Let me entertain you, for a price: Why the AFL is struggling to compete for the big music acts

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With the AFL confirming this year’s grand final will remain an afternoon affair,the race has begun for the AFL to lock in the pre-game and half-time entertainment.

Last year’s act, Robbie Williams, was lauded as one of the greatest half-time shows in the history of the sport. So, naturally, the AFL wants this year to be bigger and better.

Robbie Williams entertains the AFL grand final crowd.Credit: Scott Barbour

But there’s a problem. The league is competing with people with much deeper pockets and no, it’s not the NRL. The AFL is competing with state governments.

The AFL forked out a little more than $1 million to secure Williams. That now seems like a bargain for a performer of his calibre.

Apart from the money, Williams was lured by two crucial factors. First, he quite likes our little game called Australian rules footy. Second, Williams was already coming to Australia to help with the release of his biopic, Better Man, which was being locally produced by Village Roadshow. Having the show beamed to an average national TV audience of 2.96 million is also a decent selling point.

Who’s spending?

If you’re a fan of Coldplay – who isn’t, right? – you would know that tickets have just gone on sale for two shows in November. The problem is, they’re playing both shows at Optus Stadium in Perth. It’s an exclusive deal struck between the West Australian government and global entertainment company Live Nation.

The deal with WA Premier Mark McGowan’s government is simple: we pay you a huge amount of money and you promise not to play anywhere else in the country.

Two senior figures in the entertainment industry, who agreed to speak to The Scoop on the condition of anonymity to discuss commercially sensitive matters, put the price tag to bring Coldplay to Australia in the vicinity of $10 million. The same entertainment sources believe at least 30 per cent of the sold-out crowds at Optus Stadium will have travelled from outside WA. It’s a clear post-COVID tactic to attract interstate visitors.

Live Nation chose not to comment on the fee. The Scoop also contacted the office of WA Tourism Minister Roger Cook, who declined to comment when the figure of $10 million was put to them. We were unable to verify the cost.

Coldplay’s Chris Martin performs in Germany. The band will do two shows in WA this year.Credit: DPA/AP

Landing on Mars

WA isn’t the only state government spending big. A senior entertainment industry source said that as NSW emerged from the pandemic, the state government paid $7 million for critically acclaimed pop star Bruno Mars to open Allianz Stadium in October last year. The NSW government was contacted for comment.

The Moore Park venue, which is home to the Sydney Roosters, the NSW Waratahs and Sydney FC, had been under construction for nearly two years. They wanted to open with a bang and the NSW government was willing to open its chequebook for a big name to help launch it.

Australian promoter TEG, which helped bring Mars to Australia last year, declined to comment on the money paid for the show. But the company’s CEO, Geoff Jones, told The Scoop state governments were smart to spend up on bringing big international music acts to their cities.

“People jump on planes, come across, book hotel rooms, go out to restaurants, spend money. It’s a good way for governments to attract new people to their states. The states are cashed up and they’re using that to invest in unique content,” Jones said.

Where to for the AFL?

So why, all of a sudden, are governments willing to spend more money than ever on global superstars? Jones explains: “The live space has always been a strong and vibrant sector that has only become stronger after COVID. There’s been a structural re-rating in the value that consumers place on live experiences.

“The grand finals of both the AFL and the NRL – which are the two big daddies – are not absolutely in competition. You have to remember, with the AFL, a live act would only play for 20 minutes maximum. You can only really pay the big bucks for a full concert.”

So, where to for the AFL? If you can’t beat them, join them. The league can get creative by collaborating with governments and promoters to help share the cost.

In 2020, for example, when Katy Perry lit up cricket’s Twenty20 Women’s World Cup final at the MCG, she followed up by performing in regional Victorian communities such as Bright to support bushfire victims.

Katy Perry with the triumphant Australian team after they won the T20 World Cup final at the MCG.Credit: Getty Images

That cost, according to high-level sources, was shared between Visit Victoria and the International Cricket Council.

“We work closely with a range of partners, promoters and organisations to deliver a blockbuster calendar of major events for the state,” a Victorian government spokesperson said.

“Whether it’s the Foo Fighters in Geelong, Kings of Leon in Mildura, Billy Joel at the MCG or First & Forever at Hanging Rock, these events drive visitation right across our state.”

The AFL was contacted for comment.

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