When I share with friends my idea that housing affordability advocates could learn a lot from the AFLX, they often give me this look that makes me wonder if they think I chewed on batteries as a kid. Sure, it’s a long bow to draw a relationship between the AFL and housing, but in actuality, advocates from both groups are trying desperately to increase audience accessibility via the same strategy - both are seeking to gain increased access to affordable land within areas of high amenity. After all, the smaller the land lot, the more affordable it is.
For those not familiar with the AFLX, it is simply an experimental version of the AFL game with one key difference: new rules allow it to be played on smaller rectangular shaped pitches, which of course are globally more common than the larger AFL ground.
The search to access smaller land lots is however where the similarities between the AFL and affordable housing end and the lessons begin in doing things differently. The first of which is the AFL’s appetite and commitment to experimentation.
Reasons to experiment are endless and the rationale for doing so is harder to support when failure or a crisis is not present. In housing, there is increasing recognition there is market failure in the supply of affordable housing, providing no shortage of reasoning to look for creative solutions via experimentation. Whereas with the AFL, it’s the polar-opposite as it seeks to radically redesign the currently most successful sporting code in Australia.
So why would you experiment so early? There are many examples that highlight the consequences if you do not. Blockbuster and Kodak are just two where the combination of complacency, arrogance and a lack of foresight found them asleep at the wheel. When they finally realised their failures, the change needed to pivot was just too great. This reinforces the need to continuously question and challenge the value you currently offer and how this may diminish in an ever-changing and expanding future. Where the failure in these private organisations generally only impacts the organisation itself, it is not the same in public institutions where no natural and direct competitors exist. In this case, a failure to adapt unfortunately and adversely effects those it was meant to serve, rather than the administrators that run them. The AFL presents a live case study where early and continuous experimentation is an attempt to either protect or increase its relevance as it navigates through the challenges it predicts, are on the horizon. Which brings me neatly to my second key lesson the AFL offers affordable housing advocates: foresight.
Of course, foresight is only appreciated after an event has occurred. Yet, its beginnings are nothing more than an educated guess. Who in 19th century would have predicted that a brutal game in Sheffield, (known originally as football only because it wasn’t played on horseback), would become the sporting phenomenon we know today? Soccer’s period of popularity is relatively minimal in human history terms and even though it's not under immediate threat, there is no certainty that it will maintain its superiority in the decades to come. This is particularly pertinent to the plight facing the NFL. As American Football’s popularity is under serious threat due to the increasing scrutiny over the irreparable brain damage it causes, there is now an opportunity, as well as a perceived threat, that if the AFL doesn’t act, it will lose access to a new and significant audience base. What is the most direct and perhaps bullish way to capture this audience? Make it as easily accessible by bringing an alternative game to the thousand of smaller rectangular shaped fields that are scattered throughout all the major cities. Enter the AFLX.
As for affordable housing, somewhere along the way we lost its social value and instead directed our energies into transforming homes into primary wealth generating assets. Future generations may very well look back and rightly say it was obvious to see the events (or lack thereof) where housing tenure increasingly became out of reach for so many. Previous leaders lacked the foresight and the courage to experiment and find alternative answers on how to sensibly disrupt an investment addiction to residential property. Equally when it came to town planning, the same leaders too readily succumbed to local political forces that were more interested in their own municipality than that of the broader community-based ecosystem it sits within.
While a football game is not directly comparable to a home, there are many that believe they have an intrinsic right an own both. The AFL should be commended for their willingness to be vulnerable in their pursuit of pushing the boundaries, or rather in this case, pulling them in. They are seemingly doing this without fear of criticism from the public as they back their judgement and experiment in finding how they will be remain relevant in the decades to come.
What would be the one experiment you believe, should be affordable housings equivalent of the AFLX?
A property expert with over 25 years experience working across both private and public sectors, predominately within the housing space.