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Keeping local sports clubs afloat

The Ox and Mark Allen gave me a fair bit of ribbing (and rightly so) about a photo that recently surfaced of me in overalls as part of a ‘Men of all seasons’ calendar I did 20 years ago to help support Pascoe Vale Football Club where I played, and now help out the committee.

The things we do to support our local sports clubs.

All jokes aside, it highlights the lengths clubs have to go these days to keep up with the arms race that is attracting players to your club. This issue has been raised for years, and is only getting worse.

This week, the Pascoe Vale Football Club committee met into the wee hours, trying to come up with ever-inventive ways to generate revenue. (Perhaps threatening to release another calendar would have been the way to go.)

In footy leagues across Victoria there are 3 or 4 powerhouse clubs that dominate revenue (and flags), while the rest battle for the minor placings – or just to stay afloat.

According to a recent article, AFL Victoria estimates some teams in country Victorian leagues are spending up to $500k a year to attract players. That has ‘unsustainable’ written all over it.

Unlike the AFL, there’s no salary cap in these competitions – partly because it can’t be policed at the local club level. The purpose of a salary cap is to ensure the evenness of the competition, and stop stronger clubs simply outspending other clubs to win flags. Without a cap, stronger clubs just get stronger, while the weaker clubs have to get more inventive with their revenue raising activities (hence ‘that’ photo) – or they’re forced to merge (or go under).

Never mind that if the powerful clubs are continually flogging the smaller clubs, and dominating the finals, it’s not much fun to go to games.

There were a few great ideas from SEN listeners that would go a long way to resolving this long-standing issue. The best was the concept of a points system for recruits. Each team has a points ‘cap’ – having ex-AFL or VFL players accrues a certain number of points, while local-raised players don’t incur any points. Simple, transparent, and best of all it rewards loyalty and junior development.

Ultimately, we want to create an environment where kids learn that it’s not all about money (particularly when most careers end around 30, leaving you with a lot of life left after you stop playing). A points system that rewards loyalty and junior development ahead of chequebook recruiting sounds like a brilliant way forward.

Also, it will take a load off the already overstretched volunteers who are the heartbeat of local sports clubs – and their communities.