Nicole Watson is a big Bombers fan — but she is frustrated by the way the club has dealt with the season suspension. (Facebook: Nicole Watson)
Nicole Watson has been an Essendon supporter for five decades but was appalled to see she was still being charged for her membership after the AFL season was suspended because of coronavirus.
- The AFL and NRL had begun their seasons before play was brought to a halt due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak in Australia
- Games had been played in empty stadiums to limit the chances of spreading the virus
- Now with the seasons suspended, club members must wait to see if play resumes or if suspension of membership fees / refunds are made available
“Food and mortgage are my priority right now, not a $160 [monthly] club membership for something I am not getting anything for,” Nicole Watson said.
The AFL is hurting but so are its fans, many like Nicole who has been laid off and faces extreme financial pressures.
“I am a casual worker so the minute I lost my shifts at work I gave them a call, I waited for an hour on the phone and I was told ‘if everyone keeps doing what you’re doing the club will go broke’ — I said well I am already there and [they] need to stop payments immediately,” she said.
She’s disappointed opt-out options weren’t offered on compassionate grounds.
“I have supported my club through their hour of need, now they need to support me,” she said.
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The die-hard Bombers fan attended every game during and after the infamous Essendon supplements saga — and since October Nicole has paid a total around $1,000 in monthly payments for the 2020 season.
Essendon chief executive Xavier Campbell has left a message to fans on the club website asking for time to work out what was happening with the 2020 season.
“For our members, we understand there are still many questions we have not been able to answer, but until we have certainty on the season, we ask for your patience and understanding,” Campbell said.
“The scheduled member payment plans will continue for the time being, with member reconciliation to be reviewed when we have full visibility of the season and fixture.
“As a club, we fully respect everyone’s personal circumstances are different, and we will continue to work through scenarios and frameworks for dealing with the impact of this issue on our members.
“We are hurting, but we know these hardships are widespread. It’s much bigger than us.”
While the uncertainty continues, Nicole’s wait goes on as she deals with her loss of income.
“I am not making anything at the moment so that $1,000 would really come in handy,” she said.
Nicole’s 80-year-old mother has been on the Bombers bandwagon for more than 70 years, her $80-a-month membership is a big stress for the pensioner.
Nicole Watson and her family have met lots of people at the footy while following Essendon. (Facebook: Nicole Watson)
“It infuriates me players are quibbling over taking a cut in pay — they aren’t working and are still getting paid, I am not working and not getting a cent — this is the real world and it’s about time the AFL joins it,” Nicole said.
Once the Bombers are flying up again, though, she vows she will be there.
“As soon as my work comes back it will be the first thing I will start paying again, I am dying to see my club in action again.”
It’s not just the Bombers — most clubs are also in limbo about what to do.
“Thank you for being patient as we work through this complex and constantly moving situation. As [AFL chief executive] Gillon McLachlan has said, we remain hopeful that a meaningful number of games will be played between now and year’s end,” Adelaide Crows chief executive Andrew Fagan wrote to members.
Why members might not get money back
Not refunding members might be a controversial call for sporting codes like the AFL and NRL, but legally they might be in the right.
“Because of the COVID-19 situation it’s neither parties’ fault, it’s impossible for the other side to live up to what it was meant to do — the NRL or AFL can’t host their games anymore,” RMIT consumer law expert Dr James Gilchrist Stewart said.
“It seems unfair members paying for something that can’t be completed, but an event has occurred that’s taken it out of the NRL/AFL’s hands — legally they might not have to pay.”
If the NRL had chosen to cancel the season on its terms (for example, to give players a break), that would be a different case, Dr Stewart said.
“We are looking at absolute impossibility — say all the football grounds burnt down, it would be impossible for them to keep playing the games. With coronavirus that applies because they are being told they can’t do it.”.
Administrators can also get out of their contract obligations because it was the Federal Government that changed the rules — making the activity illegal or not permissible.
The fact that the NRL played two games and the AFL one makes the situation murkier.
“Given the codes have partly performed they would be in a good position not to be paying [members] back and the fact that they think they are going to be coming back,” Dr Stewart said.
If supporters did want to go down the legal route the result might not amount to much.
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“They are looking at restitution — but that doesn’t always benefit the member — they’re going to have to pay legal fees, is it really going to be worth it?” Dr Stewart said.
But for upcoming fixtures like State of Origin, fans could be in luck.
“That could be different — say where people have rented an apartment for a coronation and the king gets sick, then people get their money back,” he said.
“So it’s quite dependent on each reason [in each case] but it is going to be messy.”
You can’t put price on club, say NRL fans
The NRL clubs are reportedly in an even more precarious financial position than others. ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys described it as a catastrophic financial crisis never seen before.
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Many fans know that and will do anything to keep their clubs afloat.
“As a 15-year member I expect nothing from my club but to stay safe and healthy both financially and physically,” Sydney Roosters member Marie Newbury said.
“If this [season] doesn’t go ahead then I’m happy to miss out for the benefit of the club and game. To ask for a refund at this point doesn’t sit well with me,” she said.
She is surviving self-isolation in her custom-built Roosters bunker.
Other fans are filling the void in other ways.
“I would not want a refund, Kayo has all the games from last season for me to watch and enjoy,” NRL fan Roy Edwards said.
“I’ll pay 2021 if they need it,” wrote one Rabbitohs fan on Facebook.
“The club still needs supporters, it’s not the clubs’ fault, I certainly don’t want a refund our club needs support now more than ever, SSTID [South Sydney till I die]!!,” posted another.
With NRL clubs facing an uncertain future, they are asking for help from fans to get them through. (Supplied: Sydney Roosters)
Several clubs are spruiking memberships and merchandise online to keep up support.