AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan has fronted the media today to respond to growing fan unrest as to a supposed crackdown on fan behaviour at AFL venues over the last few weeks.
Without accusing AFL fans of being obsessive, it is evident that everybody is sick of waiting for the pre-season to finish and for the home-and-away season to begin.
Most clubs began their pre-season in late October to early November. Many got their first hit-out in the pre-season competition in mid-February, while others played intra-club games as well.
Come March it is a tedious wait for all involved as we have to endure five weeks of pointless and at times ugly football. All that can be said for it is that perhaps this makes round one seem that much sweeter, when we do eventually get there.
Fans have now found themselves engulfed in sports news, and on any given day can access the latest news about how their team is tracking.
Realistically there is no more off-season for football fans around the country, as punters seek out any opportunity to get a small taste of football.
With phone apps, websites, and sports-news services running hot even in the summer, fans have the ability to find all the stories they want, sometimes even before news services and other clubs have any idea.
As much criticism as the pre-season format takes from supporters and players, its purpose is not only to be a warm-up tournament but also to get fans involved for the year to come.
It’s to kick-start membership drives and to showcase young talent. In recent years it has also been a base for various AFL initiatives: umpires in colour, the sub rule, and the prominence given to regional football venues.
Those involved in these ventures have been able to give the AFL feedback, preceding their introduction to the home and away season.
It is clear that the pre-season format needs to be revised once again. A return to the knock-out competition format, however, doesn’t offer much hope given the uneven number of sides in week two.
A conference format could be the possible answer, where sides play teams in their region over the space of ten days. The AFL could introduce double headers and midweek games to excite fans.
Then the top side from each conference could play in semi finals, and the two winners could play a Grand Final at either Etihad Stadium or the highest ranked side’s home ground.
The AFL needs to realise the opportunity it has to grow the pre season as a hype competition rather than a serious competition in its own right. Nobody cares who wins or loses, there just needs to be more competition involved to get fans watching.