Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

The Transformation of Australian Football: The Impact of Business on the Sport Field

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

The Transformation of Australian Football: The Impact of Business on the Sport Field

Article excerpt


The Australian Football League (AFL) has changed dramatically over the last 150 years. What were once local, community-held, grassroots endeavours has become a multibillion-dollar entertainment industry with a national reach. According to Andrew Demetrious, former chief executive officer of the Australian Football League, 'The AFL is a brand, a business and a form of entertainment that has to compete for the hearts and minds of Australians, just as all other forms of entertainment do.' (1) Each of the eighteen clubs within the AFL competes with the others in selling its products, team play and its club brand, to its supporters (consumers). The aim of each club is to generate enough revenue and profit to survive in the AFL and to gain competitive advantages against the other seventeen clubs. In the process, the game has changed significantly since it was first played, with many of the changes appearing in the last thirty years. (2)

This paper seeks to understand the impact of this change through a conceptual lens. In particular, this paper seeks to use the concepts of Pierre Bourdieu to interpret the transformation of the AFL into a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry, dominated by neoliberal ideals. By using Bourdieu's concepts of field and capital this study will explore and understand the impact of the economic field and the media field on the sport field, using the AFL a case study.

The transformation of popular sport in Australia into a multi-billion dollar industry is a significant topic for analysis. Sport is one of Australia's most popular pastimes. Indeed, Australian Football is Australia's indigenous game. Furthermore, many Australian cultural theorists and historians have outlined that the game's characteristics at its origin in the 1850's represented the expression and values of the Australian people at the time. (3) The game was very much a reflection of the democratic principles Australia was founded upon. Australian Football, much like Australian democracy, was free, facilitated active participation within communities, and encouraged participants to reach their full potential, while also working together towards shared and common goals. The fact that Australian sports such as the AFL have been transformed into a business has significant implications for the game's community. In particular, it appears football communities are being replaced by markets of consumers.

By expounding the concepts of Bourdieu, this paper will develop a conceptual lens that we can use to understand and interpret the transformation of the AFL into a business and the subsequent transformation of communities to markets. Furthermore, to enrich the conceptual framework and further illuminate this transformation, football fans will share their views about how the game has changed and the impact this has had on the game's communities. On a personal level, the fans will discuss their own relationship with the game and the club they support.

However, to fully understand the game's transformation and its impact on the fans it is first necessary to understand the political backdrop of western society over the last forty years, and, in particular, the rise and dominance of neoliberalism, which came to dominate the west, its prevailing political ideology and its many fields of society, including sport.


The dominance of neoliberal policy in Australia over the last four decades has stretched well beyond the boundaries of economics, politics and business and is now one of the most prominent and defining features of Australian culture. Australia exemplifies the triumph of neoliberalism globally, and this transformation of sport illustrates the significance of its penetration of all dimensions of society and culture. The political philosophy, which says that 'money and markets can always do everything better than governments, bureaucracies and the law' has profoundly affected the way we consume and interact with our culture and, indeed, each other. …

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