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Managed Play: The Media’s Impact on Play in the Australian Football League


Abstract and Figures

No industry has influenced the transformation of the Australian Football League (AFL) into a professional, commercial business more than the media. Today, the AFL players are paid more than ever and are used as marketing tools to promote and sell the game, often to new fans in new markets of Australia - namely New South Wales and Queensland - who haven’t traditionally played Australian Football, preferring the rugby codes instead. But perhaps the biggest change in the AFL is that the play element is now used as function of business. Put simply, winning leads to more money. As such, the play element is now manipulated more than ever. The game has more coaches implementing more tactics, strategies, game plans and set plays than ever before. These changes can be linked back to the media’s influence on the game. This paper utilises the combined observations and theories of Johan Huizinga and Pierre Bourdieu to create a theoretical lens through which we can understand the media’s growing influence in sport and its impact on play’s transformation. The theory will then be expounded through an extensive analysis of the media’s influence in the AFL, particularly its play element. This analysis will be supported with insights and views from AFL fans, members, commentators and theorists.
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DOI: 10.2478/pcssr-2018-0001
Managed Play: The Media’s Impact
on Play in the Australian Football League
Authors’ contribution:
A) conception and design
of the study
B) acquisition of data
C) analysis and interpretation
of data
D) manuscript preparation
E) obtaining funding
Samuel Keith Duncan
Holmesglen Institute, Australia, Victoria
Perhaps no form of sport has created, shaped, and bound Australian communities and culture together
quite like Australian football. Created in Australia by Australians, the original game reflected the
characteristics of the Australian people as its motto, “the people’s game”, suggests (Orive 1996, p 52). We
played the game with a spirit, passion, enthusiasm, and vibrancy that reflected our ownership of the game and
the pride we felt in representing our respective teams and communities.
Today, we have restricted sportand Australian football in particularthrough structure, analysis, and
a desire to win. We review each individual and team performance, analysing it and judging it as a business
does. We measure its efficiency and effectiveness through a range of modern-day statistics such as contested
possessions, hardball gets, loose ball gets, inside 50s, and clearances. What once was a game has become a
business and, as such, must be careful with its image. Thus, our relationship with play in the Australian Football
League (AFL) is increasingly determined by how the league and the media package play and how we consume
the AFL brand and engage with it.
This paper seeks to understand this transformation of play by combining Johan Huizinga’s historical
observations of play with Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of field and capital. Through this theory we can
No industry has influenced the transformation of the Australian Football League
(AFL) into a professional, commercial business more than the media. Today, the
AFL players are paid more than ever and are used as marketing tools to promote
and sell the game, often to new fans in new markets of Australia namely New
South Wales and Queensland - who haven’t traditionally played Australian
Football, preferring the rugby codes instead.
But perhaps the biggest change in the AFL is that the play element is now used as
function of business. Put simply, winning leads to more money. As such, the play
element is now manipulated more than ever. The game has more coaches
implementing more tactics, strategies, game plans and set plays than ever before.
These changes can be linked back to the media’s influence on the game.
This paper utilises the combined observations and theories of Johan Huizinga and
Pierre Bourdieu to create a theoretical lens through which we can understand the
media’s growing influence in sport and its impact on play’s transformation. The
theory will then be expounded through an extensive analysis of the media’s
influence in the AFL, particularly its play element. This analysis will be supported
with insights and views from AFL fans, members, commentators and theorists.
play, media, sport, Huizinga, Bourdieu
forbidden sport doping, abolition of a ban of doping, usefulness and necessity of
sport doping.
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understand the reasons behind play’s transformation and highlight the role of the media field in play becoming
a function of business.
Bourdieu’s theories and concepts have been utilised extensively in the broader study of sport
. However,
he has not previously been utilised as a means of understanding the corruption of play, much less the corruption
of play in the Australian Football League. Likewise, many play theorists, such as Caillois, Hans, Millar and
have studied the evolution of play and the transformation of games to sport. Within these
studies, various consequences of the commercialisation of sport have been expounded.
However, this study discusses the corruption of play at the hands of the commercialisation of sport and,
through the theories and concepts of Bourdieu, provides a means by which we can understand how and why
play has been corrupted. By doing so, a means of understanding how things could be different, or changed, is
developed. Indeed, the theoretical framework used to analyse play’s corruption in the AFL can be applied to
many fields of society. This makes this paper an important contribution to the broadly understood study of
play. Furthermore, by exploring the AFL as a case study, we are able to illuminate the importance of play,
and in particular, winning, from a business and commercial perspective. This analysis further highlights how
and why the play element has been transformed by the media field. The theory and analysis of the AFL is
enriched by the views of various AFL and club members who have observed the increasing role of the media
in the league and the subsequent transformation of play.
The Commodification and Corruption of Play
Play: “activity engaged in for enjoyment and recreation”; the act of engag[ing] in activity for enjoyment
and recreation rather than [for] a serious or practical purpose” (Oxford English Dictionary 2017). In his most
famous study of play, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, Dutch historian Johan Huizinga
describes play as a discharge of superabundant vital energy” to seek the satisfaction of imitative instinct
(Huizinga 1950, p. 2).
Four characteristics define play for Huizinga (1950, p, 8):
1. Play is free, in fact, it is freedom,
2. Play is not ordinary or real,
3. Play is secluded and limited,
4. Play “creates order, is order”.
He goes on to define the play element as:
A free activity standing quite consciously outside ordinary life, as being “not serious” but at the
same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest
and no profit can be gained from it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space and
according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It encourages the formation of social groupings, which
tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by
disguise or other means (Huizinga 1950, p. 13).
