AFL crowd drop being blown out of proportion

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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 is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio
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