AFL crowd drop being blown out of proportion

Michael DiFabrizio Columnist

By Michael DiFabrizio, Michael DiFabrizio is a Roar Expert

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    Melbourne's Clint Bartram tackles Gary Ablett of the Gold Coast Suns during the AFL Round 23 match between the Melbourne Demons and the Gold Coast Suns at the MCG, Melbourne. Slattery Images

    Melbourne's Clint Bartram tackles Gary Ablett of the Gold Coast Suns during the AFL Round 23 match between the Melbourne Demons and the Gold Coast Suns at the MCG, Melbourne. Slattery Images

    In a season where a new team is introduced that plays out of a 25,000-seat venue, it should come as no surprise that crowd figures have fallen in 2011. After all, even if the Gold Coast Suns sold out every game that 25,000 is still below the average AFL crowd. But let’s not let plausible explanations get in the way of a good story.

    Let’s start whipping out photos of two people sitting in an empty bay of the upper deck at the MCG (ignoring the fact it’s the upper deck of a 100,000-seat stadium).

    Let’s ask the people of Melbourne why they aren’t going to the footy anymore (ignoring the fact both Melbourne venues have actually increased attendances this season).

    Let’s have Rebecca Wilson write an article claiming these “dwindling crowds” are threatening “the game’s livelihood” (ignoring the fact we’ve just allowed a Rebecca Wilson article to see the light of day).

    Honestly, it’s time for the nonsense to stop.

    Yes, the average attendance for AFL games will be down this year. No, there’s no need to panic.

    Last season’s average crowd was 36,908. This year’s is 34,950. That is a drop of around 2000, or 5.6 per cent.

    Can I ask, what did the likes of The Age, 3AW and Wilson expect?

    From the outset of Season 2011, it was obvious there would be a drop to the average crowd figure. That’s what expansion usually does, especially when it involves non-traditional markets.

    The Suns playing out of a small venue creates 11 games where it would be impossible to meet the league average, and that’s if you overlook the fact they are playing out of a smaller market and should not be expected to draw that many anyway.

    Throw in the fact their lack of history means less fans at away games too and it’s perfectly natural for crowd numbers to dip. The same thing will probably happen next year with the GWS Giants.

    Now, does this account for the entire 5.6 per cent? Maybe, maybe not.

    But it only takes a couple of one-off variables to make up the rest – like the Sydney Swans encountering “the wettest July in more than 60 years, two blockbuster washouts and a clash with the royal wedding”.

    The line everyone’s trotting out is that the predictability of results this season and the number of blowouts are the driving force at play. They may’ve had an impact, but they aren’t the driving force. Only Port Adelaide and Gold Coast fans can cite the expectation of getting absolutely thrashed as a reason for not attending the football.

    Do you honestly reckon fans of other clubs stayed away in their thousands expecting to avoid witnessing a 100-point blowout?

    Crowds suffered a drop in 1986 and 1987 when West Coast and Brisbane joined the competition.

    The same thing is happening now on the back of an even smaller market entering the competition.

    There’s simply no reason to hit the panic button.

    Michael DiFabrizio
    Michael DiFabrizio

    Michael DiFabrizio is based in Mildura, Victoria. He has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, leading to appearances on ABC News 24 and in the Age. Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelDiFab.

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    The Crowd Says (84)

    • August 30th 2011 @ 6:48am
      Xman said | August 30th 2011 @ 6:48am | ! Report

      If you take in to account there are now double the number of games being played in QLD, reaching a bigger Non heartland audience, the result is actually very good.

      • September 3rd 2011 @ 2:15am
        Tony said | September 3rd 2011 @ 2:15am | ! Report

        Gosh, only 85,705 at the MCG last night…….AFL must be in decline!