For Huizinga, the notions of fun, enjoyment, and freedom underpin the key characteristics of play
(Huizinga 1950, p. 2): Play must be fun, free and voluntary, spontaneous, and separate from the ordinary
and real. In its most autonomous sense, play creates, encourages, and stimulates meaningful
For a more detailed overview of how Bourdieu has been utilised in sports studies see: Tomlinson, A. (2004). Pierre
Bourdieu and the Sociological Study of Sport: Habitus, Capital and Field. In R. Guilianotti (Ed.), Sport and Modern
Social Theorists. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
For a more in depth analysis of play theorists and their critique of Huizinga see: Caillois, R. (2006). The Definition of
Play and The Classification of Games. In K. Salen, and E. Zimmerman (Eds.), The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play
Anthology, Massachusetts. Boston: Institute of Technology; Sutton-Smith, B. (1997) The ambiguity of play. Cambridge:
Harvard University Press; Hans, J.S. (1981). The play of the world. Boston: University of Massachusetts Press; Duncan,
S. (2016). Footy Grounds to Grandstands: Play, Community and the Australian Football League. Port Adelaide:
Ginninderra Press.
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relationships. While play can be serious when engaged in the “play contest”, when players are no longer
having fun or enjoying themselves while playing or no longer feel free when doing so, they have ceased
to play. Importantly for Huizinga, play should be free, with participants engaging in it voluntarily. They
should not have to pay to play, nor should they receive financial reward for playing. When play
participants are no longer free and if they are paid to play, the play element has been corrupted.
The notion of the play element losing its freedom is best understood by analysing its influence beyond
the sporting field. For Huizinga, play, at its purest, is separate from the ordinary and real. That is, the
significance of the play contest is minimal once the play contest is over. No matter how intense, passionate or
serious the play contest is, its importance in real life is minimal. As Huizinga notes (1950, p. 49), The contest
is largely devoid of purpose that the action begins and ends in itself and the outcome does not contribute to
necessary life processes of the group.” Fundamental to this characteristic of play is that the players are acting
autonomously from the roles, responsibilities and power they may have in other aspects of their lives.
Furthermore, for Huizinga, play is inferior to real life. Players are “only playing” and the consequences beyond
the contest are not significant. Huizinga states that when play loses its autonomy, when the significance of
play stretches beyond the conclusion of the contest and empowers participants beyond the play field, then it is
no longer “play”; it is “false play” (Huizinga 1950, p. 206).
Huizinga identifies the corruption of play with increasing structure, control and restriction with an
obsessive emphasis on winning or “being the best.” These characteristics have flourished at the expense of
freedom, creativity, spontaneity and flair. The Dutch researcher believes that over the course of the centuries
we have transformed play from its free, creative self, first, into sport and, ultimately, into business. He (1950,
p. 74) traced the origins of this transformation to the Roman Empire the Romans found they could organize
play and use it as a tool to entertain thousands of spectators who packed stadiums such as the Colosseum.
The notion of organised sport as we know it today, a recognizable and structured organisation, is a far
more recent phenomenon, emerging in Britain during early industrialization (Rowe 2004, p. 11). According to
Huizinga (1950, p. 13) the ruling class used play to distract the proletariat from their subordinated and “dull
existence.” In doing so they transformed play from a spontaneous activity, adopting a more organised
structured model. Huizinga (1950, p. 196) noted that play was transformed from an item of “occasional
amusement to a system of organised clubs and matches.” Play, in this instance has been influenced by market
forces it was now a tool, used as a secondary purpose to distract the masses, provide workers with an escape
and ensure they remained fit and healthy. Huizinga (1950, p. 206) described this kind of play as the
aforementioned “false play” he claimed that “civilisation today is no longer played and even where it seems
to be play, it is false play.”
Christopher Lasch (1980) supported this notion in The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age
of Diminishing Expectations. He claimed that all types of leisure time and play forms have been corrupted by
money and the necessary calculations, prudence, analysis and efficiency that defines the business world. As
with most business functions, play is restricted by structure, analysis and a desire to succeed or not to fail
(Lasch 1980, p. 74).
Thus, play lost its autonomy and became a commodity, the crowds becoming its consumers. Influenced
by economics and, more specifically money, it lost its carefree, spontaneous, creative nature and became more
and more organised and structured throughout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. As this
commodification continued, play also became more serious.
Understanding Huizinga’s Observations through the Concepts of Pierre Bourdieu
While Huizinga’s historical observations are insightful and largely accepted as the classical study of
play, many other theorists such as Millar (1968), Hans (1981) Sutton-Smith (1997) and Caillois (2006), have
made significant contributions to the study of play. Furthermore, one of the criticisms levelled at Huizinga by
those who have contributed to the field, is that his observations, while insightful, lack theoretical rigour, or a
conceptual framework, that would enable his observations to be applied to understand the transformation of
modern professional play, or indeed other fields of society. However, by applying Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts
of fields, capital and habitus to Huizinga’s observations, a theoretical framework can be developed to
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conceptualise what has happened to play and how play’s transformation can be observed in practice, using a
case study of today’s modern sports. Furthermore, adopting Bourdieu’s concepts of field and capital in the
language we use to illuminate play’s transformation can help understand the changing characteristics of play
and reasons for what Huizinga described as “the corruption of play.”
Bourdieu develops his concepts as a means of understanding how citizens relate to each other. His theory
of field concerns the reasons people behave as they do at certain times and in certain environments (Bourdieu
1979, p. 69). His notions of capital and habitus concern how citizens within the same field seek to gain power
from each other within the limitations of that field. He concludes that the behaviour of citizens and the
relationships they share with each other reflect their environment and simply serve to legitimise and reinforce
the existing structure of their surroundings (Bourdieu 1986, p. 249).
