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“The LGL Management has decided to suspend the operations of the Melbourne Maidens franchise effective immediately. This also includes the cancellation of the scheduled match this weekend at the Ultimate Sport Expo.
A dispute between the playing group and coaching/management staff compounded what was already a turmoiled franchise who couldn’t secure a major sponsor for the season or home ground for its second match. With no experienced coaching staff in place and a huge potential loss inevitable, it was decided in the best interest of the league that the Melbourne franchise suspend its operations this season so that the other 4 teams could continue to operate.”
LGL League announcement, November 17th 2015
For any sport to thrive and grow (especially a minority one such as ours taking place outside of its country of origin) I believe that the active participation of women is a non-negotiable aspect. Sports like Basketball thrive worldwide because gender is no barrier. It’s simple economics really: If you have one sport that engages 50% of the population, and you have another that engages 100%, in a competitive market for participation at a grassroots level which of those do you think has the greater chance of success?
About 4 years ago, a few people within Gridiron Victoria and other State Bodies realised what the correct answer to the above question was and commenced the arduous task of building a full-kit, 9-a-side women’s competition from the ground up. What started out as 1 team playing practice scrimmages against each other as curtain raisers for the GV senior men’s league has now grown to a 6 team competition, with the potential to expand to 8 teams in 2016.
Around the same time that this amateur women’s league was starting to spread its wings, it was announced that the controversial Legends Football League, based in the United States, famous for its strategic use of clothing, pro-wrestling like atmosphere, and Dennis Rodman-led appearances during the Super Bowl half-time show, would be bringing its brand of football to Australia. It would be a semi-professional league with teams based in each Australian capital city, complete with a television distribution deal via the Seven Network’s “7Mate”, with games to be played at a world class athletic venue in Melbourne’s AAMI Park. In its infancy, 7Mate was heavily marketed as the channel that would keep the stereotypical, drooling, Bogan couch potato’s ass planted squarely on the couch where it belonged. What better way to do that than with a bevy of beautiful women in their underwear playing a game that neither the players themselves, nor the audience would understand? Seemingly, a match made in the targeted demographics’ proverbial heaven.
Upon reading that last paragraph back, and watching the sarcasm slowly but surely rise throughout (I’m on Professor Frink’s watch list); you may think that this article is going to go a certain, predictable way. And you’d be right. When it comes to the merits of the Ladies Gridiron League, Lingerie Football League, Legends Football League, or whatever you want to call it, opinions are usually divided into 2 very distinct camps:
Camp One: The LGL is a female-empowering, entertaining spectacle that allows women to show off their athletic ability, be proud of their bodies and play the greatest game in the world. It promotes the sport of American Football, and creates awareness of the game in Australia in a positive light.
Camp Two: It’s utter garbage. Ex-strippers and fitness models playing a game they don’t understand, with equipment not designed for that game, for the entertainment of what I can only imagine must by now be the 0.000001% of the Australian population yet to discover how readily available internet pornography is (Or maybe they still have dial-up and this is just easier).
For the most part, people from each of these camps have kept relatively quiet with their contrasting opinions, as both the full-kit amateur football competitions operating in each state league, and the LGL are still in the very early stages of their respective development. But after recent events, where the Victoria/Melbourne Maidens franchise have suffered their second false start in as many years, while at the same time watching Gridiron Victoria complete their third fully fixtured women’s season (with a fourth due to start in February 2016), it is now a fair time for those individuals in “Camp Two” to ask the very reasonable question:
“What exactly does Lingerie Football do for the sport of American Football in Australia?”
Being from Melbourne, others may consider this question and its accompanying attitude to be too localised, which I can understand. After all, it appears that the Adelaide Phoenix/West Coast Angels game played at NIB stadium (home of the Soccer A-League’s Perth Glory) on November 14 was a success, in so far that the game actually took place. Does it matter that it took place in front of a sparsely populated arena, far too large (and I can only imagine expensive) for a version of a minority sport, in the first season of its existence? NIB Stadium has a seating capacity of 20,500, and if it is like similar venues in Melbourne would require a sizeable deposit to even open its doors to host an event. The LGL’s next game, scheduled for this weekend, between the Canberra Mustangs and Brisbane Blaze will take place at Viking Park in Canberra, home of the Tuggeranong Rugby Union Club. This venue has an 8000 person capacity, with a 1000 seat grandstand running down one side of the field. I envision this type of venue being far more appropriate for the LGL from an aesthetic point of view in regards to crowd numbers (playing in front of a sea of empty seats is not good promotion no matter which way you cut it).
