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John Passant

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April 2011
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Football, class and struggle

You can learn a lot about the class nature of our society from football.

The Australian Football League (AFL) has just sold the television rights for the years 2012 to 2016 for $1.253 billion to the Seven free to air network and the pay TV group Foxtel and Austar.

(For those not familiar with Australian Football here is a link to the final minutes of last year’s grand final in this exciting, fast-paced and physical game. It’s a bit like Gaelic football.)

Back to the money. According to Scott Gullan in the Herald Sun in his article Players ‘very aware’ of role in $1b game: AFL Players’ Association:  

The AFLPA is seeking a fixed 27 per cent of all future revenues which would effectively get the players a $50 million pay rise per year from 2012.

Payments to the AFL’s 750 players reached $170 million last year, about 21 per cent of the game’s gross takings.

The $170 million is roughly equivalent to the TV rights payments for that year. In other words everything else the AFL makes – eg from tickets, merchandise and the like, goes to the AFL (who obviously have expenses and other disbursements to make).

But the situation seems pretty clear.

Those 750 footballers produce the wealth, and the rest of the football industry expropriates most of it. (To be technical, the players don’t actually produce wealth; their activity redistributes wealth created by productive labour to the football plutocracy.)

So their demand for a fixed 27 percent of the revenue they generate is small recompense.

How can they win this increase from 21 percent to 27 percent? Well, the AFL bosses aren’t going to give in immediately to the players’ suggestions for a $50 million a year pay increase.

What would happen if the players decided to strike? The revenue flowing to the AFL would dry up almost immediately. No games, no money.

The players have the power to stop profits flowing to the AFL.

All they need is the will to do that and win whatever they want from the bosses. 

Without labour there are no profits.

It is a lesson all Australian workers could learn.




Comment from Graham Dooley
Time April 29, 2011 at 9:25 am

Yes, just become elite athletes! But seriously, this is a good example of highly skilled and sought after individuals using their bargaining power to take what they can get. Some of the punters who will probably end up paying more to enter the turnstiles at the grounds will also probably wonder why pies (the eating kind) cost a little more etc but then that’s the natural results of input cost increases – I doubt the AFL will just wear the 6% drop in profits. An expensive lesson for workers who follow a team. GD

Comment from Terrance
Time April 29, 2011 at 9:41 am

I am bemused by the AFL, but also about how socialist theory interacts with professional sport. In regards to football, the players rightly ‘own’ the product of their labours. However, they don’t own it equally, at least not in the Marxism sense.
Some players arguably ‘produce’ more for their team and are paid a substantially higher amount for their labour, even though it is a team game. Take your Dragons as an example. I suspect Michael Weyman is paid more than others in the pack – certainly more than Hunt or Merrin, yet if one looks at game time and contribution, are not all the forwards producing the same labour and for the same output?
Is not professional sport the perfect model of capitalism? Manchester United is capitalism personified, where one club can repeatedly buy a champion team and a championship.
That’s why in Australia we have restraint of trade measures such as a draft (AFL) and salary cap (NRL and now RU). It is there to limit the capitalist model but also serves to further inequities within clubs.
Under Marxist doctrine, should not the members of the team be paid equally, or share equally in the combined income? If a salary cap is say $3.5 million, should this not be shared on a pro-rata basis based on game time and matches played?

Comment from Bob Durnan
Time April 29, 2011 at 12:04 pm

The Idiot Savant has spoken again. We must believe his holy writ.
But wait! If we follow his logic, and accept his infantile view that physical labour alone produces wealth, we must wonder why he is satisfied to see the AFLPA aim so low. Surely they should just get on with it & demand nothing less than the whole TV rights fee? After all, it is their labour, so surely they must be entitled to all the fruits of their labour ….

Comment from John
Time April 29, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Actually Bob I talk about productive labour but let’s not quibble shall we with the great genius in our midst, dear Bob. The man who can defeat Smith and Ricardo and Marx in one withering and misdirected blow of hot air. We idiot savants can only guess at the enlightenment that Bob can bestow on us. And yes, actually we do want workers to be entitled to the fruits of all their labour through their own democratic institutions. That’s socialism.

Comment from John
Time April 29, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I think a more valid criticism is that professional footballers are not workers but rather small business people or middle class and that they live off the value workers create.

Comment from Graham Dooley
Time April 29, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Nice hair splitting to suit your purposes JP, bloody middle class footballers, like those indigenous players drawn from NTFL obscurity with enough talent to gain a foothold to economic freedom, bloody yuppies, getting above themselves – where’s the workers’ share?!?. I’m sure Terrance would agree they should all be paid the same portion of sugar and tea and told they are the lucky ones! Thank goodness you are there to explain it all through the prism of your theorist Gods. Pity about the reality. What does it take for someone to suddenly become “middle class” or (worse!) “small business people” in your theoretical world JP, please elaborate.

Comment from John
Time April 29, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Yes it is a way for some aboriginal boys to escape the poverty and despair our genocide against them has inflicted. That doesn’t change which class they enter into and their relationship to the means of production, or the class nature of the role they perform. Just as me becoming head of the ATO, irrespective of my background, would convert me into a boss and member of the capitalist class.

Comment from gradool
Time April 29, 2011 at 6:45 pm

Oh dear JP, methinks someone needs a bex and a good rest.

Comment from Terrance
Time April 29, 2011 at 8:33 pm

I don’t think this has answered my question. I was postulating that under a socialist agenda, shouldn’t all members of a sporting team be paid the same as their labour contributes to a combined outcome of production?

If workers are to own their own labour and not be exploited then does not the salary cap and draft act as tools of capitalism by dictating not only what they can earn but in the AFL, which team they can represent.

My question about the NRL (and the ARU) is that players often playing the same position are paid different amounts and can bargain individually – the very model of capitalism John Howard sought to use to destroy unions and working peoples rights.

Professional sports like League and AFL are actually the worst examples of corporate capitalism and as such represent the worst exploitation of working men.

Comment from John
Time April 29, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Dave Zirin. And another writer on sport, whose name I will eventually think of.

Comment from John
Time April 30, 2011 at 6:24 am

Mike Marqusee ‘Anyone but England.’