Bourdieu (1986, p. 249) argues that what appear to be autonomous individuals acting according to their
own interests are actually products of an emergent historical system of social relations that constrain them to
recognise each other and compete with each other for socially recognised forms of power or capital. Capital is
any form of power that allows actors to participate in a given field of society to gain further capital, thereby
augmenting their positions in the field.
Bourdieu identifies four types of capital: social capital, cultural capital, symbolic capital, and economic
capital. Social capital consists of resources based on group membership, relationships, and networks or
influence and support. It is “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession
of a durable network of more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition”
(Bourdieu 1986, p. 249). Cultural capital consists of nonfinancial social assets that promote social mobility
beyond economic means, including the forms of knowledge, skills, education, and advantages people have that
give them higher status in society. Parents provide their children with cultural capital by transmitting the
attitudes and knowledge needed to succeed in the current educational system. Symbolic capital refers to the
resources available to individuals on the basis of honour, prestige, or recognition. Economic capital is one’s
command over economic resources (e.g., cash and financial assets) (Bourdieu 1986, pp. 249-250).
For Bourdieu, the modern social world is broken into various fields. A field is any structure of social
relations in which citizens compete for capital and, in doing so, struggle against each other to establish their
positions within that space. Among the main fields in modern society, Bourdieu cites the arts, education, law,
politics, and the economy (Bourdieu 1990, p. 51). Particularly important is Bourdieu’s belief that the different
actors within each field tend to strive for capital specific to that field independent of the capital in any other
field. Thus, each field of society is autonomous and independent of the influences and characteristics of other
fields. However, Bourdieu also holds that because the economic field is the most dominant, powerful, and
increasingly influential field, maintaining the autonomy of other fields is essential to limiting the power of
those with economic capital (Bourdieu 1986, p. 258). When fields lost their autonomy, the participants within
the field begin striving for capital from the most dominant field. Thus, when the sport field mergers with the
economic field it is likely that players will no longer simply be satisfied accumulating social, cultural and
symbolic capital specific to the field, they will also compete for economic capital (money), which will give
them power in other fields beyond the sport field.
In reviewing Huizinga’s historical observations, it’s clear that his view was that when a field loses its
autonomy to other fields of society, play loses its authenticity and the key characteristics of play, based on fun,
enjoyment, spontaneity and creativity are undermined by the most important characteristics of the field that
merges with sport. One of the most dominant fields to merge with sport at the professional level is the media
field, which has transformed sport into a business and, in doing so, transformed the key characteristics that
now define professional play.
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This can be understood through the below image:
Figure 1: The sport field, media field and economic field today
Source: Own study.
The merger of the media field with the sport field means that sport is now an entertainment business that
sits within the broader economic field, meaning that accumulating economic capital (money) is one of the
primary objectives of those participating within the sports field at the professional level (leagues, clubs,
sponsors, players, coaches). The accumulation of economic capital within the sport field will also give
participants power in other fields, meaning the sport field, and play, is no longer autonomous and no longer
separate from the ordinary or real.
Because play is largely the purpose of the sport field, it is the primary means by which the participants
within the field can accumulate economic capital. Playing well, indeed winning, leads to a range of
commercially advantageous outcomes higher gate receipts from crowd attendances, more members, richer
sponsorship deals which ensures the success, or even survival of the club. Thus, play is carefully managed,
analysed and scrutinised as a business function. Clubs are now businesses. Players are now employees of clubs.
Coaches are managers. Consequently, play is no longer spontaneous, creative and free.
The study of the media’s influence on sport is a growing one, with scholars such as Lawrence and Rowe
(1986), Whannel (2000), Rowe (2004) and Nicholson, Kerr and Sherwood (2015) providing significant
contributions to the impact of the media in commercialising and professionalising sport and in examining the
sports-media nexus. However, the analysis of the media’s impact on the play element in professional sport has
been less thoroughly explored and the idea of understanding the transformation of play through the
observations and theories of Huizinga and Bourdieu, even less so. Furthermore, to understand the
transformation of play in modern, professional sport, the AFL can be used as a case study. The analysis of that
league highlights the merger of the media field with the sport field (the AFL) and explores the impact this has
had on the AFL and in particular, its play element. The analysis is supported by the views of the league’s fans
who shared their thoughts and views about the role of the media and the play element in the AFL during semi
structured interviews as part of a broader PhD study on play and community.
The Media and the AFL
As part of a broader PhD study on the importance of play in stimulating community, fourteen AFL
members, aged between twenty one and sixty, were interviewed about their observations of how the AFL had
transformed since they had begun following the league. One of the main areas of discussion in the semi
structured interviews was the media’s influence in the sport. The responses are used to enrich the theory as
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they provide insight into how the changing structures and actions within the AFL, and its impact on the play
element, have been observed in practice by members of the AFL’s community.
As discussed, one of the most significant influences on the commodification of play is the media. For
the media, play in the AFL is a vital commodity, a form of entertainment that produces huge audiences in
return for substantial advertising revenues. According to Effie Caloutas, North Melbourne supporter, the media
expose the game to the public through advertising” and thus increases participation through the grassroots
and enhances its popularity” (personal communication 2015). For the AFL, the media offer invaluable
assistance in selling its product and attracting the market to its brand. The AFL uses the popularity of the game
to negotiate record amounts of money from the media for exclusive rights to broadcast play. Once they have
purchased these rights, the media package the game as entertainment to enhance ratings and effectively sell
audiences to advertisers. The higher the ratings, the larger the demand for advertising and, subsequently, the
generation of greater revenue. In 2015, for example, the Seven Network earned an estimated $1.5 million for
every 5 minutes of advertising during the AFL Grand Final, with one 30-second national advertisement costing
up to $150,000 (Hayes, 2015). Thus, both media and league manage and manipulate play to make money.
