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Gridiron grind

The NFL has gained millions of new fans since rumours emerged that global superstar Taylor Swift is dating National Football League player Travis Kelce. The game of gridiron has always been one of America’s most popular sports but the latest rumours about Taylor Swift are giving the game more global appeal.

Gridiron has been played in Australia for decades, having been started here in 1983. Gridiron clubs now have 3787 members across Australia, with WA’s nine clubs having 646 members altogether, including women’s, junior’s and men’s teams. The players’ ages span from 15 to 50.

President and head coach of the juniors program at the Claremont Jets, Kipp Crosby-Clague said broadcast deals done by TV networks Channel Seven and Foxtel have helped participation rates grow. The club now has 86 people playing, with 30 of them in the junior’s team, providing a base for future growth. He also noted that the sport’s exposure in Australia really took off when former NRL Star Jarryd Hayne changed sporting codes and attempted to make it in the NFL.

Mitchell Brown, a junior player for the Jets and state team representative, also said that as more kids have been able to watch gridiron on TV, they’ve developed more interest in playing and watching the game at domestic levels in Australia.  

The sport has also achieved greater diversity with many Australians now playing the sport, as well as American expats playing their home country’s sport. Crosby-Clague said the Claremont Jets has a variety of people from all over Perth and the world.

Gridiron has steadily grown in Australia since the 1980s.
 Photo: Alexandre Saraiva Carniato.

He said that while the sport has grown in recent years, in the past 12 months it has struggled to retain players due to financial pressures and costs.   

Brown said perceptions about gridiron as a sport have also caused many potential players to look elsewhere for alternatives: “I think the sport isn’t advertised very well. Everyone thinks of gridiron as a bunch of huge massive blokes pile-driving you. I think the way the sport is viewed intimidates a lot of kids.”  

Suggestions have been put forward about how to continue to grow the game, with the upcoming season starting on November 3. Men’s player Douglas Hartnell believes coaching clinics would help interested players better understand the game and its rules.

Crosby-Clague called for the government to provide more grants to the sport, claiming with a lack of government funding is making it harder for players to afford the sport. Gridiron clubs import equipment,such as pads and helmets, into Australia. This has led to many clubs dedicating time to fundraisers and finding sponsorships to raise money, rather than being focused on the expansion of the sport itself.  

Crosby-Clauge said “we’re pretty much considered a hobby, in terms of our sport, when you compare it to others say like AFL, rugby and cricket and all of that.”