AFL financial lifeline news overshadowed by 'media games'

There's precious little good news around at the moment, particularly if you're a football fan still grappling with a new season that wasn't. But while it had little to do with the prospect of the on-field action returning any time soon, there's been at least some encouragement for the AFL in the past few days.

The league secured a line of credit of about $600 million from the NAB and ANZ banks to keep the competition and the clubs afloat for the time being. And on Tuesday, AFL Commission chairman Richard Goyder wrote to all club supporters reassuring them of the league's commitment to preserving all 18 clubs. If nothing else, we can at least have some confidence that whenever the AFL competition actually does start again, it won't be as a hollowed shell of what it had been.

The AFL, however, can't control much of the narrative the media chooses to focus upon. And there's plenty in that old journalistic saying that "bad news sells".

Which meant on Tuesday all that reassurance was completely drowned out by a bit of idle speculation on TV panel show "Footy Classified" by veteran AFL journalist Caroline Wilson that "within the AFL there's a view ... that North Melbourne should go to Tasmania".

North Melbourne Kangaroos' Todd Goldstein and St Kilda Saints' Rowan Marshall compete in a ruck contest during the 2020 AFL Round 01 match at Marvel Stadium in March. Reassurance from the announcement of a financial lifeline for the league has been drowned out by "media games" fuelling idle speculations and "death-riding" clubs' futures. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images.

North Melbourne Kangaroos' Todd Goldstein and St Kilda Saints' Rowan Marshall compete in a ruck contest during the 2020 AFL Round 01 match at Marvel Stadium in March. Reassurance from the announcement of a financial lifeline for the league has been drowned out by "media games" fuelling idle speculations and "death-riding" clubs' futures. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images.

The reaction was swift and predictable. North Melbourne chairman Ben Buckley dismissed such speculation as untrue and "bloody disappointing", his predecessor James Brayshaw called it "absolute garbage", and a procession of former Kangaroo stars, as their theme song suggests, joined in the chorus.

But for "Footy Classified", the program's producers and the Nine network, it was already pretty much "job done". They'd created a stir. Everyone was talking about the show. And it's that very fact which may end up being, for football fans, one of the more infuriating aspects of this AFL shutdown.

There's never been such a proliferation of AFL media as there is currently, the coverage 24/7 online, in newspapers, on TV and radio. And that considerable army has never had less action going on to talk about.

... Churned out with the same emotional detachment with which one might write a story about a federal budget.

Rohan Connolly

So it's a given that enough of them are going to be using the game's biggest financial crisis to draw some long bows about a supposed perilous future facing the smaller, less financially-stable clubs in the AFL. That will generate plenty of what these days isn't referred to as news as such, but "content".

It's cynical and opportunistic, but it's also one of the inevitable consequences of AFL football having moved from merely a sport to a business. That business has a lot of different arms. There is a far wider array of angles upon which its media can dwell. And far more football journalists for whom the actual game isn't so much a passion to be celebrated as a vehicle to drive the breaking of news.

Admittedly, I'm not only a grizzled veteran of the football media, but a footy tragic whose motivation for joining the caper was a love of writing and talking about a game I loved. But when I began in the early 1980s, there was hardly a member of the football media who didn't boast likewise.

Of course, there were plenty of stories which were bigger and in a long-term sense more important than simply why Team A was playing well or Player B out of form. And they were pursued as diligently as they are today.

But always with the underlying truth that those stories were important to the readers, viewers and fans only because of how they might impact on their clubs' on-field performances. After all, why did the then VFL, and now AFL even exist but for that?

So big is today's game, however, that there are whole streams of reportage in which that fundamental reason for being is but an afterthought, the words churned out with the same emotional detachment with which one might write a story about a federal budget.

The competition in a media sense, is also one with itself more than between football clubs, the driving motivations being first, being controversial, and being noticed. More frequently than ever, that can come at a cost to accuracy, and sadly, integrity.

It doesn't have to be that way, of course. The good news about the AFL's financial lifeline this week could be extrapolated into substantial coverage of exactly how the money will help those clubs in danger.

There could be reports on the lengths to which the administration and clubs are going to ensure that the AFL competition comes out the other side of this pandemic intact. Of the plans to make sure women's football continues to thrive and that at grass roots level, it survives.

But they are angles which require some time and energy. And of course, not as immediately attention-grabbing as this or that club may fold/merge/relocate (insert whichever option will garner the most views).

We've only missed one round of the 2020 AFL season so far. There's been some inventiveness shown already by way of putting a contemporary spin on the great games and moments of football's past. Some of us hoped, perhaps forlornly, that it may continue.

But it seems already that while the actual games are off, the media game of "death-riding" clubs' futures, after a blissful retreat over the last few years, is on once again. That could make this, for those of us who truly love the game, a very long few months.

This story AFL financial lifeline news drowned out first appeared on The Canberra Times.