Media interest in the AFL is almost like that of no other industry (sport or otherwise) in the world. The
AFL and its clubs are broadcast to every corner of the nation by an unquenchably thirsty media insisting on
covering the game both on and off field 365 days a year, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Several Essendon
supporters reflected on this coverage. Michael Westland portrayed the changes from a historical perspective:
I remember football growing up as [being] Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday . . . But these days footy is
all encompassing” (personal communication 2013). Stuart Osbourne felt media influence had superseded the
interests of football fans in the sheer number of matches scheduled for broadcast across a range of timeslots
designed to maximise exposure of the AFL brand and increase ratings: “There are too many bloody time slots
. . . it’s frigging impossible to plan your weekend when you go to the footy . . . and it’s all driven by broadcasters
because they want every game live” (personal communication 2013). For Zak Kardachi, such coverage has led
to “sensationalism”, given that actual games occur on only two or three days of the week: “What do you write
about as a news outlet when . . . you have to fill seven days-worth of news” (personal communication 2013).
Thus, he believed media have elected to provide “a lot of off-field talk that perhaps wasn’t there before”. Yet
Westland noted many people, like himself, “surround” themselves with such coverage. They “find it
informat[ive] and entertaining”, relying not only on television, newspapers, and radio but also on newer
technology to provide information.
For the media, the AFL sells, regardless of the time of year. Newspapers provide daily coverage and,
during the season, add supplements dedicated to AFL-related stories. Radio stations incorporate AFL games
as an integral part of their scheduling, with many offering magazine-style sports programs often broadcast
during high-rating drive-time slots, to attract as many listeners as possible. The content of these shows
primarily concerns the on-field performances of AFL players and teams and the off-field lives and issues of
AFL players, personalities, and clubs. Radio has also introduced stations devoted solely to sports to target
sports enthusiasts, employing former AFL players and current AFL commentators as hosts. Jeremiah Ryan, a
Collingwood member, stated he takes advantage of the increased analysis provided in these programs and the
convenience afforded from the multiple media formats used to broadcast games and related information: “I’ve
got the AFL app on my iPad and I use that for scores when I’m at work or when I’m travelling . . . and I can
watch a replay of Collingwood when I’m at work if I missed it” (personal communication 2013).
However, television has had the greatest impact on play in the AFL. Initially seen as a way of enabling
all Australians to enjoy one of the nation’s most enduring pastimes, television has elevated the emphasis on
packaging and marketing the game to provide advertisers with increasing audience numbers. Game telecasts
have become more and more aesthetically pleasing since the introduction of colour broadcasts in 1975,
resulting in even higher levels of popularity. The media have added devices such as background music, emotive
colour pieces, close-up shots of players and crowds, pre-taped and live interviews presented during matches,
slow motion replays, graphics, symbols, and statistics (Goldlust 1987).
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Even commentators, once describers of what occurred on the field, have become entertainers and
promoters of the AFL brand. They are to entertain their audiences to keep them watching and listening to keep
their ratings high. Making negative comments about the league or a team, its coaches, or players is considered
“trashing the AFL’s brand”, something the Sydney Swans and the AFL accused two Network Ten
commentators of doing in 2006 (Wilson 2006a, 2006b). According to Tim Watson, Seven Network
commentator, “You are employed by a radio broadcaster or a television network, so your responsibility is to
your employer . . . it is an entertainment and . . . your responsibility is to provide entertainment” (personal
communication, 2007). Rex Hunt, radio and television broadcaster for more than 40 years, concurred:
When I am getting paid a serious amount of money to put the game into the houses of people, I
have a responsibility to entertain, because we are a commercial network . . . we live and die by
the ratings, [so] we have to be entertaining to make sure people listen to us (personal
communication 2007).
Television media are among the biggest contributors to the AFL’s overall revenue stream and, as such,
one of the AFL’s biggest stakeholders. In 2015, Seven Network and Foxtel paid a record $2.508 billion to the
AFL for broadcasting rights to all AFL preseason, home, away, and finals series games (McLachlan 2015). In
2016, despite increasing revenues by $11 million, the AFL posted an overall loss of $17.8 million. Its total
operating expenditure increased to $18.8 million, largely due to establishing the new AFL Women’s
competition and acquiring Etihad Stadium. Only seven of its clubs recorded a profit. However, despite
relatively small net profits compared to other professional sporting organizations, the AFL puts most of its
revenue back into the game, highlighting the importance of television broadcasting rights.
The media do not restrict their marketing efforts to advertising through television, radio, newspaper, and
online, digital, and social media. They view the AFL and its clubs and collateral as effective tools in helping
corporate sponsors reach mass markets. Indeed, the AFL and its clubs all have major sponsors with which they
partner. These organizations generally believe sponsoring a league, team, event, or player will increase
awareness of their company brand, products, and services and, in turn, improve their image and reputation.
These firms also believe they will reach new demographics or audiences. In return for their sponsorships,
corporate organizations can also receive naming rights to the teams’ grounds and placement of their logos on
team uniforms. Companies even sponsor individual players to benefit from their success or popularity.
According to Sleight (1989, p. 199), Media coverage is often the most crucial single element within the
reasons for a company entering into a sponsorship”.