But what I consider appropriate means nothing. Stadium deals (and television for that matter, with the LGL games now being broadcast on Foxtel’s Aurora Channel, as opposed to 7Mate) are a business issue, and in that regard the LGL has zero obligation to any of us in the Australian Gridiron community. If the people behind the LGL can schedule their games at venues such as NIB Stadium and have the business run on a profit, then they have my congratulations, along with me happily jumping back into my box and shutting up about it. But what happens if they can’t, and we slowly realise that this product as it’s presented, for all its flash and bravado, is just not commercially viable? The product in the US, where it would be most likely to succeed is barely hanging on, with franchises “suspending operations” left, right and centre. On what basis can we predict things being different here, especially with one team already folding before the season even started?
Australians are spoiled for choice when it comes to spectator sport, and it will become increasingly harder for the LGL to compete with other sports at $15 a ticket once the novelty of women playing a foreign sport in their swimsuit wears off (and it will. That guy with the dial-up internet gets NBN next week I think; we won’t see him again for months). The Canberra Mustangs “after party” this Saturday even has a $5 cover charge. You know how much it costs to go see a game of actual football in one of the State Leagues? Nothing (although if I were better looking I’d certainly start looking at charging people to hang out with me at nightclubs).
How the LGL and its approach hurt Gridiron in Australia is simple: Division of resource. I am certain that there are quality football people in the LGL. Players, coaches and administrators alike. People that could do wonders for their state leagues, or Gridiron Australia, if their efforts were concentrated there. Some of the players I have seen in the LGL are clearly tremendous athletes, and could help increase the standard of play in any of the full-kit leagues around the country. They don’t get paid and are constantly having to do their own promotion to raise money for the LGL (hence the ridiculous nightclub cover charges, which probably goes to the nightclub anyway, rendering the whole thing moot), so what’s their incentive to play fake football when they could play real football? Especially in the case of the Maidens, who in the time frame that they have played 1 or 2 games have seen their counterparts in GV play 2 full seasons?
If it’s the slight increase in commercial (and sexual) attention they are currently receiving – that they wouldn’t get playing in an amateur full-kit league – (which again is a novelty that will soon wear off), that speaks to a “gender role” problem best left to minds far better than mine to discuss. But if it’s because they genuinely feel that the LGL is their only opportunity to play a game that they love, and/or is the highest standard of that game they can play at, they have the power to change that themselves. Even though they may not know it. The number one thing that makes a sports league marketable and appealing to the general public is the quality and standard of play/performance. If these girls really want to play football, they can do so at a high standard in a state league that runs on a fraction of the cost, with a far greater upside because of that. The LGL isn’t a monopoly for women’s football, it’s an option, and from a longevity standpoint they’re choosing the wrong one.
As for the Coaches and Administrators, I’m sure there are many reasons why they became involved. Some were maybe sold on it being a genuine business opportunity, and that’s totally understandable. Some were maybe already involved in the game at a State or National level and became disgruntled with the direction of their respective league, and wanted to pioneer an alternative. Again, I can understand that. And some, as dark as this might sound, were maybe attracted to the thought of spending their days hanging out with attractive women in their underwear. Once again, whatever the reason, if these people are capable of the hard work required to keep the sinking ship that is the LGL afloat for as long as they have, imagine what they could accomplish working for the game of American Football itself in Australia? I know that working at the state and even GA level carries zero financial incentive compared to the potentially miniscule returns on offer in the LGL, but if you were forward thinking enough that could be a completely different scenario in 5 years’ time. And the returns wouldn’t be miniscule either.
The popularity of American Football in Australia is about to enter a golden age over the next ten years. The increase in participation across the country in every league over the past 5 years has been exponential, and the NFL is becoming more aware of its worldwide appeal by the day. As a collective Gridiron community it is our responsibility, even as amateurs, to make sure that continues. So that one day, we just might have something resembling a league here in Oz that can get 10,000 people to a game at a place like NIB Stadium, without having to rely on the novelty of skimpy clothing.
I don’t think the LGL assists in accomplishing that vision.