Footy force keeps bottom lines black

Footy force keeps bottom lines black

Football is injecting $5 billion a year into the national economy, becoming bigger than Qantas and Coca-Cola Amatil.

Ahead of the bouncedown for the new season, Australian Football League research shows the game has gone beyond the days of beanies, scarves and meat pies to become the nation's sporting economic giant.

From the weekly rounds to flow-on economic activity in health, retailing, catering and sporting goods, football is now the size of a company that would find itself among the nation's 50 biggest firms.

Football is a major employer with more than 13,800 people - excluding players and umpires - working with the game in some form, from the AFL down to local leagues.

Not even the just-ended cricket season can compete with an entity that now dominates the sporting and social landscape.

West Coast Eagles chief executive Trevor Nisbett, who put the value of football to WA at $650 million a year, said the game was growing because it was focused on the fundamentals.

"I don't think the AFL has expected the growth to be as strong as it has been in the past 10 years," Mr Nisbett said.

"For the majority of things AFL football has concentrated on, we've got it right.

"If we lose sight of development and participation in the game, that is when things will go wrong. We've never lost our emphasis on that."

Though the AFL estimates it pumps more than $5 billion into the national economy, a special analysis by _The West Australian _suggests the figure could be double that.

Once the burgeoning football wagering industry and the amount of advertising and media coverage is taken into account, football's financial footprint approaches $10 billion a year.

And even though it is set to grow this year, there are still avenues for growth within the league, with some people suggesting expansion overseas is not off the agenda.

_The West Australian _can reveal that:

·The 18 clubs could be worth a collective $3 billion with Collingwood itself worth about $350 million.

·Well over $1 billion will be wagered on the outcome of AFL games this year.

·The net economic contribution of 23 AFL games in Perth last year was $76.3 million.

·More than 167,000 people volunteered at football clubs last year, contributing 13.4 million working hours worth $267 million in labour.

Much of the growth has come under departing AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou and the league's current $1.25 billion broadcasting deal.

But it has been assisted by a surge in media interest in football, the growing wealth and leisure time of Australians and a sharp increase in the professionalism of clubs.

Of the more than 130 people on club boards, fewer than 20 are past players.

Instead, business leaders including Alan Cransberg (West Coast) and Dale Alcock (Fremantle) have been joined by Olympians such as Alisa Camplin (Collingwood), prominent lawyers such as Marcus Clarke (Carlton) and respected finance experts such as Maurice O'Shannassy (Richmond).

Entertainment and trademark lawyer Wayne Covell, who has compiled lists of the nation's most valuable sporting clubs, said the AFL was head and shoulders above any other sport in the country.

Mr Covell, who puts the value of the country's most valuable team Collingwood at almost $350 million, said the AFL would continue to build on its successes.

"It really is an amazing success story," he said. "The AFL has set the standard in many ways including the way so much money flows back to the players."

Though the value of football is clear in areas such as merchandising, its reach in the commercial world is extraordinary.

Figures from IBISWorld suggest last year's finals series pumped $100 million alone into liquor retailers.

Even electronics retailers were estimated to have reaped about $54 million from sales of new television sets and recording devices during the finals.

In the space of a month and on the back of a handful of games, the AFL generated the best part of $370 million in non-football areas.