lead to an increase in fan numbers.
Trying to understand Donald Trump’s relationship with China is like trying to make sense of a fine wine. We all proclaim we understand the different notes in a glass of red but deep down we can’t seem to find a reason as to why a 700ml bottle of Shiraz sells at $160 a pop. At times, Trump is the font of all knowledge concerning Chinese trade, in other instances he is calling for harmonious relations with the superpower. Ultimately, Trump’s dealings with China have opened the world to the power possessed by the economic giant.
Likewise, the AFL has seen the growth potential in China and the last two seasons has seen a battle for premiership points take place in Shang Hai.
I was one of many Australian AFL fans who laughed at the notion of playing AFL football in China. I still have my doubts over the concept of the initiative. However, the AFL may yet reap economic rewards if they can somehow crack the Chinese market and grow AFL participation in the Red Dragon. Regardless, like Trump has put America’s identity firmly on the Chinese map, Gil has begun to do the same with AFL football.
With the 2020 US elections looming, it will be interesting to see Trump’s latest formula to garner more voter support.
Whatever Trump pulls out of the works, we can be sure the AFL will soon jump on to similar approaches under Gil McLachlan’s leadership. Having Port Adelaide compete against Gold Coast in China next season is bizarre, bold and quite frankly laughable.
But as Trump’s White House ways have demonstrated, even with the most outlandish and brash initiatives, sometimes there is a method to the madness.
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