The need to increase brand consumption and generate more broadcast and advertising revenue has also
led the AFL to expand into northern Australian markets. By placing the Greater Western Sydney Giants and
the Gold Coast Suns in areas typically not supportive of Australian football, the league has created the potential
to sell to millions of new consumers and to increase broadcast audiences. In contrast, the AFL has rejected
Tasmania’s request for a football club because of the lack of the potential for new consumers. The Tasmanians
have been playing the game for over 150 years and have followed the league for nearly as long. For Kardachi,
even though not “commercially as viable” as the other two expansion teams, he believes that if the AFL really
wanted to love the game . . . and [have it be] viewed by the people who really want to see it . . . they’d probably
have a team in Tasmania” (personal communication 2013). However, the interests of the media and the desire
for ever increasing revenues outweigh the desires of the Tasmanians for their own team to support.
According to Kate Withers, Geelong Cats club member, “Clubs and the AFL itself are now beholden to
the demands of advertisers, sponsors and broadcast partners” (personal communication 2015). Indeed, to
ensure the game remains an attractive form of entertainment, the AFL has often regulated and changed game
rules. Changes such as deliberate out of bounds, deliberate rushed behind, time limits for lining up for goals,
kicking out immediately after an opposition has scored a behind, reducing the number of players on the
interchange bench, and introducing substitute players have all been implemented to add to the game’s
entertainment value ( 2017). According to Withers, because the game itself wouldn't exist
without investment from media outlets . . . advertising needs have taken priority over the actual integrity and
purity of the game itself”.
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Thus, play has become a function of business in the AFL, a tool used to generate interest in its brand
and subsequent consumption of it. It is a form of entertainment that effectively turns players into entertainers,
employed by their clubs to display their talents in return for their wages, wages now rivalling those of any
celebrity in the entertainment industry.
Instead of a semi-professional, leisure time pursuit, play is now a full-time, professional form of
employment. Thus, ‘The spirit of the professional is no longer the true play spirit . . . For the professional,
playing is no longer just play. It is also work” (Huizinga 1950, p. 204).
As a result, players have become commodities of their clubs, traded to acquire better players or to ensure
clubs can meet salary cap requirements. In turn, player loyalty has often been replaced with the lure of money
and desires for financial security and prosperity. Although not new to the sport, players choosing to jump from
their original teams to other clubs for more money has become more common as evidenced by the defections
of Nathan Brown, Chris Judd, Gary Ablett Junior, Tom Scully, Callan Ward, Brendon Goddard and Lance
“Buddy” Franklin. AFL teams have also trialled recruiting popular players from other sports, such as
Karmichael Hunt and Israel Folau from the National Rugby League, in the hopes of increasing audiences and
market share. The AFL has even excluded expansion teams such as the Suns and Giants from salary cap
provisions, at least initially, to help them recruit experienced or popular players to make their teams more
attractive to potential audiences. Free agency provisions have also contributed to the reduction of player
loyalty, allowing clubs to offer certain players on rival teams higher salaries to induce them to jump.
The media has also affected players’ abilities to earn income from sources other than their teams.
Increased game coverage and interviews, profiles, and appearances on sports shows have resulted in more
exposure for players than ever. Such exposure increases the numbers of their fans and mass followers on all
forms of social media. As Essendon supporter Jason Lee noted, “Footballers have now become celebrities, not
sports people” (personal communication 2013). Because of their resulting recognition power both within and
beyond the sport, the AFL utilises them to sell the league’s brand to consumers; and companies external to the
AFL hire them to market, advertise, and sell their products and services.
Play: The Importance of Winning
Underlying the changes and emphasis on money is the imperative to win. Being successful on the field
has never been more important as most sporting organisations consider winning an essential ingredient in
making profit. Winning makes a team more valuable winning teams garner more fan support, more
advertising and broadcast revenue, and more sponsorships.
From its creation in the 1850s, Australian football has always emphasised winning to some degree; and
players have always taken great pride in playing to their optimum capabilities and in being better than their
opponents. The very structure and rules of the game promote recognition of the best. Winning the Grand Final
to become the Premiership Team is the often identified goal of players, clubs, and those who barrack for their
teams: a common goal they all work toward together resulting from a shared, common passion. Likewise,
individual players have always been recognised and rewarded for being the best. Each team bestows a Best
and Fairest award on the player whose contribution helped the team win most often. The AFL bestows the
Brownlow Medal to the player the umpires judge to be the fairest and best. Other individual honours include
the Most Valuable Player (Player’s Association), the Coaches Award, and selection to the All Australian
Team, which is composed of the 22 best players of the season. Originally, such recognitions were primarily
expressions of the respect and admiration those in the sport field held for these teams and individuals.
Achieving success on the field with their teammates and celebrating with the coaches, supporters, and
administrators who worked together with them was largely considered reward enough.
However, the influence of the media has elevated winning (and its by-product of being recognized as
the best), linking it inextricably with money. It allows clubs to attract more supporters, more members, and
more spectators. It also allows clubs to sell more club merchandise, attract more corporate sponsors, and collect
more money from those sponsors. Furthermore, winning enables clubs to play more games during primetime
television slots that attract larger audiences and, hence, more money. Tom Gallimore, Brisbane Lions
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supporter, remarked that clubs must keep generating revenue and money to be a successful club” (personal
communication 2013).
To keep winning, clubs spend money on attracting and developing the best coaches, the best equipment,
and the best players. They cultivate extensive training and development programs to keep their teams winning
and to ensure their brands remain attractive to all possible sources of revenue, including fans, club members,
sponsors, media outlets, and broadcast audiences.
