Is it conceivable that, one day in the future, the AFL could shift the biggest game of the calendar to another stadium elsewhere in Australia?
The biggest game of the AFL season is scheduled to unfold on the last Saturday of September every year. The game is played at the spiritual home of Australian Football, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, better known as the MCG or simply ‘The G’.
I have been to the stadium numerous times to watch AFL (both home and away fixtures and finals) and I have also been lucky enough to witness Manchester United, the Socceroos, the Wallabies and the All Blacks – among other teams – grace the hallowed turf.
It never ceases to amaze me just how impressive this iconic stadium is.
It all starts with the walk from Flinders Street Station and Federation Square, you can see the stadium sitting in the distance down by the Yarra River.
When you enter the gates and catch your first glimpse of the playing surface, there is a special feeling about the place and this is amplified tenfold when you eventually get to your designated seat and take in your surroundings.
You look around at the enormous stands, gradually filling as the first bounce draws ever closer.
For a big occasion, the energy, anticipation and excitement that flows inside the cauldron is really something that needs to be experienced and my words will not do it justice.
The rebuild of the Ponsford, Northern and Member’s stand is fantastic and a great legacy from the 2006 Commonwealth Games hosted by Melbourne.
Do yourself a favour, get yourself to a game next year at the MCG, even if you are a neutral fan, and enjoy all it offers.
But I digress. Getting back to the premise of my article…
A sport that the AFL Administration often looks to for ideas on how to best manage the game into the future is the NFL.
For those of you unfamiliar with the NFL, the biggest game of the calendar each year is the Super Bowl and this is rotated between cities across the country.
The biggest difference between the two sports is the stadiums available to host the biggest game of their respective seasons.
The USA has any number of quality stadiums available across the country, which you would expect with a population approximately 320 million strong and growing.
Cities bid for the right to host the Super Bowl, ensuring there is an opportunity for your city to host it.
An article by Mike Krumboltz on Yahoo Finance, in which he cites a reference to a New York Times article, explains that the NFL administration looks at a few things from a host city including the following:
“Build or improve your stadium. Run a good franchise. Play well with others. Beg a little.”
Now I am not for one minute advocating the AFL should move the grand final from the MCG for the sake of copying the NFL – far from it.
Rather, I would have a look at the options that are available if the AFL did ever go down that road.
The options available are as follows:
Sydney (ANZ Stadium)
It has an official capacity of 82,500 when configured to suit either AFL or cricket and is the next biggest stadium in the country.
Criticism of the playing surface comes up every year and many a rugby league fan will complain endlessly that it is ‘soulless’ and ‘devoid of any atmosphere’.
In addition to this is the location, a 30-40 minute train ride from the city.
From a positive perspective, the stadium does have the capacity the AFL hierarchy would desire and does have the runs on the board in running big ticket events.
One only has to look to July earlier this year, in which the Wallabies played the British and Irish Lions (third Test), State of Origin (third game) and Manchester United played the A-League All Stars – all games were played to capacity crowds.
It has an official capacity of 42,000, which is on the small side compared with other grounds.
The playing surface is generally excellent, as is the weather in south east Queensland during the month of September.
The Brisbane Lions have played to some great crowds at the ground, particularly during the years of the three-peat a decade ago.
A slightly smaller venue will still generate a ton of atmosphere for the biggest day on the AFL calendar.
Adelaide (Adelaide Oval)
Construction on the new Adelaide Oval is continuing as we speak and it will boast a capacity of 50,000 when complete.
It is a hop, skip and a jump away from the city centre and the Crows and Port will open the 2014 AFL season at the new ground.
South Australia is a heartland for the game and has produced countless superstars. You can count on the South Australian public embracing the day with as much fervor and passion as they support their two teams during the season.
Perth (Burswood Stadium)
It has been stated that the capacity of this new stadium will be 60,000 initially, with the ability to be expanded to 80,000 in the future.
It is slated to be completed in time for the opening of the 2018 AFL season.
From all that I have read, and from the design features discussed, it will truly be a world class stadium for Perth and Western Australia.
It is another heartland area of the game, has also produced its share of superstars and would be a welcome host city, especially so if either of the local teams make it to the big stage that year.
If the grand final were to be held in either Sydney or Brisbane, the AFL would give access to the all-consuming nature of grand final week in the very markets they are trying to grow the game.
The sight of a packed Queen Street Mall in Brisbane or a packed Darling Harbour in Sydney for the end of the grand final parade and the captains’ speeches would no doubt put a smile on the AFL administration’s collective faces, considering the amount of money currently being spent on second teams in those areas.
The four cities discussed above would do a fantastic job hosting the event and the respective local economies would receive a massive injection leading up to, and on, the big day.
It won’t be happening anytime soon though. A contract between the Melbourne Cricket Club, MCG Trust, AFL and Victorian State Government sees the AFL grand final being played at the MCG until at least 2037.
The history of Australian Football at the MCG is impressive and the VFL/AFL grand final has been held at the venue every year since 1902, with the exception of 1924, 1942-45 and 1991.
As current and past players will tell you, it is the grand final and the MCG where you want to prove yourself, the biggest game at the biggest venue.
History and tradition play a huge part in Australian Football and the MCG is inextricably linked to the game from the very beginning.
I love the last Saturday in September and tuning in to see a full house at the MCG for a traditional 2:30pm start.
Will this always be the case in the future? Over to you Roarers…