Why are AFL clubs across Australia promoting a Melbourne festival?

Those paying close attention to the social media channels of their favourite AFL clubs across the country might have noticed some recent promotion of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

“Nothing says Melbourne like comedy and footy” reads the headline of a page on the Melbourne International Comedy Festival website (though those who have seen an episode of The Footy Show may beg to differ). Evidently the comedy festival and the AFL have “teamed up” to bring comedians together with “Australia’s most loved football teams”.

Except, it’s not just a few of those teams: 16 of the 18 clubs are promoting the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. But why are teams in South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales shepherding punters across the country to a cultural event in Melbourne?

General Manager of Marketing and Consumer Business at Port Adelaide Football Club (PAFC), Matthew Richardson, tells The Adelaide Review: “This is an AFL campaign, coordinated by the AFL for each club.” He says that PAFC did promote club ambassador Matt Tarrant’s Fringe show Honestly Dishonest “as well of that of former player Tim Ginever during the Adelaide festival season”.

So, with that handball we charge up the flank to the AFL’s head office (in Melbourne, of course). AFL Media Manager Patrick Keane tells The Adelaide Review that “all these people [comedians] are appearing in Melbourne at the same time as the beginning of the season, so it seemed like an appropriate connection to make”.

Fair enough. But could this be perceived as a slight against the hallowed city cultures surrounding football shrines across Australia? There’s certainly some fragile footy state pride across the country, long frustrated by the AFL’s Melbourne orbit that could be provoked by this promo.

Key among past criticisms has been the necessity for the MCG to host every Grand Final until the apocalypse (well, 2037) and the structural inequity of perpetually having 10 Victorian men’s teams in the 18-team league (also now with four Victorian teams in the eight-team women’s league). Likewise, with the men’s competition kicking off tonight, we’re graced with the annual first game between Richmond and Carlton, who commence every year because, hey, they’re Victorian teams and this is a Victorian tradition, right? ‘Ball!’ cry the interstate supporters! Melbourne’s been holding onto it for too long.

With this fresh hip and shoulder from the VFL in an AFL guernsey, it appears there is a new salvo to add to the canon of bitter inter-state sledging.

The AFL clubs in question have put together a video of comedians hailing from their fair city interviewing team members ahead of the first round of this year’s competition. Those videos are – as we speak – being disseminated through Facebook with a statement imploring fans to catch the comedian “and hundreds more” at the Melbourne laugh fest.

It’s true; the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is a big one. It’s famous. People know it. They like comedians. But, where is the AFL’s promotion of other Australian capitals’ tentpole cultural festivals? In the immortal words of 2005 Grand Final Footy Show performers, The Black Eyed Peas, where is the love?

Did we see viral videos produced for the Adelaide Fringe and Festival ahead of the coinciding Adelaide Crows and GWS women’s clash at Thebarton Oval? No.

Was there a hilarious mish-mash of footy gags and in-game footage produced to go with the Dockers and Lions game alongside Perth’s own International Arts Festival and Fringe? Nope.

Will we see something of that kind produced in tandem to promote the Vivid Sydney festival come May? Don’t count your swan eggs before they hatch.

Asked whether the AFL will engage in cross-promotion of cultural events outside of Victoria, such as the upcoming Vivid Sydney festival, Keane says “there hasn’t been a discussion at this stage, as this is the first time we’ve done something like this, so we’ll just see how it goes”.

One thing’s for sure, Melbourne looks to have the last laugh. As usual.

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