Winning also focuses attention on players who make it possible. Recognition for their individual
accomplishments on the field earns them rewards and praise, including better compensation from their clubs.
In turn, these individuals help sell club brands. Individual players are also more likely to garner lucrative
contracts from corporate sponsors to promote company brands and products.
In contrast, off-field consequences for losing teams can be quite serious. Poor on-field performance
diminishes the club’s brand, which reduces its ability to earn money. Few corporate sponsors want to support
losing teams. Although diehard fans may remain unwavering in their support, those not as dedicated or
connected may choose not to renew their club memberships, to attend fewer games, or to buy less club
merchandise. Losing teams also do not get many primetime broadcast slots, decreasing the amount of exposure
generated from playing during television’s most popular time. Less money means lessened abilities to recruit
the best players and coaches, to provide the latest and best equipment, or to create and maintain player
development programs.
Ultimately, winning is the reason the AFL pumps much of its profits back into the league and its teams.
It is the reason for the Equalisation Policy, for exempting expansion teams from the provisions of that policy,
the reason key players jump from one team to another and teams recruit players from other teams and other
The importance of winning is clearly seen in the emphasis on coaching. Not only have the number of
coaches increased but also their level of influence on how the game is played. Collingwood member, Jeremiah
Ryan stated footy departments had grown from relatively small staffs (i.e., “a head coach, a forward line coach,
mid field coach and a backline coach”) to staffs in which assistant coaches have assistants, including
“developing coaches and tactical analysts and guys that don’t even see their own club play. All they do is
watch the team their club is playing next week” (personal communication 2013).
What constitutes coaching has also changed. Lee explained coaches used to focus on the “fire and
brimstone sort of stuff . . . [to] motivate players” (personal communication 2013). Today, the coach’s role is
“very strategic”. Coaches rely on data, about their team and opposing teams, to inform their decisions
concerning play. They analyse each player’s performance and implement training programs designed to
maximize individual and team capabilities. They design strategic game plans, prescribe game tactics, structure
every second of on-field play, and expect players to implement those plans and tactics without question. Thus,
coaches have become more influential in how games are played than the players on the field. As Osbourne
reflected, “There’s an environment for footy that’s been created, I think, by the amount of money that’s in the
game now. . . . the way the game has changed over the last ten years has been driven by coaches trying to get
the best competitive advantage on the field” (personal communication 2013).
Interestingly, Ryan noted that although coaches have more influence, “the AFL’s really been wrestling
with the coaches to . . . get it [play] to what the AFL wants it to look like” (personal communication 2013).
He believed coaches just want to win. The AFL, however, is concerned about image. Scoring more goals
means more excitement; more excitement makes the game more attractive to media, advertisers, and corporate
sponsors. This is somewhat paradoxical because the coaches’ manipulation of the game through team rules,
player development regimens, data collection and analysis, and strategic game plans and tactics, has resulted
in somewhat homogenous play in the league, each team’s game plan and style mirroring that of every other
team. Thus, individual players are less likely to play with the flair, freedom, spontaneity, creativity, and
enjoyment once evident in the game. Restricted to the overarching confines of the game plan, “All players in
all teams play a role as part of the system of play that their coach wants them to play” (Stuart Osbourne,
personal communication 2013). However, for Geelong supporter Scott Hutchins, although “team orientation
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is obviously important . . . a player’s individual flair and brilliance is always going to over shine the coaches’
team structures and systems” (personal communication, 2013).
Winning is so important many clubs and players have adopted a win-at-all-costs attitude. In
manipulating play to ensure victories, they often take drastic measures and increasingly push the boundary
between what is fair and legal and what is not to gain an advantage over their opponents. This all-encompassing
desire to win has led to more and more reliance on sports science to ensure players and their teams play at their
maximum capabilities and sustain maximum output. Where players once relied on hard work and natural
ability to win, today they are assisted by sports scientists who provide supplements and dietary advice to
improve performance.
When legitimate sports science methodology fails to ensure winning, teams and players may resort to
other means to achieve their goals, including the use of illegal substances to stoke players’ abilities. Players
who use or attempt to use illegal substances to enhance their performance are effectively guilty of cheating
because such substances enable the body to perform above its natural capacity. Thus, athletes who take such
substances eliminate the essence of fair play because they have attempted to give themselves unfair and
unnatural advantages over their opponents.
In 2012, the Essendon Football Club asked the AFL and the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency
(ASADA) to determine whether substances their players were administered in 2012 were legal (,
2013a). The investigation centred on the use of Thymosin Beta 4. Although the interim report indicated the
ASADA had not found evidence of substance abuse or cheating, the AFL charged four Essendon officials for
bringing the game into disrepute. Senior Coach James Hird was subsequently banned from working at any
AFL club for 12 months. Ultimately, in January 2016, 34 past and present Essendon players were found guilty
of being administered Thymosin Beta 4 and were subsequently banned from playing during the 2016 season.
The use of illegal drugs, however, is not confined to team practices. The Australian Crime Commission
(ACC 2012) found links between use of illegal substances and organised crime and match fixing, present[ing]
a threat to the integrity of Australian professional sport”. The ACC noted criminals can corrupt athletes who
buy and use these substances, coercing them into influencing the outcomes of their matches to ensure
individuals gambling on these events win. Among other things, such athletes may be asked to manipulate
games by ensuring their teams do not win, minimizing the number of goals scored, or providing insider
information. Although no examples of match fixing have been found within the AFL, the potential is quite real
as evidenced by occurrences in other sports and the disciplining of two Collingwood players, Heath Shaw and
Nick Maxwell, for violating AFL anti-gambling regulations.
