Amid speculation that the Essendon Football Club will be found guilty for alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs in season 2012, there have been a variety of suggested punishments arise within the media.
Banning involved players for a number of years, ridding Jobe Watson of his Brownlow medal, and stripping the club of all Premiership points and altering the club’s draft involvement, have been some of the suggested penalties.
NRL club Melbourne Storm and the AFL’s Carlton Football Club, are both teams that have previously experienced some of the suggested punishments Essendon are facing.
The Melbourne Storm, who in 2010 were disciplined for serious salary cap breaches, had all of their Premiership points removed in 2010, were stripped of the Premierships and Minor Premierships won during the breach period and were forced to pay back the prize money won from all of these accolades.
On top of this, the Storm were forced to say goodbye to star players to re-regulate the salary cap, as well as their CEO and Chairman. The Storm also lost the partnership of many sponsors.
However, despite these impacts that the club suffered off the field, it is apparent that the playing performance and general morale of the club was not affected by the crisis. The Storm went on to win the Minor Premiership in 2011 and Premiership in 2012. This saw a spike in membership, with the figure rising from 9,689 members in 2010 to 11,910 in 2011.
In a similar situation, the Carlton Football Club was disciplined by the AFL after it was revealed that they too had breached the salary cap. They also suffered severe punishments, including a hefty fine and the loss of high priority draft picks, although no individual was punished for the wrongdoings.
Unlike the Melbourne Storm, though, Carlton did not bounce back as quickly from the punishments that were inflicted on them. The club was already suffering, with the retirement of many key senior players at the beginning of the new millennium. The club won its first wooden spoon in 2002, and the stripping of draft picks could not have come at a worse time.
It took many years before Carlton were able to get out of the slump they were in. However, despite these issues, the club was strengthened through loyalty of its members. Membership rose from 26,385 in 2002 to 33,535 in 2003.
There are many similarities that can be drawn between both the Melbourne Storm and Carlton.
Among them is the trend in membership growth after times of crisis, and we are already seeing this trend extend to Essendon. Since the news about alleged drug use was revealed in February, Essendon’s membership has reached an all time record high. In 2012, Essendon’s membership was at 47,708, and this year the number grew to over 55,000 and is still rising.
With two very different outcomes coming from both the Storm and Carlton, we can only speculate which team Essendon might relate to more, if they were to be heavily sanctioned.
In the short term, it can be suggested that they are more likely to resemble the Melbourne Storm. This is because the club is already very successful, much like the Storm was before their crisis. They also sit among the most financially powerful clubs in the AFL, meaning that they would be able to overcome any financial penalties they may be issued.
Additionally, much like the Storm, the issue has been dealt with internally from the top. There has been a reshuffling of the board, with key figures made redundant in order to look forward to the future. However, James Hird still holds his position as head coach, much like how Craig Bellamy was kept on, and this in the long run has been a very successful move by the club.
In the long term, the crisis may impact upon the club. If the club were to be stripped of draft picks like Carlton were and unable to retain key figures in their current team, through trade and free agency, this could be detrimental to the future.
The only thing we can do before, or if, punishments are handed out to Essendon, is speculate. It is clear that each club deals with crisis differently, and this impacts on the manner and speed that they recover.
What is apparent though, is that loyalty is one factor that carries clubs through these tough times, and it may take time but clubs will eventually overcome the difficult period they are faced with.