A heated on-air exchange between media reporter Tony Jones and Collingwood president Eddie McGuire has ignited debate about whether AFL club members should receive refunds for the suspended 2020 premiership season.
On Wednesday night during a live cross on Nine News, the pair came to blows when Jones asked McGuire what he would do if Magpies members asked for their money back.
McGuire didn’t take too kindly to Jones line of questioning and responded as a passionate club president would.
“It’s as simple as this, mate,” McGuire said, “if you don’t have members you don’t have a club.”
When Jones continued to press the issue, McGuire lashed out; accusing Jones of “trying to get a headline.”
“What I’m saying to you though, Tony, is this is more than just a transaction. This is people who love their club. And it means more to them. Tony, do you want to hear what the answer means or do you want to keep asking question?”
Jones said members can still love their club with paying for a membership, to which McGuire responded: “if we don’t have enough people putting their hand in their pocket there will be no club. It’s as simple as that.”
McGuire did explain that if people want a refund because they are facing financial hardship, they will be looked after by their respective clubs. Yet, it fell on deaf ears as Jones noted many people have “empty pockets” with society facing lost jobs and long queues at Centrelink because of the pandemic.
— Footy on Nine (@FootyonNine) April 1, 2020
On Thursday morning’s Triple M’s Hot Breakfast radio show, McGuire further explained his stance on the issue. He notes that football clubs are not banks.
“It’s not like an ATM,” he said, “that can spit the money out.”
McGuire wants the story to be about the public buying memberships even during these tough times.
“The story that should be told is people ringing up and buying memberships, in memory of their late grandfather who was a great Collingwood person, you know?
“We do this all the time with people, every year as I mentioned [on Nine News], with people if they’ve falled on hard times.”
“We will help people, of course we will… but I’m begging people—if you want your club to survive, it’s your club, that’s what a club membership base is all about.
“The memberships actually keep [the clubs] alive for 12 months of the year.”
Western Bulldogs chief executive Ameet Bains is in agreeance with McGuire that fans should, where and if possible, keep their membership with their respective clubs.
“If you look at the major revenue streams that clubs rely on, membership is one of those key ones,” Bains told SEN on Thursday morning.
“As Eddie passionately described last night, the symbolism and connection associated with membership is far greater.
“But if you look at it in purer finanical terms it would be a signifcant body blow for clubs, and potentially fatal for a number of clubs as well.”
Bains highlighted the uncertainty the league is facing in the current climate, with still no detail on the amount of games that will be played this season.
“Getting an actual understanding on how many games we play, or not, is still unclear and that really feeds into the question of what’s fair and reasonable in terms of potential refunds and the like.
“The questions of hardships is a different one and I think everyone is empathic about that.
“We will continue to work with anyone who is affected in that way.”
Even though times are tough, the Western Bulldogs sold 60 new membership last week, according to Bains.
“We’re also equally understanding that’s not a luxury everyone has and we need to accommodate individuals that tell us otherwise because we understand not only on an industry level but on a national and global level that we are encountering unprecedent times.”
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan stressed the importance of memberships to the financial security of the eighteen football clubs.
“Of course [members can get refunds]. If they need it, they can,” McLachlan told ABC Radio on Thursday.
“But yes, we would love them to stay because our industry is in a battle and out clubs are in a battle to get through and the membership is their life blood.
“But all I’d say is I understand the pain going on out there and people need to make their own decisions… Though I know our members understand how big their contribution of membership is to their clubs.”
Over the last two weeks statements have been sent to members from their respective clubs and the AFL explaining the current crisis, staff job losses, and the uncertainty around memberships.