It seems that our mainstream media outlets are either unwilling or unable to say what the average footy fan is thinking about AFLX. And while The Watsonia Bugle is proud of its place in the cluttered Australian media landscape, we realise that we’re not exactly mainstream, so we’ll tell you what the average fan is thinking.

In the last decade, the AFL have become the masters of treating the fans like idiots, but reiterating their point louder and more frequently to prove their point – not unlike an English speaking tourist trying to get their point across in a foreign country. And while, no doubt, some footy fans may possess lower than average IQs, there are also a fair few with at least half a brain who can spot BS when they see it.

The AFL has become obsessed with taking hold of the full 12 months of the sporting calendar, even though their main competitions (AFL and AFLW) run for a combined eight months. So we are left to endure things like making an event out of announcing a new fixture, and the Americanisation of the national draft. In fact, the Americanisation of things seems like a common theme, to the point where you just imagine AFL staffers launching regular “fact finding missions” where they travel to the US, go to a whole bunch of sports and then return to Australia with a whole list of recycled “ideas” instead of employing any kind of original thought.

Unfortunately the one American idea they seem reluctant to embrace is the NFL’s less is more approach of having fewer home and away fixtures so that the season itself becomes more meaningful and precious. This will never happen in the AFL because it would necessitate a significant hair cut for the beloved TV rights, which drive the game’s decisions makers so much that they are willing to take a loss on a footy “franchise” in the sporting wasteland otherwise known as the Gold Coast. And by “loss” we’re talking millions of dollars. But that’s all recouped in the inflated TV rights deals because there’s an extra game every weekend to sell advertising on. So it’s all good.

The reluctance of any mainstream media outlet to criticise the AFLX competition can probably be traced to a number of sources. The media relies on the AFL for content, and the AFL relies on the media for coverage. No doubt it’s a very complicated relationship that we won’t even pretend to understand, but it helps to explain a few things. Like when the AFL want to make a change to the game so they start leaking little teasers out through the media to condition the fans to the likelihood of change and then, hey presto, it’s a night Grand Final. But we’ll accept it then, because we’ve been hearing about its possibility for years now.

This week, as each team gradually announced their AFLX squads, each noticeably devoid of the big stars, the silence from the media was deafening. No doubt the AFL flexed its considerable muscle in the general direction of the media and said, “Be nice about AFLX… or else”. There was even glowing coverage of the AFLX launch which included, amongst other things, AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan awkwardly holding a half-eaten Zooper Dooper, circus performers, an overpriced giant “X”, and two of the AFL’s powerhouse clubs: North Melbourne and St Kilda. Cough cough.

A headline from one of the major newspapers shouted, “AFLX a stroke of sport marketing genius” without a hint of irony hidden in the article accompanying the headline. The other big newspaper in town screamed “Three premier Tigers join AFLX” accompanied by a photo of Dustin Martin… and presumably one of the three that was actually named in the squad… either Jason Castagna, Dan Butler, or the alternate trophy cabinet finder Nathan Broad. But not Martin himself.

Who knows, AFLX might turn out to be a wonderful showcase of our great game, or it might just become another amusing footnote in the history of the game, like Futureball or pork pie hats on goal umpires. But the media build up to this extravaganza just has us thinking about the old saying, “Don’t piss on me and tell me it’s raining”.

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