Why Has The AFL's TV Product Turned Into A Jockfest?

This has been a pretty good AFL season, despite the complications of a pandemic which continues to make even attending matches, let alone having any certainty about their scheduling, a logistical nightmare.

There’s been surprising emergences, like that of Melbourne, perhaps to its first premiership for 57 years, and Sydney’s exciting band of youngsters reaching finals. Lack of scoring in the game remains an issue, but there’s been some very good games nonetheless, certainly more in my view than for a couple of years.

But there’s one bugbear which continues to rankle with an increasing amount of football supporters, and it’s not to do with any team, player, coach, or even how the game looks.

It’s about how it’s all being presented to us as television viewers.

And by “us”, I mean pretty much anyone who hasn’t had the ability to play the game at its most elite level. Not just tragics like me who have loved football since we were little kids and soaked up every little bit we could, but every gender, age demographic and racial group.

None of us are in “the club”. That club consists of a score of former AFL players who have effectively their little “catch-ups” in front of us all, resolutely shun our requests for admission, and feel like we should all be grateful simply for being allowed to eavesdrop on their banter.

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I don’t blame the former stars for it so much. They’re just playing out the privileged, entitled roles they’ve come to know ever since they made it to the big time. I suspect a lot of them aren’t even aware of how their demeanour makes the audience feel.

But I do blame the TV executives, producers and the management who continue to facilitate that trend, hangers on to this “celebrity” party which seems to grow in number by the week, stuck in some sort of time warp and completely oblivious to how different Australian society looks now as opposed to then.

I felt it again last week watching Fox Footy’s All-Australian presentation, as hosts Garry Lyon and Jonathan Brown interviewed the recipients of the prestigious All-Australian blazer.

It was an important occasion which needed a bit of gravitas attached. Instead, it felt more like a country footy club pie night, questions to the newly-selected captain of the team Max Gawn about his early days of having a “dart” on the way to training, comments about players’ old farms or their golf games, sprinkled liberally with “maaaaaatte”s, nicknames or assumed familiarity.

This isn’t to single out Lyon or Brown, both capable of really incisive football analysis when that is the strict brief. It IS to single out those giving them their directions. Because it hit a jarring note. And again emphasised the feeling we are all onlookers to someone else’s party.

I tweeted something to that effect while it was going on, and the response was pretty enlightening. In fact, the mentions are still rolling in.

They’re coming in from women, who feel like they’ve been put in this position for decades no matter how much they love the game. They’re coming in from people from ethnic backgrounds, who haven’t had the benefit of an upbringing schooled in this very white, very male, very entitled culture. But hey, at least they get the “what is a blinder?” Google ad, right?

But if it wasn’t an awards ceremony which triggered this response, it might have been any number of panel shows, or routine match commentaries. Because it goes on constantly.

When a player commits an on-field indiscretion which a team of former players doing commentary work feverishly to excuse because they don’t want to look like “goody goodies”.

When special comments people, whose job is supposed to be breaking down the more technical aspects and communicating it to the audience in terms they can understand instead dress it up in all sorts of jargon because they’re trying to impress their boys club peers.

When what should be commentary of the action somehow lapses into discussions about what another commentator does with his money, or fast car, or holiday house, all patting each other on the back in self-delight. Or when we hear the incessant roll call of which elite private school this player or that attended as a kid.

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And what exactly is this latest production trend about? You know, the one where the former players all stand around a set wearing the latest casual men’s gear, striking Alpha male poses and shouting over the top of each other? Is sitting behind a desk not macho enough?

You’d think the executives who make the decisions about who they hire and how they present their product might have an idea that society has changed a fair bit. That it’s no longer the 1980s, and that people into football aren’t all white, middle-aged men who used to “go all right” on the dance floor at the Tunnel nightclub.

But they seem as enthralled by these heroes from decades ago as those heroes are wrapped up in themselves. They never pull them into line, they never seem to communicate to them that not everyone watching hails from the same demographic they do.

Perhaps too many of those decision-makers are themselves like the nerdy kid at school, living out some fantasy about being one of the cool kids and hoping if they hang around long enough, they, too will score an invite to the party.

Good luck to them, I guess. And good luck to an AFL which makes plenty of noise about inclusion and diversity but doesn’t seem too concerned that this on-going televisual “jockfest” appears to be turning away more people than it could ever attract. 

Oh well. Still, this is a ripper turn. And what about that day “Macca” ironed out “Donger” at Victoria Park, hey “Shags”? Got him a beauty…

*You can read more of Rohan Connolly’s work at footyology.com.au

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Rohan Connolly

Rohan Connolly, managing director of the footyology media brand, is one of Australia's most experienced and respected sports journalists. With a 38-year track record of observing a range of sports, primarily AFL football, at close quarters in print, online, and on radio and TV. A multi-AFL Media Association award-winner known for his passion, knowledge and love of the game, he's renowned for his hard but fair approach to football analysis, informed by facts not hyperbole.  

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