How to put some real heat into the NAB Cup
New recruit James Magner in the NAB Cup (Slattery Images)
Scott Watters is right to be asking for the AFL to review their position on playing games in extreme heat.
Watching his charges running around needlessly in the high 30s in the harsh Adelaide sun must have been not only frustrating for him but deeply concerning.
Were it a freak heat wave in the middle of the season, perhaps he might not have been so vocal. The AFL can control many things, but not the weather.
Were it a finals match in September he would certainly have kept his mouth shut. Who wants to be the coach complaining about the weather when his team is playing finals?
But this last game was neither of these; it was a pre-season game. Not for points, not for prestige or glory, but an excuse for the AFL to take advantage of a near vacant slot in the sporting calendar.
In the end the February heat is just another easy criticism to lump on the AFL and their underwhelming pre-season model which, every year, cops more criticism than praise, and more suggestions for improvement than expressions of support.
Watching the highlights of Sunday’s match you would swear the game was an internal trial session for all the spectators who showed up. The heat and the lack of meaning in the contest would have put most off, which is a shame, considering how exciting the NAB Cup should be.
Young players, raw recruits, newly traded superstars, we should all be excited about the NAB Cup. Instead, most footy fans seem to look forward to it till it’s here, then remember it doesn’t actually mean anything.
Personally, I think the AFL need to hire Cricket Australia’s marketing team, specifically the mob behind the Big Bash League. These guys and gals could make the NAB Cup the summer spectacle it should be.
In the past I admit to being fairly critical of the BBL and its huge hype for little return, but credit where credit is due, they sell tickets, they have bums in seats, and they have a spectacle. The NAB Cup does not.
This new marketing crew should then implement some very simple changes designed to make the punter forget the comp means nothing, and instead just enjoy the show.
Firstly, all games should be played under lights. Get the families in. Let them watch the footy in comfort on a late summer’s night, not a hot February afternoon. And stop the players risking hyperthermia and potential muscular deterioration
Secondly, they should actually build up the hype. Three things the NAB Cup and BBL already have in common are young stars of the game, shorter formats and big scores. These should be rammed down the public’s throat! No one watches T20 for the cricket, they go for big scores and a shorter game. They can take the kids, have a laugh and get them to bed early.
Thirdly, prizes. Cash giveaways to fans who mark the ball behind the goals, half-time fan involvement in… I don’t know, kicking a long bomb goal for cash NBA style. Prizes for the best dressed fan, and so on.
I know it’s not traditional, but it’s what people enjoy. Everyone’s still in summer sports mode (makes sense, it’s February for goodness sake) so give them summer sporting tropes to keep them entertained and distract them from the fact that the footy isn’t really that much chop.
Fourthly, make all games the same three-versus-three format until the grand final. I can already tell that this suggestion won’t be popular, but it allows for short games, more diversity and, from the clubs’ point of view, greater chances to experiment with players and potential combinations.
The fans can watch three different games of footy in less than two hours, families can take their kids to see three teams in one sitting, and the older fans can always hit the bar for a while if they hate the other two teams running around. It’s also unique amongst Aussie sports, therefore a great sales point.
Lastly, bring back the pre-season jersey. I doubt the AFL can actually ordain this, but they can certainly encourage it. Let’s see some like from the past, the really memorable ones – the Hawthorn blue with diamonds number, the Port Adelaide lightning bolt, the Bulldogs’ all-red number from last pre-season.
These strips divide fans, infuriate the oldies and, most importantly, appeal to the collector and the young fan alike. St Kilda do a great job with coming up with new jumpers every season, and North Melbourne had some genuinely good ones in seasons past.
Let’s bring back a talking point of the pre-season, and give a new look to a new-look format.
The NAB Cup or pre-season might never mean anything to the ardent fan. It’s just an excuse to give the kids a go. Sure… But if you’re going to have a competition in summer, and ask people to come, I say go all the way – make some cash out of the experience, and get some new young faces through the gates.
After all, it doesn’t actually matter – the real footy starts soon enough.