Australia’s consumer watchdog has put the AFL on notice over its failure to disclose higher charges at some blockbuster games this season.
An investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) found the AFL and a number of clubs used marketing material that misled fans over extra costs on top of membership fees to attend popular games under the code’s new variable ticketing price system.
In a statement released this morning, the ACCC said it decided to act following several public complaints.
The investigation found AFL members and general admission AFL club members were required to pay extra in order to attend ‘reserve’ classified games that had been originally promoted as part of their membership entitlements.
Fans were forced to pay additional costs of between $8.50 and $39 for general admission members and $7.50 for AFL members.
“The ACCC expects disclosure of these types of additional costs to be made in a way which is clear, prominent and immediately proximate to any representations regarding the price and benefits of membership,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said.
“It is important that consumers considering whether to purchase an AFL or club membership are making this decision on the basis of complete information about the cost and benefits.”
AFL Fans Association president Brian Clarke lodged the initial complaint with the ACCC and says the reaction from fans had been “intense”.
“We’ve had a lot of fans say to us this year that they’re not going to renew their membership. That’s got to be of concern not just for the AFL but also for the clubs.”
Mr Clarke said the AFL’s controversial variable ticketing price system reached boiling point during the Easter Monday clash between Geelong and Hawthorn.
Club members were forced to pay extra to attend the game in the lead-up but hours before the first bounce the AFL changed tack and let many fans in at a reduced cost.
“We thought it was misleading and deceptive,” Mr Clarke says.
“That was the tipping point for a lot of people. They’d heard about variable pricing but they weren’t really sure what it was. Then when they realised they were getting charged for something they’d already paid for it really went to the next level.”
Mr Clarke said the AFL had failed to inform fans about its plans to introduce a variable ticketing price system before many had already locked themselves in to buying their season memberships.
He called on the AFL to scrap the system.
“We don’t believe variable pricing should be modified or tweaked. We want it completely gone,” Mr Clarke said.
“We’ve had a lot of fans say to us this year that they’re not going to renew their membership. That’s got to be of concern not just for the AFL but also for the clubs.
“At the end of the day the crowds have voted with their feet. Crowds have been down significantly this year and variable pricing has been a major factor.”
AFL spokesperson Patrick Keane said the league fully co-operated with the ACCC’s investigation and would take the feedback on board.
“The AFL acknowledges the advice of the ACCC in regards to AFL and club members and ticketing, and will work with all AFL clubs to ensure greater clarity in marketing communications around member entitlements,” Mr Keane said.
Following the ACCC’s intervention, the AFL removed all reserve classified games from Round 15 onwards so that additional costs were no longer charged.
The ACCC says it will closely monitor the issue in the near future and consider whether enforcement action is required if further complaints are received.
Misleading or deceptive conduct and making false representations about the price or benefits of a product are prohibited under Australian Consumer Law and carry a maximum penalty of up to $1.1 million each contravention.