American sports set the standard for pizzazz, drama and entertainment. Stars are bigger, players are businessmen and money is plentiful. So is it the best way for sport to be played? Do, or should fans support players or support teams? And is free agency a good thing?
NBA fans would look at the way LeBron James turned his 2010 free agency decision into a self-serving, made-for-TV special and question the method he used. James continues to pay for this amongst some fans even after winning NBA Finals MVP awards in consecutive championship title successes. While his decision has been vindicated on court, we would hope OUR guys never turned things into a circus like James did.
James’ situation was the most relevant we had seen in a while but was surpassed by the absolute shambles from this week where LA Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan verbally agreed to sign with the Dallas Mavericks, then reneged on his word and re-signed with the Clippers, setting off one of the sporting world’s great social media wars and ensuring his name will forever be tarnished. Reports that the Clippers powers-that-be had holed themselves up in Jordan’s house and didn’t let Mavericks owner Mark Cuban anywhere near the house conjured images of a movie plot centred around a kidnapping.
Blake Griffin added fuel to an already burning fire and did nothing to quash thoughts of a 'lock-in'...
And Mark Cuban didn't waste any time getting on the front foot, taking journalist Chris Broussard to task on what he called inaccurate reporting on the situation
The AFL’s approach to free agency seems far simpler and doesn’t allow for the same result that we have often seen in the NBA, not publically anyway. The NBA players get a week before the official free agency period to verbally agree without being able to place anything in writing.
While free agency is a complicated debate and has long been a foreign concept for Australian?sport, the AFL introduced it in 2012 and it seems like it is here to stay. The players demanded it and as much as the some would disagree, it is the players and not the suits that keep the AFL machine ticking over. You cannot argue that the players deserve to have their demands met.
When Brendon Goddard exercised his right to be a free agent and moved to Essendon in 2012, we were getting a feel for the concept and it barely caused a ripple once the decision sunk in. We assumed it would not become the norm because our game was based on loyalty and players have forever spoken about the club, the jumper and what it means to them.
But then just one week after the 2013 Grand Final, Lance Franklin came out and signalled his intention to accept a 9 year deal from Sydney. This is a guy who is arguably the game’s biggest name and drawcard, and who had rocked the brown and good since the day he was drafted. How could Buddy do this, we said!? The footy community was up in arms and talkback radio was flooded with people who made ill-informed calls on his character. The fact that he first approached Sydney about the possibility of a move less than a week after losing the 2012 Grand Final wasn’t a good look, but was good business when he signed the deal of a lifetime 12 months after.
At the end of last season veterans like Jarrad Waite, James Frawley and Shaun Higgins left their clubs where they had been long-term servants for what they thought was a tilt at a flag or at least some kind of success. Frawley remains likely to see deep finals action, but the low-risk gamble doesn't seem to have paid off for Higgins and Waite.
And the dialogue concerning Adelaide star Patrick Dangerfield looks unlikely to stop until the time he either remains a Crow or bolts to Geelong or another Victorian club; many will claim his decision is already made and most seem to agree that he will do what's best for him and his family and definitely not the club that has developed and moulded him into the player he is today. I mean, he said as much in this article where he rebukes the idea that the average fan would have any idea of the decision in front of him as we all see footy as 'a hobby':
The simple fact is that there is no doubt where we are headed – while the great game we grew up with is as entertaining as ever, it is now a business. Take a different view on the issue; almost anyone in a normal job would jump at the chance to be more successful for longer and get paid more for it.? That being the case,?why should professional sportsman be different when they have such a short career and the market dictates what they get paid?
The free agency process is up for review after the 2016 season and there is plenty of noise around suggesting that the AFL Players Association is pushing for free agency to be an option for players that have played six seasons at one club, as opposed to the current rule where they need to have played at least eight seasons. The query seems not to be whether free agency will remain, but rather what it will look like in 2016 and beyond.
Players will change teams more often, player managers will become more important and clubs will need to spend more time and resources on their player payment strategies.? We have to hope the?game itself won’t suffer, its resilience has stood the test of time and to thrive after the 2015 season and beyond would be proof of that still being true.
Free agency is here to stay and if we can take anything from that fact then it’s this – the next time your club has a jumper on sale, buy that jumper…just don’t be too quick to put your favourite players’ number on the back.