This piece originally appeared in the Herald-Sun on 16 April 2018.
The decision by the Victorian Government to spend $225 million of taxpayers’ money on renovating Etihad Stadium is corporate cronyism of the highest order, and inseparable from the AFL’s recent lamentable Left-wing turn.
The government and the AFL announced the funding as part of a package that will also see tens of millions of dollars directed to the improvement of Ikon Park and other facilities used by the AFLW.
In return, the AFL has guaranteed the MCG will host the Grand Final until at least 2057.
While AFL boss Gillon McLachlan might think that this is a “modest sum”, all in all, it is a huge handout to Australia’s richest and most successful sporting competition. In 2017, the AFL had revenue of $460 million and a net profit of $48 million. Yet apparently, it cannot find enough cash to renovate its own stadium.
Etihad Stadium has been owned by the AFL since 2016, after being given a sweetheart deal. Not only was the stadium built by the government less than 20 years ago, at a cost to the public of $460 million, the construction contract promised the AFL outright ownership in 2025 for a nominal $30 fee.
The AFL then bought out the contract in 2016 for an undisclosed sum, widely reported to be considerably less than the value of the property.
So this is the AFL coming back to the public trough for a second, or even third, helping. Taxpayers are supposed to think that this deal is great value, with the Grand Final staying at the MCG, money flowing into suburban grounds for AFLW, and the AFL promising to use the subsidy to keep ticket prices low.
This is all rubbish.
The AFL would never move the Grand Final because to do so would be an insult to the game’s heartland, its biggest fans, and what is left of its traditions.
The alienation that such a move would cause among Victorian supporters would do untold damage to the code.
Even if the threat was legitimate, that would be all the more reason to turn the deal down.
Governments should not encourage big business to blackmail them for public funding.
Regarding the development of AFLW grounds, is it just luck that Moorabbin Oval and Casey Fields are in marginal electorates? With this government’s record of electoral impropriety, you would have to be gullible to believe it is.
And to believe that the AFL will pass on any of the subsidy to fans, you’d have to be, well, the sort of person who is willing to give hundred of millions of dollars to a successful business – one with a record of extracting huge amounts of money from you – in exchange for a vague promise. In reality, the AFL will charge whatever the market will bear.
It might be tempting to imagine this deal was hammered out after tough negotiations. This seems unlikely, given the AFL has become one of the biggest cheerleaders for the Labor government’s diversity agenda.
These days, it is almost impossible to go to the footy without being subjected to social justice talking points, a reminder that identity politics is now inescapable. Indeed, we are told that wanting to escape it is just another expression of privilege.
The real deal is this: the AFL continues to promote the government’s pet causes, and in return, the government continues to support the AFL.