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Why you can't force sport to be entertaining

Harley Bennell of the Dockers celebrates a goal during the round 22 AFL match between the Fremantle Dockers and the Richmond Tigers at Domain Stadium on August 20, 2017 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
8th January, 2018
20

Sport and entertainment are two very distinct ideas, yet the lines between them are often blurred.

Genuine human emotion interwoven into sport is what makes it so captivating, and it’s the reason that for many it fails as a hobby but succeeds as a livelihood.

People do not attend or watch matches to be entertained, and those who do are often left disappointed. Fans go because they are emotionally invested, concerned only for the result rather than the quality of the performance.

Entertainment can be found in sport, but it can’t be manufactured into it. True entertainment emerges organically from what naturally takes place on the field – or in some cases what happens off the field.

From the onset no-one thought the fixture between Richmond and Fremantle at the MCG last season was going to be one of the most talked about matches of the season, but the AFL world exploded as David Mundy sealed the win for the Dockers on the siren after the Tigers hit the front with 21 seconds left.

The next few Richmond games became all the more intriguing as people switched on merely to see whether the Tigers would suffer a fate which had haunted them for many years. That’s true entertainment.

(Paul Kane/Getty Images)

There are both exciting and tedious moments in AFL, as is the case with all sports. These tedious moments make the exciting ones all the more thrilling, and their spontaneity makes them memorable.

The AFL do not need to implement any additional rules to increase the entertainment value, so why does it appear as though they are doing it anyway?

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The creation of AFLX is as baffling. It is ridiculous. The competition fails to benefit or improve the standard of the game, with the only justification for its existence being to entice new fans, particularly those overseas.

While it may be believed that shortening the ground and segregating fans may appeal to people overseas due to its resemblance to football, it ultimately provides a false representation of what AFL consists of.

AFLX has been likened to the Big Bash League, but the BBL provides a greater purpose by acting as a pathway for players into the national side.

Further, it is surprising how after making a significant step in introducing AFLW the AFL go ahead with such a mickey mouse competition to run adjacent to the women’s season.

(AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Do the AFL believe that by creating AFLX the significant deprivation felt by fans during the offseason will be eased?

The anticipation and build-up towards the start of the season is what makes the first bounce launching a new season so sweet. Having a system where footy is played all year round through meaningless competitions will only diminish and exacerbate its legitimacy.

This can be said about cricket in contemporary times. When cricket consisted mostly of Test matches and limited ODIs every match felt important. Today the large number of ODIs and T20s following a Test series feel irrelevant and thus the aura sounding these formats is diminished, contradicting the old saying that you can never have too much of a good thing.

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Moreover, the last thing any sport needs is significant commercialisation. Vince McMahon sought to provide a more entertaining alternative to the NFL through his XFL competition, but it failed due to the tournament lacking any legitimacy as a sport, being heavily driven by entertainment.

AFL is unlike any other sport played anywhere in the world, and if the AFL seek to promote the game, this is their selling point. High flying marks and crunching tackles excite even the most hardcore AFL fans, so imagine what it would do to someone watching it for the first time.

Entertainment is everywhere you look, especially in AFL. It’s one of those things you cannot force. You have to let it happen.