Mithuna 10, 2078, m249
Season 2 is finally underway, but could there be troubles with player retention in the MAFL?
In the off-season, 7 players made the decision to hang up their cleats and walk away from the game. In the grand scheme of things, it is only 7 out of the more than 140 players across the 8 clubs, but there are serious fears that this could be just the beginning of a much larger exodus.
Professional sport culture is a new phenomenon and in the absence of career athletes in the general population, the MAFL had to start from scratch to recruit colonists to fill in the ranks. With the exception of the younger players, 90% of the players are coming from typical occupations and roles.
"I'm a scientist, damn it", says Dr. Meghana Singh. Born in 2045, she is one of the 'original 100' the first one hundred native Martians. Born in Marineris and finishing her studies in Amrita, Singh was raised to follow in the academic footsteps of her parents. Two years ago, however, she took an unexpected MAFL detour. After making the 2nd round try-outs, she put her career on pause to join the Comets training camp.
"I was lured by the 'what if'," she explains, "The MAFL opportunity and what it meant for the colonies just resonated with me. I knew it was something that I had to be part of."
Her former Comets teammate, Ellis Black, had similar motivation, describing the MAFL as a 'miracle'.
"I was 13 when we arrived on Mars," he says, "And as you grow up, you let go of many Earth memories, until something like this happens. It was completely improbable and irrational, but it happened."
But after dedicating more than 2 years to the league, Ellis confesses he was never going to make a career out of it.
"Back in the day, super stars would make fortunes playing for the major leagues. Then, inevitably, they would score less or get the career-ending injury, and that was it. Even in a time when there was incredible wealth and celebrity in it, the life of an athlete was always short-lived. I'm leaving on a high, proud of what I was part of, but it's time for me to get back to work."
"You will certainly see other exits, especially the specialized individuals who came to Mars with greater purposes and goals in mind," says Aiger Masing, CEO of the MAFL. "Joining a club shouldn't be like serving time in a detention centre. The idea that an astrophysicist, logistics engineer, cargo pilot, or machine programmer can make the cut to play a year or two in the MAFL should be what's great about life on Mars."
Others, like Titan's Eduard Rotaru, left for other reasons. At 25, Rotaru is a San Olympus born native who should fit the bill for an eager, next generation colonist looking to break ground in a new career path, but after season 1, he simply washed out.
"I had a hard look at myself and where it was all going," he said, "And I realized that despite all the great experiences of playing the game, it isn't who I am. The constant competition isn't for me."
Other young players have expressed similar sentiments, particularly with the unexpected pressures on and off the field. Though there is nothing the league can do when a colonist has another calling or a change of heart, according to Aiger, they are taking retention seriously.
"There are many things we have and will continue to improve for the benefit of our players. Last year, the long road trips were a major complaint from players, but working with club owners and partners, we've come up with solutions to significantly reduce travel times for this season, shaving days off the long haul trips between the furthest colonies. "
Even if trouble is stirring, the MAFL and other sporting initiatives are still in their early days. It may take some time to see how the whole 'professional athlete' space shakes itself out, but as long as there is enough players in the the MAFL pool, there is certainly no shortage in demand to watch them play.