    • August 30th 2011 @ 7:35am
      ChrisH said | August 30th 2011 @ 7:35am | ! Report

      Assuming Gold Coasts average crowd is about 12k? and all the others are 36k, it explains the drop in full doesn’t it? ((16 x 36,000) + 12,000)) / 17 = 34,588

    • Roar Guru

      August 30th 2011 @ 7:56am
      mds1970 said | August 30th 2011 @ 7:56am | ! Report

      Melbourne clubs’ attendances have held up. The poor numbers in Adelaide and Brisbane aren’t surprising considering the local teams are struggling.
      Sydney’s crowds are a problem; with only one Homebush game and one SCG game making 30,000 and failing to get to 20,000 for one game, the first time since 2002. They’ve had a bad run with rain at their games this year, but it’s still cause for concern.
      GWS’s crowds will be lower than the AFL average. Skoda Stadium will hold about 26,000; so even a sellout won’t boost the league average. There’ll be a few big games at ANZ; and healthy crowds for the derbies against the Swans.

      Overall, the drop of around 5.6% is a slight concern, but I doubt the AFL would be slashing their throats over it.

      • August 30th 2011 @ 10:42am
        Matt F said | August 30th 2011 @ 10:42am | ! Report

        People just don’t like ANZ Stadium. They never have and never will. The reason crowds used to be so high for Swans ANZ games was because it was a new novelty having AFL out there and, at the time it started, we were a top 4 team and premiership contender. The last 5 years we haven’t been a premiership contender, despite being consistent finalists, and the novelty of AFL at ANZ has worn off after 10 years. It’s now seen as just another game, but at a worse stadium then the SCG. The ANZ crowds will go up next year when GWS come in but you won’t see ANZ crowds reach their old heights unless either we or GWS are premiership contenders.

        You’re spot on with the analysis. Victorian crowds are up so there’s no declining interest in the “heartland.” SA’s are down because their teams are crap. QLD’s are down because GC play at a stadium with a capacity les then the competition crowd average, and both their teams are crap. WA’s are solid and should grow next year with WC now a top 4 team and Freo, hopefully for their sake, getting a decent run with injuries which should see them as top 8 certainties. This is really a non-issue.

    • August 30th 2011 @ 8:18am
      waterboy said | August 30th 2011 @ 8:18am | ! Report

      Me thinks a wet Sydney winter may impact detrimentally on NRL crowds much more than it does on AFL numbers

      • August 30th 2011 @ 1:27pm
        voodoo people said | August 30th 2011 @ 1:27pm | ! Report

        Very true… Penrith and Manly have had a couple of shocking crowds in cyclonic rain this year. Not surprising though, Sydney has these wet winters every 6-7 years or so.

      • Roar Guru

        August 31st 2011 @ 9:42pm
        ItsCalledFootball said | August 31st 2011 @ 9:42pm | ! Report

        And the A-League crowds up and down the east coast of Australia, with Suncorp flooded for the last part of the Roar’s season.

    • August 30th 2011 @ 8:30am
      ChrisC said | August 30th 2011 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      With the race to put flags on the map everyone always seems to forget the indirect affects of expansions clubs, the dreaded away games. The AFL has been very creative with their schedule this year trying to keep the Suns out of Melbourne however they won’t be able to hide it any longer with GWS coming in. It will get worse.

      • Roar Guru

        August 30th 2011 @ 8:37am
        The Cattery said | August 30th 2011 @ 8:37am | ! Report

        Chris
        It will get worse, but as others have intimated – we knew 2 or 3 years ago that it would get worse – there is no surprise about these average numbers, I had calculated at the start of the season that the average would drop by 2,000 per game with the introdcution of the Suns, and it will do the same next season.

        That’s just the way it is, when you’re thinking about a 50 year time frame, these small drops in the averages are neither here or there.

        Let us not forget that aggregate attendances will rise this year, and they will rise again next season.

    • August 30th 2011 @ 8:38am
      Tom said | August 30th 2011 @ 8:38am | ! Report

      Afl is on the slide.

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      • August 30th 2011 @ 9:19am
        slickwilly said | August 30th 2011 @ 9:19am | ! Report

        your not a student of the andrew bolt school of ‘how to read statistics’ are you

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