Saturday, November 10, 2012

Taking Aussie football to the world, including PNG

By Jesper Fjeldstad of The Advertiser
Shao Liang Chen
Shao Liang Chen, from the Guangdong Province in China, was tested at this year's AFL draft camp. Picture: Wayne Ludbey. Herald Sun

AUSTRALIAN football envisages having semi-professional competitions overseas to draw talent to the AFL.
Australian football is in an expansion phase, with an estimated 100,000 players outside of Australia expected to rise to 200,000 by 2016.
But as much as Australia's indigenous game is spreading across the globe, it is becoming more mindful that its core is in and around Australia, with the growth markets being Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and China.
Players from all of those regions are now being scrutinised, with the best invited to be tested by the AFL this year including Chen Shao Liang from the Guangdong Province in China, Gideon Simon from Mt Hagen in Papua New Guinea, Kurt Heatherley from New Zealand's Bay of Plenty, Sean Hurley from Ireland's Kildare and Eric Wallace from Winston-Salem, a former basketballer from Seattle University.
Talent scouts believe interest in overseas players will explode if they begin to take the game more seriously in other countries.
"Right now, all international competitions are amateur competitions, but I can see a time soon when overseas leagues are semi-professional and there are more events overseas," AFL international development manager Andrew Dillon said.
With that comes commercial opportunities overseas, through companies wanting to break into or increase their market share in Australia.
It is not dissimilar to domestic cricket teams signing up Indian sponsors who know their uniform sponsorship will be seen on television by an audience with an insatiable appetite for cricket.
Airline Etihad is one of the success stories of branding in football, with the Docklands Stadium, and as a result has become a household name in Australia after previously being virtually unknown.
There are broadcast opportunities, with expats wanting to watch the code while living in places like England and the US, and the game growing traction in the South Pacific.
There are other benefits to selling the game, as much as several commentators reckon it's a waste of time and money to try to break into established markets.
AFL talent manager Kevin Sheehan echoed the thoughts of Tony Woods, a former Fitzroy, Collingwood and Hawthorn player, who reckoned Canadian Mike Pyke was an illustration of the opportunities ahead.
"For me that really crystallised the vision of the wider footy public to see what can be done," Woods said.
The enthusiasm of overseas adventures by clubs is tempered by the costs involved.
Port Adelaide has spoken highly about its trip to Italy and England for an exhibition game against the Western Bulldogs last week, but also relied on the AFL for much of the funding.
The Crows' view is that one trip every three or four years is adequate, but could be of great benefit.

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