Professional sports use grassroots as a fig leaf when it comes to gambling advertising and revenue


No one is talking about scrapping those rights deals, merely mitigating the volume of advertising of one type that helps the networks by an undefined percent to fund those mega deals and in the meantime give everyone the irrits.

To suggest that it would leave pro sport strapped is laughable. To make out that it would imperil funding to grassroots is tantamount to an attempt to ransom lawmakers, using grassroots sport as hostage.

It’s an emotive argument that pretends sports administrators have no discretion where they distribute their largesse and in the event of a TV rights shortfall would have no choice but to chisel away at the base of the pyramid. It happens every time, and they get away with it every time.

It’s not just that. The idea that handouts from big-time pro sport are the lifeblood of community and junior sport is nonsense anyway, or else my hard-working little club, like hundreds of others, would not be standing outside a Bunnings this Sunday, barbecuing sausages in the hope of raising a few extra dollars. The blood actually flows the other way.

Ian Redpath.Credit:Getty Images.

Late last year, the AFL made a big deal of enshrining in its statutes that 10 per cent of its “assessable revenue” – whatever that is – goes to community footy. That’s 10 per cent of the game’s wealth for 480,000 registered footballers; the figures are the AFL’s own. Cricket’s model is more opaque, but its distribution can be guesstimated at a similar level.

Some junior programs are well funded, and elite pathways are lavished strategically. Real grassroots fend for themselves.

No one is arguing for per capita funding from top to bottom. Everyone grasps the moral of a famous story about newly inducted cricket Hall of Famer Ian Redpath.

It concerns a time in 1975 when Australia’s Test cricketers really were poorly paid and were threatening to strike, and then board secretary Alan Barnes harrumphed that there were 100,000 people in the crowd who would play for nothing and mild-mannered Redpath grabbed him by the collar and said: “Of course, they would. But how good would they be?”


The stars now are fantastically well paid, and will continue to be fantastically well paid even if there is a downturn in the worth of media rights, and mostly people don’t mind that. But they do mind when bodies like the COMPPS and Free TV Australia use grassroots sport as a pawn in a game.

They can’t have it that COMPPS bestrides the rickety bridge, standing up gamely to evil lawmakers brandishing only a betting slip while hapless innocents from the suburbs and regions cower behind it, clutching its legs in terror. COMPPS has worthy work to do, but they are not grassroots’ heroes. Nor is Free TV Australia.

In 1993, tobacco advertising finally was banned and sports manfully battled through on alcohol, cars and airlines ads. If – when – they’re denied a bit of revenue that arrives indirectly from a form of advertising that in its relentlessness arguably breaches their social licences and in any case drives followers up the wall, they’ll get by.

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