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What does the future hold for AFL? A look into the crystal ball

Port Adelaide and Gold Coast run out for their history-making game in Shanghai last year. An AFL presence in China is almost inevitable. Photo: AFL MEDIA

What does future hold for AFL? A look into the crystal ball

The AFL is generally recognized as one of the most forward-thinking and business-minded sporting organisations in Australia.

And while that sometimes rubs the purist sports fan up the wrong way, it means that few sports, in Australia or the wider world, are as aware or well-equipped for the changing face of sport and the new dynamics of the 21st century.

If evidence is needed of the AFL’s attitude and ambition, you need look no further than the roadmap CEO Gillon McLachlan and his colleagues have been putting together for the form the AFL might take over the next 30 years or more.

Let’s take a look what he has in mind, as we peer into the crystal ball and find out what AFL 2050 might look like.

Technology in the 21st century has made the world a smaller place, and this is felt in the world of sport as much as it is in sectors like commerce and travel.

Online streaming and free AFL tips from Australia-focused betting sites like Bettingpro.com.au are beginning to attract international viewers and fans, in much the same way as the NFL is now followed by audiences outside the USA.

McLachlan envisages expansion of more than just fan bases, however. He predicts a future AFL that will comprise up to 24 teams based in Australia, New Zealand, Asia and even North America.

Bernard Salt is a well-known futurist and demographer who works for KPMG out of their Melbourne office. He feels that McLachlan’s vision is not just possible but probable, given changing demographic trends.

He told reporters that while the AFL is likely to remain headquartered in Melbourne, it will become “a game that is truly global, or is global in this part of the world.” By this, he means that supersonic air travel will make it even quicker and easier than it is today to travel around the Pacific region, and that the spread of AFL to areas like China and the West Coast of the USA, where sponsorship deals are likely to be most lucrative, is almost inevitable in time.

With more teams that are geographically dispersed, the format of the AFL will, by necessity, look very different. Teams are likely to be split into regional conferences, with the top performers meeting in playoff-style eliminators at the sharp end of the season.

However, it is not just the teams that will be different. The players that make them up are also likely to be far more fluid.

Former Hawthorn, Port Adelaide and St Kilda administrator Chris Pelchen is one of the experts who has been discussing the future of the game with McLachlan. He suggests that players might sign far shorter contracts – bringing principles already seen in the gig economy into the world of professional football.

He predicts that players will no longer sign for entire seasons, but will only be contracted for perhaps six to eight week terms, with potential free-agency moves throughout the season.

If the AFL really does go global, what does that mean for the teams that currently make up the league?

For them and their supporters, the changes could be even more dramatic. Mergers are almost certain to take place, particularly where there are currently multiple teams in close proximity.

For example, it seems almost impossible that the AFL of the future could support 10 teams in the state of Victoria. More likely, there would be some mergers and some relocations so that each state has two teams, and the Northern Territory and Tasmania also have equal representation.

For passionate AFL fans, the fact that their teams might face an uncertain future will sound alarming. However, we should take heart from the fact that the sport’s governing body is thinking now about how to keep the AFL relevant and successful in the years to come.

1 Comment
  1. Ro Co I have read nothing about this so called plan from McLachlan before this piece. Is this accurate?

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