After all the fuss about Richmond selling home games, it was easy to forget Saturday’s clash between the Tigers and Gold Coast in Cairns was a big success for the AFL. Yet again, in an expansion region, the AFL got it right, with a sell-out crowd of 10,832 cramming into Cazaly’s Stadium to witness a match befitting of the occasion.
Of course, let’s get things in perspective that a crowd of barely 11,000 isn’t going to have AFL House declaring victory in North Queensland.
Far from it.
Rather the event as a whole and the buzz it created in Cairns was something which the AFL can build upon.
These kind of events are what the AFL do best and something other codes aspire to.
And, typically, the plans are already in place to build upon it, with facilities at Cazaly’s Stadium to be improved in order to increase the capacity of the ground to almost 13,000 fans when the two sides meet in Cairns next year.
Since Saturday’s game was played I’ve been in touch with a number of contacts in Cairns who only had positive things to say about AFL’s visit to the region.
The game itself was a beauty, with the contest seesawing throughout the afternoon before Gold Coast – who the vast majority of fans were barracking for – got over the line in a fast-finishing final term.
And from all the reports there was a carnival atmosphere at the ground, with plenty going on before the game and around the stadium, like your traditional local Saturday footy outing, with scores of families in attendance, which would’ve pleased the AFL.
The point is, though, the way the day was organised made it an occasion for people to get along to.
It should be noted there was also a Friday training and autograph session with Richmond and Gold Coast players which was well attended by children.
I’ve been told approximately 1000 people attended the Friday session, which essentially generated that extra bit of buzz around town. AFL superstar Gary Ablett Jnr being in town helped too, as he was clearly the star attraction with the kids.
However, without wanting to overdo the positives, there’s a lesson in this.
The way the AFL tackles a new market is by engaging it. Perhaps that’s led to some criticism at playing fixtures in both Cairns and Darwin over the same weekend, with the latter reportedly somewhat neglected given games have been played in the Northern Territory for a few years now.
However, the point is the AFL created an occasion for Cairns and people will already be looking forward to next year’s fixture as a result.
The fact the AFL were able to convince Richmond to play this home game in Cairns against a Gold Coast side who have heavily invested in the region shows the determination of the AFL’s talented negotiatiors.
They’ve also managed to convince the Queensland state government to invest $2 million in the stadium upgrades even though a Cairns-side in the AFL isn’t at all on the radar.
It’s about having a presence in Cairns and while Richmond fans will be bemoaning their side’s decision to sell that home game, for the AFL it’s all part of the bigger picture as the competition looks to not only expand its market, but also its talent pool.