Another practice teams may employ to increase their chances of winning is tanking. Tanking requires
management, coaches, and/or players to manipulate play during a match to achieve a contrived result. Until
2012, under the Equalisation Policy, a team that won no more than 4 out of the 22 matches played during the
season received an extra draft pick. Thus, teams who believed they needed a significant boost of the best young
talent available in the next National Draft might resort to losing deliberately.
The AFL investigated the 2009 season of the Melbourne Club to determine whether tanking had, indeed,
occurred after a former player, Brock McLean, who played for Melbourne during the 2009 season, stated on
national television the team had deliberately lost some of its games (Fox Footy 2012). The investigation
revealed no evidence the team had done anything other than their best on match days. However, it did reveal
that General Manager of Football Operations Chris Connolly and Senior Coach Dean Bailey had made
comments and acted in ways prejudicial to the AFL by preparing the team to lose and selecting teams that
would probably not win. Both men were subsequently disciplined by the league. Because the club was
ultimately responsible for the actions of its employees, the AFL also fined Melbourne $500,000. The AFL then
changed its priority selection procedures to make it harder for teams to qualify ( 2013b).
Tanking stands in opposition to the heritage of Australian football of members, supporters,
administrators, coaches, and players working together to achieve the common, shared goal of trying one’s best
to win the premiership. Yet fans seem split on the issue. Hawthorn supporter Josh Forte felt ‘it would be remiss
of a club not to tank . . . with the prizes on offer for failing(personal communication 2013). Carlton member
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Alanna Ford stated she would rather be proud of a team that plays with integrity and honesty and loses . . .
than one who may/may not improve because they have tanked for draft picks” (personal communication 2015).
Cheree Brown, a Sydney Swans supporter, and Caloutas concurred (personal communications 2015). For
Gallimore, tanking is “un-Australian and he “would feel a little gutted” if he learned his team had used tanking
as “a deliberate tactic” (personal communication 2013). Kardachi was even more forceful: “It’s the same as
stealing . . . You subverted the rule, you took advantage of the rules, and you did something that is not in the
spirit of the game . . . to possibly secure a future” (personal communication 2013).
It is clear the combined theories of Huizinga and Bourdieu provide a theoretical framework that can be
applied to sport, and in particular, the AFL, as a means of understanding the influence of the media field in
transforming the play element and in highlighting the link between play, as a function of business, and making
money. While Huizinga would bemoan play’s transformation as “corruption”, it appears irreversible in
professional sport, as outlined through the case study of the AFL. Play is no longer a completely creative,
spontaneous discharge of super abundant vital energy.” It is now managed for business and commercial
outcomes. Developing an attractive brand is aligned with winning, thus play is managed and analysed to win,
or not to lose. The result of play matters more than ever in the commercial environment of professional sport
and the consequences of a match’s outcome stretch well beyond the play contest.
Indeed, the relationship between the media and the AFL is symbiotic. The media need the ever-growing
popularity of the AFL to sell advertising; the league needs the media for its broadcasting rights revenue and to
help promote and grow the game across the country. Thus, money rather than the game has become the most
prominent feature of play in the AFL, with the media, fuelled by economics, commodifying play from the
creative, spontaneous element it once was into a function of business.
Nothing underscores that function better than the elevated importance in the AFL of winning. Winning
teams gain recognition from the public, media and advertisers. More recognition means increased revenues
not only from ticket sales, club memberships, and brand merchandise, but also from corporate sponsorships.
Increased revenues allow teams to invest in premium players and coaches, the highest quality training
programs, and sports science to propel their players to their maximum capabilities to keep winning. However,
the imperative to win has also resulted in the management and potential manipulation of play by coaches,
players, administrators, and teams.
Fans are keenly aware of the transformation of the AFL from game to sport, to business and the resulting
impact of the media on play. As Phil Wild stated, “eyeballs mean dollars . . . it’s a pretty simple business
equation” (personal communication, 2013). They understand the media are the biggest contributors of revenue
to the AFL and, thus, the most powerful stakeholders. As such, they understand the media have the biggest say
in the direction of the AFL and the decisions made in furthering that direction. For fans, that can be a sobering
realisation. As Wild stated, “While generally what the media want and what the fans want would hopefully be
sort of congruent . . . when push comes to shove” the desires of the media will win out over those of the fans.
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image enhancing drugs and organised crime involvement in their use in professional sport. Retrieved March 2, 2014
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AUTHOR’S ADDRESS: Samuel Keith Duncan
Holmesglen Institute
4/22 Tintern Avenue, Toorak, Victoria
Australia, 3142
Received: 15 January 2018; Accepted: 28 Febraury 2018
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... Over the last four decades, the professional sports industry has emerged from suburban grassroots clubs into a multi-billion-dollar entertainment business. It enables talented players to earn millions of dollars for their skills in ensuring on-field success that translates into off-field financial prosperity (Duncan, 2018b). The Australian Football League is one of the most successful organizations within the professional sports industry. ...
... These professions enable evidence-based knowledge communication to the greater community, which has significant benefits for the community served. As a significant part of the entertainment sector, the AFL transformation is influenced by the Media more than any other industry (Duncan, 2018b). This trend is unlikely to abate. ...
