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Freelance writer Brendan O’Reilly reckons the AFL is destroying the atmosphere at live games with its relentlessly intrusive marketing (How the AFL is killing footy for the fans).

I wish that “destroying” was too strong a word, but it isn’t. Except while the game is actually in progress, everyone at the ground is subject to very loud music, obnoxious ads – many imploring us to gamble on the footy – and moronic announcements from a spruiker with a strong claim to be The Most Annoying Man in the World.

Last year I went to the MCG to see my one and only AFL game in the last ten years (Cats v Hawks) and like Mr O’Reilly I was appalled by the sheer noise and distraction of the unremitting marketing.

Sadly, it’s not just footy games; public spaces seem to be getting noisier. For example, go to a platform at Melbourne’s Parliament or Melbourne Central rail stations and you get blasted by large screens trumpeting advertisements while you’re waiting for the next train.

No doubt the rail operator would argue the advertisements bring in revenue that offsets operating costs and either helps keep ticket prices down or reduces the subsidy from the government.

Perhaps the odd traveller without a smartphone welcomes the entertainment (this station in India showed porn!). Or maybe it provides another pretext to avoid unwanted interactions with fellow travellers.

People like me, though, reckon it makes travelling by train unpleasant. Some think it crosses into territory where blatant commercialism shouldn’t dare go.

It gives little back to train travellers in compensation for the annoyance it causes; whatever information it conveys has limited value in a world of ubiquitous smartphones.

At least you can mostly look away from visual promotional material, but with big flat screens you can’t avoid the noise, noise, noise (which of course is why all the clamour and clatter has been added!). Unfortunately “captive” travellers can’t do much about it. (1)

The train operator is effectively a monopolist. Even assuming they’ve got a spare car or two, it’s not as if passengers can easily take up driving to the city centre instead, given traffic congestion and the cost of parking.

And surely as a community we don’t want to discourage city centre travellers from using public transport. We should all want train travel to be as pleasant an experience as possible; stations are as much a public space as a street or a square.

If the train operator is happy to blast noise at passengers on station platforms, why wouldn’t it be thinking about the revenue potential from video in train carriages? After all, plenty of people complain about in-vehicle videos on SkyBus.

The rail system isn’t private property; it’s a public asset that’s managed under contract by the operator. The State Government should assess what impact the insistent advertising is having on the comfort of travellers and how the contractual arrangements can be varied to improve their welfare.

I suspect the net increase in revenue from adding noise to traditional billboards is vanishingly small in the context of the Government’s multi-billion dollar annual subsidy; further, I suspect it’s well and truly outweighed by the costs it imposes in terms of reduced passenger comfort and wellbeing. The Government and Metro should start by showing us the numbers.

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  1. Footy fans can’t even look away to escape; Brendan O’Reilly reports there’s now animated in-game advertising.