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The question on everyone's lips after the AFL 2009 season opener between Richmond and Carlton is, "For Richmond, is Ben Cousins worth the risk?"
To answer that, you need to break the answer into two categories: on-field and off-field. On-field, that's debatable. Off-field, I think that's a no-brainer (even after their seemingly disappointing round 1 result).
Let's quickly discuss the on-field risk.
If Cousins has little or no impact on the field, he's essentially taking the opportunity away from a youngster. This has to be a worry, particularly for Richmond, as they have declared a few seasons ago that they are rebuilding. Another risk that might be seen as off-field, but really should be considered on-field, is that if Cousins transgresses, he could damage the young nucleus on which the Tigers are trying to rebuild. These are real risks, and on them I am split.
Now here's where the genius of the decision lies: the off-field effect.
When I talk off-field, I think of the club itself - the fans and the finances. There's no doubt that Richmond has a passionate and proud supporter-base. The Tigers have been out of finals action since 2001, but their supporters have not abandoned them. And this is one reason why financially, Richmond are a successful club.
So with Richmond's off-field situation relatively secure, why is it a no-brainer to take on the Cousins risk? The answer is simple: marketing.
In today's ultra-competitive, showtime-style sports industry, what better way to grab media attention and rejuvenate a supporter-base that's bursting to show their true colours than to put yourself smack bang in the middle of the biggest pre-season story in years. And has it worked? You bet! Grabbing all the front-page headlines, huge crowds in pre-pre-season practice matches, the biggest crowd on record for a round 1 clash (86,972)... there's no debate here, Richmond have made the right decision.
OK, let's take a step back. What if, even after all the pre-season media attention and fan-fare, Cousins only plays a handful of games and has zero impact? Well, the way I see it is, if Cousins never plays another game all season, it still would have been a risk worth taking.