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The Australian Football League (AFL) is a leading professional sports organization within the multi-billion-dollar entertainment industry. This case study uses publicly available information to investigate the AFL in terms of its credentials as a positive institution using the good work model developed by Stansbury and Sonenshein (2012). The AFL has taken advantage of the economic rationalism and developed a corporate structure able to deliver a range of good work activities. For example, developmental programs that help players exceeding high community expectations. This study suggests that the good work model is beneficial for cognitive resources, normal functioning, regulatory focus, and impression formation. The AFL appears to answer Cameron et al. (2004) call to identify and enable flourishing and life-giving aspects of their organisation and, thus, represents a kind of positive institution. Finally, the study recognizes positive institutions as worthwhile but raises concerns about the uniqueness and lack of cultural research.
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Problem: Sports’ news is utmost prominent in the pages of many Portuguese and international newspapers alongside an increasing interaction between fans and the clubs/players in several social networks. In addition, television contracts for sports broadcasting rights regularly reach hundreds of thousands of euros(Stead,2010). However, the investigationof theconsequences of these facts on athletes as well as the connections between sports and the media are still at a developing stage or unproven, which raises challenges and relevant research questions we will address. Purpose: In this paper we describe the development of a research project to get the answers for some important questions, such as: Does sport depend on the media? Does the media depend on sport? Are we looking at a reciprocal relationship? Does the media influence player’s sports performance? Which influential mechanisms are present there? In which dimensions and intensities do they influence? Having become strong icons and instruments of change, does sports and social communication developed together as an important global industry with partnership dynamics? This paper constitutes the first part of an ongoing multidisciplinary research. The authors aim to contribute to the understanding and extent to which sports media/press influences footballers’ performance. Methods. This is mostly a literature review uncovering several strands of opinion and coming across many well cited authors responsible for numerous analyses of sport events and media coverage. Hitherto, it became clear that few of them correlate media and sport as influential on the performance itself. Because of the thorough literature review, it will be presented a comprehensive theoretical underpinning for the correlation between media coverage and the performance of footballers. Based on some few empirical studies we also present a testable model to add value to some explanations. After this step we followed a large interview process to professional footballers, coaches, directors and media staff working at the clubs. At this stage in time we are analysing those results and using NVivo 10.0 software. Results are still under detailed analysis but seem to explain the expected influential mechanism.Results: The results are presented as a list and synthesis of the literature review and a description of the model used to build the half structure of the interviews to apply to our sample and get the major data for further analysis. Discussion: The discussion of the literature review is presented and the constructed model for data collection application is presented. Conclusion: We concluded there is a strong relationship between media and athlete performance although we could not prove as determinant; we describe some influential mechanisms of that relationship upon athlete’s perspectives and we also could observe there is a long way to go on dynamic partnerships among media, clubs, athletes to build an important global industry. Key words: Sport; Football; Media; Performance; Influence mechanisms.
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In a former research group 1 where I worked (1996 to 1999), the core of the study was to compare the four southern European housing systems - Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece Πunder the assumption that they had a different path other than northern European countries. We had the personal intuition that something could be different iiat homelr. People, history, household structure, life pattern, consumer preferences and even the weather, social communication style and custom traditions would play an important role on housing provision. We tried to understand at what extent could those several differences play a distinctive influence on housing practices, considering the development lag between northern and southern Europe post-II World War.
Play in the Australian Football League (AFL) is not what it was. At the game’s founding Australian Football was exactly what the AFL’s Latin motto tells us it is today – ‘the game of the people, for the people.’ In its formative years it was played and watched by Australians who loved the game because they understood the way the game was played. It was made by them, in the image of their community. However, in the age of commercialisation and professionalism, play in the AFL has changed. The AFL is now a big business. Play is less spontaneous and more structured. It is now more organised and measured. Footy Grounds to Grandstands examines the important link between play in the AFL and its communities and explores how play and community have changed as the AFL has transformed into a multi-billion dollar business. To do this, Footy Grounds to Grandstands draws on the ideas of theorists and scholars as well as the insights and reactions of the people who matter most – the fans.
Pierre Bourdieu was one of the most influential social theorists of his generation, both in his home country France and throughout the international sociological community. For close to half a century he researched a range of anthropological and sociological topics and, as a consequence, has had an enormously influential impact across the academic world. His initial specialism was in anthropology, and his publications in the early 1960s addressed issues concerning gender relations and unemployment in peasant cultures in Algerian society, and were published in rural studies and sociology of work journals. His broadening interests reflected his commitment to a wide-ranging sociology of culture, in the realms of education, art, the media, sport and around the general theme of symbolic power. His initial piece on sport and social class (Bourdieu, 1978) was one of the first commentaries by a major social theorist, apart from the oeuvre of Norbert Elias and his collaborator Eric Dunning, to take sport as a serious sociological issue. In his major study of taste and consumption, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (Bourdieu, 1986), first published in 1979, sport is acknowledged as a major focus of sociological analysis, and his conceptualization of the sociological significance of sport — as both institution and practice — has since influenced many theoretical and empirical investigations into the social and cultural significance and representation of bodily practices, not solely in sport but also in education, arts, and the media.
Sport and the Media: managing the sport-media nexus is a unique text which combines an analysis of the sport media industry with practical sport media management skills. The book is designed to equip students within sport management and related courses who need to understand the nature and scope of the sport media nexus, as well as develop the skills to manage the media promotion and coverage of sport organisations. This books covers topics including: Historical development of sport and the media Current commercial and contextual relationships between the media and sport industries How audiences and advertisers drive the media coverage of sport Ways in which the media industry generally and the sport industry more specifically are structured to produce content/news/products How the media represents sport in order to sell it This book will help students to acquire a working knowledge of sport-related media that will help their studies and their progression towards a career in this sector. It is also a useful guide for teachers of the subject and practioners already working in the industry.