AFL out of touch with regional Australia

Vince Rugari Columnist

By Vince Rugari, Vince Rugari is a Roar Expert

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    If I was from Wangaratta, I’d be filthy at the AFL right now. The whole saga that surrounded the cancellation of Saturday’s NAB Cup match between Essendon and St Kilda stank of half-heartedness.

    The city itself was keen – more than keen, actually. The game was sold out.

    11,000 people had tickets. It was years in the making. Everyone was ready to go.

    The town was all set up to embrace some top-flight footy. They rolled out the welcome mats for the big wigs. Excitement was in the air. One local club spent $40,000 on catering.

    But then arrogant Bombers, who wanted to fly to Wangaratta when it would have been easier to take a bus, ruined everything with their big city brashness.

    Wild weather meant their two chartered planes couldn’t land. The Saints were there, but Essendon didn’t show.

    The AFL cared so little that they were making it all up as they went along. They were clearly underprepared – nobody was ready for this situation. An abandoned match. What do we do now?

    First, they decided the match would be declared a draw, even though everybody knows that in junior footy the team that doesn’t rock up forfeits the game.

    Then a coin toss was on the cards.

    Which genius thought that would actually be a good idea? Thankfully someone came to their senses and St Kilda were rightly handed the four points, even if it’s only the pre-season stuff and nobody really cares anyway.

    Still, it’s the principle of it, as Dennis Denuto would say. The fact that the AFL weren’t involved in the Dons’ travel plans just does to show how devil-may-care they are about the NAB Cup.

    They shouldn’t have allowed them to fly on matchday – they don’t when it comes to the season proper.

    But Wangaratta cared. They cared a lot – it’s not often that regional Australia gets to host professional sport.

    What’s most disappointing about all of this is that it came at a time when the other codes are strengthening their ties to country areas.

    Even the A-League, which seems to be cementing its reputation as a controversy magnet, has made inroads.

    The concept of a regional round has merit, even if it wasn’t managed as well as it could have been this season.

    Instead of waiting for the fans to come to the A-League, football instead went to the people. They held matches in Dunedin, Campbelltown, Bathurst, the Latrobe Valley and Launceston.

    While the attendance figures didn’t set the world on fire, the fact that those cities were even considered did wonders for their PR.

    If the round ball code can pull 3000 in Morwell to watch the burgeoning Melbourne Heart and a bunch of Kiwis, then it’s not that much of a stretch to suggest that the AFL could draw perhaps a five-figure crowd anywhere in regional Victoria.

    Imagine what it would do for a town to hold a real match in their own backyard. Even those from the city could drive and make the day of it. And yet the AFL’s relationship with country fans just took a massive hit.

    Rugby league leads the way with the annual City versus Country Origin match. The fans love it.

    If the AFL ever opens its eyes to the world of representative matches, wouldn’t it be great to see a metropolitan versus country showpiece? It’s already a small part of the AFL system – Victoria has two state teams at junior level, after all, split along those lines.

    But no. Aussie Rules is being half-hearted in their attempts to engage with folk outside of the main population areas.

    It’s a shame, because there’s plenty of love for footy out there. The success of country leagues is proof – some of the best football outside the AFL is played out in the bush, where there’s plenty of coin on offer.

    The people are dying for a taste. But the league won’t even help out when it comes to staging a NAB Cup game.

    Surely the best way to remedy this would be resolving to rebuild the bridges that they burned. To do that, AFL House should seriously consider taking games for real points outside of the big markets.

    And next time, get the teams in a week beforehand so they can spend time getting around the community.

    Vince Rugari
    Vince Rugari

    Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard of the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. A Port Adelaide fan by birth, he now is a sports reporter for Australian Associate Press

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    The Crowd Says (63)

    • March 6th 2012 @ 4:48am
      AndyMack said | March 6th 2012 @ 4:48am | ! Report

      Vince, I think your last sentence was the most pertinent. Was a great opportunity to get the players from both teams down to the town, do a day or two of activities for the locals. Maybe not a week, but at least a day or two beforehand. Good PR for the AFL and for the teams involved.

