Bread and circuses

broncos-vs-raiders
Photo by JunkByJo https://flic.kr/p/5ai8X8 (How quickly faces change in the NRL: Broncos vs Raiders 2008 (l-r) Carmichael Hunt (AFL), Michael Ennis (Sharks), Darren Lockyer (commentator), Denan Kemp (Australian Sevens), Dane Gagai (Newcastle), Nick Kenny (retired)

Not for nothing did the Roman Empire invent the phrase ‘bread and circuses.’ This unbeatable public policy formula was coined by a Roman scribe in an attempt to arrest the decline of heroism among Romans. It means a government soothing its anxious tax payers by providing food and grand spectacles, in this context, the footie grand final.

In Roman times the serfs gathered in vast public arenas, encouraged to give the thumbs down to beaten gladiators. Today we have the less life-threatening ‘Mexican Wave’ and the lone dickhead yelling something incomprehensible during a minute’s silence to honour a fallen comrade.

At a base level, keeping the people dull-witted by swamping them with heroic spectacles (the Olympics, the Ashes, the Melbourne Cup, the World Cup, the State of Origin, the Tour De France, Wimbledon, the Australian Open, the FA Cup, the Grand Prix…) can and does work.

Some might say it stops us analysing what is wrong with the world and how best to fix it. It might even be where a lot of the money that could be used to fix what’s wrong with the world is spent.

There’s nothing like Grand Final weekend to focus the mind on just how much money is spent organising, promoting and playing professional sports. We’ll talk about the Australian Football League (AFL) final in a bit, but for purely parochial purposes, let’s look at the National Rugby League (NRL) grand final.

There’s a reason 4.4 million people tuned in to Channel Nine last year for the 80-minute plus overtime contest between the Cowboys and the Broncos (the Cowboys won 17-16 in the ‘golden point’ overtime period, remember?). It comes down to the cost of actually attending the game. Tickets at Sydney’s Olympic Park this year range from $45 to $375. If you drive there, a standard parking fee of $25 applies. So even if Mum Dad and the two kids drive to the game and snag the cheapest tickets, it’s still a $300 day out by the time you factor in petrol, pies and burgers, chips, beer and whatever memorabilia is sold to you on the way in (and out).

Bu that is small beer compared to the Victorian Government’s decision to declare a new public holiday for the AFL Grand Final. An economic impact study by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimated the costs of the two new public holidays (the other adds Easter Sunday to Good Friday as a gazetted public holiday), at between $717 million and $898 million. But as The Age reported, the Grand Final Eve holiday accounts for up to $852 million of the costs. PwC estimates the new public holidays will result in increased public holiday wage payments of between $252 million and $286 million.

Notwithstanding, this weekend offers a veritable feast of footie, especially if you follow both codes (AFL and NRL), and you can watch the games live on TV for nothing. Last year’s AFL final between the West Coast Eagles and Hawthorn drew 3.9 million viewers for the Saturday afternoon game. At $180 to $399 for a reserved seat at the Melbourne Cricket Ground you can understand why.

Well, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Footie finals means enduring saturation level advertising. At $130k minimum for a 30-second TV ad, advertisers nevertheless throw buckets of cash at the time slot to ensure its viewers know that their brand of car, beer, burger, mobile phone, betting app or hipster beard styling product is the best.

The stars of the show get well looked after. The 34 Melbourne Storm and Cronulla Sharks players (including four interchange players from each team), collectively earned about $7 million this year. That includes $4.27 million to most valued players in both teams; the highest paid (Storm captain Cameron Smith, $1.1 million), has a 72.3% success rate for kicking goals – more on this later.

I cite these more than adequate wages ($205,882 p.a. on average), not to irritate musician friends who customarily play four-hour gigs for about $100 per band member. No, footie players at this elite level deserve to be well paid for keeping themselves in top notch physical and psychological health and for learning how to stick to the script in after-match interviews:

Just happy to get the two points, mate’ or ‘we stuck to the game plan and saw out the 80 minutes’ or ‘Thanks to (sponsor) and (sponsor) and can I just say g’day to my Auntie in Cairns.’

So did you know that 53 NRL players earn more than $400,000 a year and a handful of those earn more than $1 million? Give them a break. It’s a short-lived career – 15 years at best. For those who invest and take the time to plan an after-footie career, it’s a good financial start.

Former Bronco turned sports commentator Gordon Tallis once famously said (amid a heated discussion about whether someone was offside or was that a forward pass) – “Guys, it’s just a game of footie.”

As is our custom, we will have friends over for pies and vegies and a good old fashioned yell at the television set. People in our village are sharply divided into (a) footie fans (the kind that own season tickets and belong to tipping clubs); (b) secret footie fans (those who would like to stay friends with (c) people who think there is something acutely wrong with our otherwise satisfactory level of mindfulness.

Mind you, I have seen hippies come out of the chemist shop clutching Lotto tickets, so nobody’s perfect.

She Who Yells at the Television says footie is great escapism and better, there’s a beginning, middle and end.

One’s level of interest in the Grand Final (if one has an interest at all), is predicated on whether the team you follow made it into the match.

This year our interest is academic – the highly accomplished wrestling team (the Melbourne Storm) versus the western Sydney outsiders, the Cronulla Sharks. As the late Jack Gibson once said: “Waiting for Cronulla to win a premiership is like leaving the porch lamp on for Harold Holt.” (Thanks to Roger the dentist for reminding me of this gem SWYATT)

Last year 82,000 people came to Olympic Park to watch the grand final and this year will be no different. A sold-out stadium is good business for those all-essential broadcast media deals. The NRL annual report detailed the five-year deal signed on 27 November 2015.

The Australian Rugby League Commission, Nine Network, News Corp Australia, Fox Sports and Telstra signed agreements to provide free to air television, pay television and mobile coverage of Rugby League for five years from 2018. The deal is worth $1.8 billion to the NRL, which makes gate takings of $57 million in 2015 look relatively modest.

I was going to write about (live) betting on footie but She Who Edits says no, it is stupid, immoral and leaves players open to temptation.

But, did you know you can get odds of 151-1 on no try being scored in Sunday’s match? Imagine!

The Rugby League Project records show that in 1986, the Parramatta Eels beat the Canterbury Bulldogs 4-2 in the only try-less Grand Final to date. Michael Cronin (Eels) kicked two penalties from four attempts, Terry Lamb (Dogs) kicked one from two.

Take the two, Cameron, take the two!