As the battle against the coronavirus rages on across Australia and the world, footy fans around Australia had a moment to rejoice last Friday afternoon.
We finally have a date. Australian football is coming back in 26 days’ time, and the majority of the country cannot wait to get live sport back on their screens.
The league has done a mountain of work trying to appease all parties and get their return-to-play plan ticked off. The cobbled-together and all-over-the-place nature that this season will now take on will only – maybe not too publicly – escalate the whinging from different clubs towards head office.
While the first part of the journey back to solvency is nearly completed by getting the game back in a position to return to play, the road ahead remains long and treacherous. Job losses, stand-downs and cuts to everything across the game – the code has taken an almighty hit in almost every aspect of the game.
The AFL, to their credit, has done an exceptional job when it comes to their streamlined communication with all the stakeholders. It’s a big tick to Gillon McLachlan and his team for his leadership and guidance in his time in the game.
The AFL remains committed to having all 18 teams in the competition in 2021 and has stated that they are absolutely committed to maintaining and running an AFL Women’s season again in 2021 and long into the future. The AFL has also secured a line of credit from both NAB and ANZ banks, which will be spread across different clubs in the league.
While the AFL can’t guarantee total equity this year, there is a commitment to make it as fair as possible to provide as much balance to each of the 18 clubs as possible. The injection of TV money is imminent with the return of games, and with no fans being allowed to attend, it is almost guaranteed that ratings will be higher than usual. People have been hanging for live sport and in these times they would almost watch anything. Almost.
So as much as the AFL will look to maximise the revenue and schedule the higher rating games in the prime-time time slots, it is incumbent on the AFL and the fixturing team to give each club a big slice of the pie. They call prime time Broadway, and this should be every club’s chance to fight to get their moment on the red carpet and up on the main stage.
This will never happen, but over the next 16 weeks for this season, each team should be given at least two games in prime time on a Thursday or a Friday night wherever they fall.
If the AFL is committed to maintaining an 18-team competition – and we know how important the broadcast dollars are to the bottom line of each club and the game – it is one measure to ensure that each club gets their little moment to strut their stuff and be given a chance to play in prime time.
You don’t need to worry about players getting stage fright or playing on the big stage because there aren’t any crowds.
We know the fixture will be done on an ad-hoc basis and delivered in blocks to work with different states and clubs and giving them home games towards the back end of the year.
This model of prime time distribution can be used as a set-in-stone equalisation measure in years to come. Giving each team at least one home game and one away game in a prime-time slot truly validates that the national competition is catering to all their 18 teams.
Sure, the AFL will mix and match it to ensure that the glamour teams are playing in the glamour slots, but to ensure some level of equity, it should adopt this model of giving at least one home and one away fixture in prime time to each club. Not just in this cobbled together season, but for years to come.
The AFL has a golden opportunity to show that they are backing their systems and are not just hungry to rebuild the cash reserves for their back pockets. While, of course, they want the product to be good quality, the commitment to all 18 clubs comes with the responsibility of feeding them equally.
Normal circumstances would see a regular fixture with the biggest drawing games put in the biggest drawing slots. While they will need to do that this year to make up some of the shortfall, this season is anything but normal circumstances.
We need to take this opportunity to show off our game and everything that is in it. A result of this is feeding all the clubs and giving them a nice big chunk of the broadcast money that comes by placing them in the high-earning slots.
Australians and footy fans are hanging out for footy, so they will watch it, it doesn’t matter who is playing. As much as you want to keep feeding the big clubs and the glamour clubs and the clubs that will write headlines and keep the game in the news, it is incumbent on the AFL to share the big TV love and give all the clubs he chance to strut their stuff on Broadway.