      Agree that the AFL dropped the ball on this one. Really feel for those who had tickets, those who travelled, those who put an effort in to get to a game, only to be denied. Amateur!!!!

    • March 6th 2012 @ 6:18am
      squidz66 said | March 6th 2012 @ 6:18am | ! Report

      Well aren’t I silly!
      Here I was expecting a rant about how people in regional areas won’t even be able to see the team that they’ve loved since VFL was a lad, unless they enter a contract to pay for a service that they didn’t want!
      I was under the assumption that, that’s why we had to endure the constant bombardment of advertising.
      I suppose one way or another..we not of Melbourne have to either

      If it seems as though I don’t think that the AFL and Dimetriou are concerned with rural footy fans, I don’t think my point has come across.

      • Roar Guru

        March 6th 2012 @ 7:04am
        The_Wookie said | March 6th 2012 @ 7:04am | ! Report

        um two things.

        Theres no less FTA AFL before the current deal – except now its all live and Fox are presently advertising no contract deals for its hd sport channels…….

        • Columnist

          March 6th 2012 @ 9:13am
          Michael DiFabrizio said | March 6th 2012 @ 9:13am | ! Report

          Wookie, I think the gripe here isn’t with the contract, it’s more having to pay for all those other channels that people like squidz are not interested in. It is a bit ridiculous that to get Foxtel or Austar, you have to pay for 40-odd channels before you even get access to the sport ones. A lot of people do not need these channels yet want to watch their team play on the weekend. It’s a legitimate point to raise.

          Also, while it is true there are no less FTA games, the percentage of games on FTA has once again reduced. At the end of the day how many people watch all four FTA games? Some do, but people are far more concerned with seeing their team play each week, and having a greater percentage of games on pay TV (and two more teams) that’s going to happen less often.

          • Roar Guru

            March 6th 2012 @ 9:28am
            Redb said | March 6th 2012 @ 9:28am | ! Report


            A chicken and egg argument somewhat. Without the extra revenue coming from Foxtel there wouldn’t be an extra game in the first place.

            It remains true that the key games are largely still on free to air and remain at 4 games a week, not bad for free.

            If you want choice you have to pay for it and really $100 a month is nothing compared to the sport and entertainment available on Foxtel.

            • Columnist

              March 6th 2012 @ 9:37am
              Michael DiFabrizio said | March 6th 2012 @ 9:37am | ! Report

              Redb, not saying we shouldn’t have Foxtel, but I can understand where people like squidz are coming from.

              • Roar Guru

                March 6th 2012 @ 9:40am
                Redb said | March 6th 2012 @ 9:40am | ! Report


                It remains to be seen whether regional viewers get better coverage. The new deal has been lauded for covering previous black spots.

            • March 6th 2012 @ 9:41am
              Clayts said | March 6th 2012 @ 9:41am | ! Report

              Exactly this. I have been saying this ever since I got Fox. And it isn’t even $100 per month. You can get the sport channels from $49 a month these days, under various deals. That is not a lot of money, really. One less slab of beer per MONTH, which you would spend at the pub watching one game anyway, and you get every game in HD. That is another reason to pay for it – HD. Having gotten used to watching sport (not just footy) in HD, I couldn’t go back, it is a markedly better experience. The no ads siren to siren is awesome too. No cutting to the 6oclock news with stories of cats up trees as soon as the ball has cut the vertical plane of the goal line in the final seconds to win the game.

              • Roar Guru

                March 6th 2012 @ 10:02am
                Redb said | March 6th 2012 @ 10:02am | ! Report

                HD & IQ a must, so it’s a bit more plus movies for the family.

      • Roar Guru

        March 6th 2012 @ 7:04am
        mds1970 said | March 6th 2012 @ 7:04am | ! Report

        Not really. I’ve been on this site for two years, and I only just realised that the f-word got straight through. Normally that word would have triggered moderation.

