Is The Footy Business 'Just A Game'?

Reconciliation Week
Football may not have been considered ‘Essential Work’ but the true cost of cancelling sporting events in the wake of the COVID19 pandemic may be greater than you’d think.

The sporting industry generates an estimated $83 billion in combined economic, health and educational benefits each year, according to the Confederation of Australian Sport, representing 3% of the nation’s GDP.*

One person who is especially keen to get football back on the field is Shawn Ford from the South Australian National Football League.  

Reconciliation Week
Our goal at SANFL is to grow and develop our great game and provide opportunities for South Australians to get involved, be it as a player, administrator, coach, umpire, volunteer or supporter.

In his role as the Indigenous Programs Manager, Shawn supports the league in providing remote communities in South Australia and the southern Northern Territory with the same opportunity to access to football as all other Australians.  We spoke to Shawn about his unique perspective on the football industry, lockdown life and the challenges COVID19 has presented in his role behind the scenes of the SANFL league.


Football brings people together and takes their mind off the troubles of the world. Not just a morale booster, it also supports our economy, providing income to the people involved at all levels and stimulating spend within our communities.

“There has been enormous publicity about the return of sport and the fact it shouldn't return because it's just a game. What many people fail to understand is that Football, like many other sports around the world, is the primary source of income for hundreds of thousands of people.”

It’s not just the players we see on TV whose income has been impacted. The shutdown of sports will continue to impact the travel sector, restaurants and catering arms, stadiums, apparel suppliers, cleaning businesses, the transport sector, health care physicians and practices, the media and many more businesses and industries.

As Shawn highlights to us, the sports industry has been forced to significantly reduce business expenses across the board while implementing new ways of engaging players and spectators in a safe environment. He anticipates a dramatic overhaul of how the entire sports industry will look on the other side of COVID-19.

Dingo football

On a more personal level, right now Shawn is missing the travel and personal connections he enjoys as part of his everyday work with SANFL.

“Football has taken me to some of the most beautiful places in Australia with memories that will last a lifetime. The experiences and the people you meet through Football are what I have missed the most over the last couple of months.
It's an incredible industry with outstanding people that you form relationships with all over Australia. Connecting with those people is a highlight of the role and not being able to travel obviously impacts that.”

While life in lockdown has been a massive challenge for a lot of people, Shawn has taken it in his stride. Isolation isn’t uncommon for him as his role requires extensive travel to some of the most remote regions in Australia, where mobile phone coverage is a luxury to which not everyone has access.

“I feel fortunate that I have experienced working in isolation with remote Aboriginal Communities before COVID-19 where I would spend hours by myself, whether that be driving thousands of kilometres per week or spending countless nights stuck in hotel rooms or outback camp sites.”

The bigger challenge has actually been working in with those who haven't experienced the same level of isolation, making it difficult to meet timelines and maintain productivity.

reconciliation week

In his role at SANFL, Shawn provides aboriginal footballers, coaches, umpires and administrators with opportunities to participate in the game and display their talents at the highest level possible, on a state and national stage.

Shawn tells us that football in remote aboriginal communities, particularly in prominent AFL states, has been described by many as a religion. The game has played a leading role in many remote regions by enabling partnerships between numerous essential service providers to contribute positively to the physical and mental health and well-being of remote aboriginal people. 

“COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on remote aboriginal communities, with their key social and physical outlet, football, being suspended indefinitely until the Biosecurity curtain is dropped. The impacts on mental and physical health have already been immense, as many communities haven't done anything physically challenging for over 9 months.”

SANFL are looking forward to getting sport up and running again sooner rather than later, allowing us all to witness the extraordinary natural talents of our most remote footballers.

The immediate future of sport as we knew it remains uncertain as we all learn to navigate the post-COVID19 landscape.  No doubt the debate as to when and under what conditions to allow all sporting events to kick off will continue to be contentious, but as we have learned from Shawn and SANFL, there are a lot of people and businesses eager to get back on the field, at all levels of the game. 

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