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AFL is becoming a bureaucracy, says sports agent

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Influential sports agent Craig Kelly has called for an audit of the expanding AFL industry, which he believes is in danger of becoming “an inbred public service-style bureaucracy paying too many people to shift paper and not contribute”.

The former Collingwood premiership player, whose company manages some of the Australian Rules’ biggest names, said the AFL community over-handled its players and wasted money and drained sponsors by holding too many big off-field, back-slapping functions.

Kelly also questioned the role of the AFL Coaches Association, which is funded by the league to the tune of almost $1 million each year. “There’s no need to have it,” he told Fairfax Media. “Why not have that service within the AFL Players Association as a career choice for players?

“As long as coaches are being developed and their contracts are looked after, surely we don’t need another layer to pay and hold the hands of the players. Let’s all play in our positions and stop sucking money out of the industry. The players have to get off their backsides and take responsibility for themselves.

“The players have development managers at their clubs, they have their agents and they have the players’ association, which have their own welfare people. How many welfare, consultants and experts do we need? The amount of forms they are filling in and people they are meeting … how many layers of people are touching the players?”

Kelly said he had made no secret of his fears for the industry – which he believed was over-spending and creating too many unnecessary jobs – in recent conversations with the heads of the AFL and the AFLPA.

“There is clearly a requirement for the players to be an independent body, but the AFLPA needs to be accountable. It needs to be that body for the players that ensures there is a safe workplace and the right conditions for the players and we’ve seen that more than ever over the last 12 months, but it doesn’t need to be a business.”

Kelly’s view that AFL players were being micro-managed was reinforced earlier this year with the AFLPA’s repackaged post-football career program 360 Max catering to footballers’ planning the next stage of their lives. He pointed out that good player managers were solely focused on their clients’ interests including maintaining relationships beyond football.

“They get so much support and so much double handling,” he said, “but the club and the AFL do not owe them a job. They know their football job will end and they must work out a plan. In the end, it’s their responsibility.”

The players’ Most Valuable Player function on Tuesday night was hosted by the players’ union at an estimated cost of $400,000. That function followed last week’s NAB Rising Star and precedes next week’s lavish All-Australian dinner before the coaches’ association dinner during grand final week. The coaches’ function is sandwiched between the Brownlow count and the lavish Virgin-sponsored AFL grand final week party.

“There are so many big events over the next few weeks – layer upon layer of multiple events,” said Kelly, “and all the associated TV production costs, running costs and corporate partners being asked to come in and support them. It just doesn’t make sense to me in such a small market. Surely we can join some of these into one big event that caters for a group of needs.

“In my ideal world, grand final week would be split over two weeks with all the events and cocktail parties culminating in the Brownlow on a Sunday night, for example, over the first week. The second week would be focused on the game and the players.

“I believe we should audit the system and we need to look at how we can streamline the services and events we do so that we can save some money and invest in the long-term growth and direction of the competition. We need a business that is lean and hungry to grow rather than a model that has people putting their hand out for money.

“We need to audit ourselves and do what we have to do in our own jobs rather than all of us trying to be everything to everyone. Let’s not keep sucking money out of the industry.”

© 2014 The Age | This article was written by Caroline Wilson and first appeared in The Age on 10 September 2014.

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