        • Roar Guru

          March 6th 2012 @ 7:09am
          The_Wookie said | March 6th 2012 @ 7:09am | ! Report

          i never realised it either lol

          • Editor

            March 6th 2012 @ 8:17am
            Tristan Rayner said | March 6th 2012 @ 8:17am | ! Report

            It doesn’t, it won’t, and don’t try 🙂 Cheers guys. Tristan.

        • March 6th 2012 @ 4:00pm
          Nathan of Perth said | March 6th 2012 @ 4:00pm | ! Report

          The F-word? What, “Finals”? Bit early for that, isn’t it?

    • Roar Guru

      March 6th 2012 @ 6:40am
      The_Wookie said | March 6th 2012 @ 6:40am | ! Report

      Oh FFS. The rain was so bad they cancelled the Wangaratta Cup. A week beforehand? During the preason tournament and three weeks out from season start? You arent grounded in reality. Clubs have done their community camps well before now (ie. Carlton in Kyabram) Yes it could have been handled better, but the right decision was reached, and they are guaranteed a NAB Cup fixture next year.

      Heres what you didnt mention. The same weekend games were also played in Mandurah, Launceston and Alice Springs. Next week games will go to Maroochydoore, Victor Harbor, Albury and Ballarat. Even more matches will be played in the final week in parts unknown.

      The AFL will play PREMIERSHIP matches in Cairns, Darwin, Launceston and Canberra. 3 of those are locations rarely touched by most codes. Thats 11 matches in regional areas alone during the regular season, on top of 7 during the preseason. Can throw in another 7 if you count Geelong.

      The AFL didnt just start doing this either. The NAB Cup/Challenge has been sending teams out into the far reaches of the country for years. AFL games are played in Carins, Darwin and Launceston every year. Not to mention Geelong. Clubs have been going out into their communities for years. The Aboriginal All star game is generally held in the Territory.

      Half hearted my foot.

      Finally, the AFL have already announced they are taking travel arrangements out of the hands of Clubs in future.

      • March 6th 2012 @ 7:11am
        Lucan said | March 6th 2012 @ 7:11am | ! Report

        Considering this was the grand opening of the Wangaratta Showgrounds, next year’s NAB Cup would be little compensation.

        They’d managed to pre-sell 10k tickets, St Kilda managed to get there a day earlier. Essendon’s fly-in/fly-out arrogance is appalling.

        • Roar Guru

          March 6th 2012 @ 7:31am
          The_Wookie said | March 6th 2012 @ 7:31am | ! Report

          Oh absolutely it is. And its my understand that the AFL gave them permission to fly, and thats about it. The AFL didnt know they were going to leave at 2pm.

          Apparently Wangaratta were offered another match in the final round of the NAB Cup but have asked for next year instead due to cricket commitments

      • Roar Guru

        March 6th 2012 @ 8:08am
        The Cattery said | March 6th 2012 @ 8:08am | ! Report

        Good points raised by Wookie.

        Also, the AFL will compensate the caterers who lost a lot money on planning for a big event.

        All in all, it was a pretty poor effort and the AFL just needs to learn from it and be better prepared next time.

        • March 6th 2012 @ 8:12am
          Australian Rules said | March 6th 2012 @ 8:12am | ! Report

          Yes valid points by Wookie.

          But ultimately, I think Essendon was to blame…not the AFL. They’re the ones that made the unnecessary decision to fly.

          And perhaps most importantly…all of this took place on a weekend that had record breaking downpours and floods…it was natural disaster sort of weather. I don’t think that automatically renders the AFL out of touch with the bush. The AFL does more in remote communities (esp in the NT) than any other code.

