Greater Western Sydney are into their first ever grand final, having won a classic preliminary final over Collingwood, 56-52, in an all-time classic at the MCG.
Two rounds into the footy season and we have two teams from the West perched atop the ladder, Sydney is faltering, Mick Malthouse is more frustrated than a eunuch in a brothel, and the Essendon saga has retreated to simmering in the background.
Footy lovers should be rejoicing the fact that the game is back, and nothing was more evident of that fact than experiencing a sodden Patersons Stadium on Saturday night.
And yet, footy supporters feel jibbed. In what may seem like a massive call, the AFL’s new variable ticketing price scheme could overtake its recent handling of the Essendon saga as the biggest dent to Andrew Demetriou’s legacy.
The fans are the game’s largest stakeholders, and Demetriou consistently reminds us of that.
“We will never forget that our game is for our fans, and we will be ever alert to find the best ways to take our game to the fans in ways that are accessible, affordable, and remarkable,” Demetriou said during the official season launch.
The assertion that they will endeavour to increase accessibility begs the question: why the haphazard playing schedule? Is the advent of a new season the right time to experiment with new timeslots?
In isolation, Round 2, for example, was the third highest for attendance on record.
The AFL spruiked that figure as if it was something to be proud of, but everyone knows they don’t tolerate half-measures.
Consider the clash between rivals Essendon and Carlton in Round 3. The last time the two clubs failed to draw a crowd of 50,000 was in 2007, when both sides were in the depths of despair.
Despite the stigma surrounding the Bombers and the prospect of a vastly undermanned Carlton, it would still draw a healthy crowd in excess of 60,000.
So why the AFL decided to fixture the game at 7.10pm on a Sunday night is beyond me. Instead of giving the game every chance to be accessed by the football-loving public in a live setting, it’s setting it up to be a fizzer. Doesn’t it boggle the mind?
Actually, it doesn’t surprise me at all. Because 7.10pm on a Sunday night just happens to be primetime viewing. And sadly, that is what it has come down to.
The gigantic revenue generated by the $1.25 billion broadcast rights deal has been well-documented, but at what cost? Dwindling numbers are set to continue if this trend exists.
Some have attributed the downturn in crowd numbers to a host of factors: the Bombers saga, the growing popularity of Fox Footy, haphazard fixtures and increasing ticket prices being the most prominent. But only two of those factors are unique to this season.
Consider the fact that $500 million was splashed on the Gold Coast and in Sydney’s west to help the expansion sides with their development. The Australian’s Patrick Smith has repeatedly called for a small percentage of that to be poured back into grassroots footy to limit the growing financial stress of attending the footy.
Of course, that doesn’t include selling your kidney for a bite of substandard footy grub and watered-down mid-strength beer. I bought a pie on Saturday night, and while slugging me $5 the checkout lady kindly told me that the 20 cent sauce was free. Ah, the convenience!
Pure and simple, the variable ticketing price scheme was an unnecessary means to try and squeeze extra coin from people who can barely afford it as it is. A Foxtel sports subscription costs the same per month as a Category One ticket to the MCG.
Australian Rules Football is a game for the fans. It has been for well over 100 years. But recent measures continue to alienate the people that matter.
The AFL is testing the patience of the people who truly love the game. There is no competition without the fans. Ultimately it could be the straw that broke the Demetriou legacy, which has been tested like never before over the past 18 months.