AFL clubs testing brand too far

February 27, 2018

Don't dilute the passion: Would Bombers fans be as passionate about an Essendon NBL side as they are about AFL? It is not likely. Picture: AAP Image /Tracey Nearmy

The franchising of football clubs looks set to increase at an exponential rate.

Hawthorn and Essendon have been linked to the looming expansion of the National Basketball League.

But for me, it is a step too far.

It is almost poetic that the Bombers and Hawks are at the forefront of the discussion surrounding an AFL team joining the ranks of the NBL.

In round 11, 2004, Hawthorn drew a line in the sand.

Sick of being pushed around by the Bombers, the Richie Vandenberg-led Hawks took a stand and got physical, pushing back against years of Essendon dominance.

While it did not result in a win on the day, the moment turned into a beacon for a new wave of Hawks.

It is time for the Bombers to draw their own line in the sand — this time off the field.

There is little reason for Essendon to dilute its brand by fielding a basketball side.

Business-wise it may seem a solid decision, but if we branch out into basketball, where does it stop?

Will we see A-League Bombers? Or even an NRL side running around in the red sash?

Essendon’s venture into the world of eSports is already straddling the line in my eyes, but I can accept that online ‘‘sport’’ is certainly the way of the future.

The markets are huge, the earnings potential endless and the technology soon-to-be cutting edge.

Can the same be said about the NBL?

Why should the Bombers risk their brand on a competition that in 2016-17 had an average attendance of only just more than 6000 fans per game?

Part of the beauty of being an AFL supporter is the one-eyed passion that not only resonates from your own team’s ranks, but also that of your opposition.

Can you imagine Essendon and Hawthorn fans packing into the bleachers dressed in full livery and riding their basketball team’s fortunes like a rollercoaster at Dreamworld?

I certainly can’t.

I have no issue with AFL clubs adding AFLW and Super Netball arms to their organisations.

Collingwood and Greater Western Sydney have simply followed the successful model that regional clubs have used for almost a century by joining forces on the football field and netball court, while within five years almost every country club will have some form of women’s affiliate.

By adding eSports to their brands, clubs will also have the worldwide reach they have craved for decades.

But before we try to move into other spheres of sport, maybe we should focus more energy on improving the grassroots levels of football and refining our product for the national market.

Because if the AFL itself declines in popularity or fails to keep up with the changing football landscape, it won’t matter how many basketball, soccer or rugby teams Essendon has — the fortunes of the franchises will always be tied directly to that of the marquee commodity.

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