          • Roar Guru

            March 6th 2012 @ 8:23am
            The Cattery said | March 6th 2012 @ 8:23am | ! Report

            I saw pictures of the St Kilda boys playing on the Wang oval that evening and they were basically splashing around in six inches of water, so one way or the other, it wasn’t meant to be.

            • Roar Guru

              March 6th 2012 @ 8:43am
              Redb said | March 6th 2012 @ 8:43am | ! Report

              The blame lies with the weather, which would have ruined the game anyway and Essendon’s reliance on the travel option. They had buses standing by, but were told by the pilots they would be able to land.

            • March 6th 2012 @ 10:01am
              samwise said | March 6th 2012 @ 10:01am | ! Report

              A bit of wet weather footy shouldn’t have been an issue. Good practice for the ‘indoor’ Saints.

              It would’ve copped the blame for an injury though. An AFL coach (might’ve been Laidley) tried to blame a perfectly maintained country oval for a pre-season knee injury to a player, and that no doubt would’ve been the case again.

              Not just disappointing for Wangaratta, but North East Victoria more generally. I think there’s a GWS match at Lavington (pretty much Albury) this weekend. Might get extra numbers now.

              • Roar Guru

                March 6th 2012 @ 10:05am
                The Cattery said | March 6th 2012 @ 10:05am | ! Report

                Good point about the game at Lavington, GWS vs Suns, first time that Izzy meets Hunt, and given that it’s NSW, there will be plenty in the region that know about them. If the weather fines up, they’ll be there with bells on.

              • March 6th 2012 @ 11:47am
                Jaceman said | March 6th 2012 @ 11:47am | ! Report

                Not the AFL’s fault maybe Essendons but as was said the match unlikely to go ahead – it was teeming. You get people who criticise those in charge just for the sake of it who dont consider the alternatives if they were in positions of authority (there will be record rainfall recorded in these regions for this month) – and tragically these forums give them more credence than their posts deserve – remember the charming lad “Its called Football”.

      • Roar Guru

        March 6th 2012 @ 8:21am
        Redb said | March 6th 2012 @ 8:21am | ! Report

        Good points Wookie, I cant beleive the author is trying to smear the game like this. Agenda much, check the twitter profile.

      • March 6th 2012 @ 6:11pm
        Jack Russell said | March 6th 2012 @ 6:11pm | ! Report

        Cancellation of the Wangaratta cup shows how out of touch horse racing is with regional Australia.

    • Roar Guru

      March 6th 2012 @ 7:00am
      mds1970 said | March 6th 2012 @ 7:00am | ! Report

      The A-League’s regional round didn’t go off completely without a hitch. The Sydney FC v Perth Glory game had to be rescheduled after the Glory couldn’t fly out of Perth. But a key difference was that was the night before, so everyone knew the game was off on game day – so no-one had the nasty surprise of going to the game and only finding out when they got there that the game was off.

      But Saturday was a bad look for the AFL. When teams have to fly across the country, sometimes things like what happened with the A-League is unavoidable. But with Wangaratta being only a few hours drive away, there was plenty of time for Essendon to make alternative arrangements to get there.

    • March 6th 2012 @ 7:44am
      ac said | March 6th 2012 @ 7:44am | ! Report

      I am not sure if you can blame the AFL itself for this particular situation. I do feel sorry for the fans though.

    • Roar Guru

      March 6th 2012 @ 8:15am
      Redb said | March 6th 2012 @ 8:15am | ! Report

      There isnt’ a club in the AFL who has done more for communtity football right around Australia over the years, travelling the length and breadth of the land. Essendon have made a mistake, move on.

      This was caused by Essendon not the AFL as a whole.

      • March 6th 2012 @ 5:54pm
        Xman said | March 6th 2012 @ 5:54pm | ! Report

        Here here!

        A once in 50 year weather event was the problem, and even then they followed the advice of the pilots. Essendon have promised to make it up to the people of Wangaratta. Essendon were accused of wasting money by flying but they have revealed that it was cheaper for them to fly up and back on the same day than bus up and stay over night.

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