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AFL Opening Round reflections: Big crowds, growth and maybe even some overseas potential?

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Roar Rookie
13th March, 2024

Following the AFL’s innovative decision to split the Opening Round into a “Week 0” and “Week 1” scenario, the Australian rules football world has been eager with speculation about its success – and its potential downfall.

Was it a success?

The Opening Round’s success can be measured against the AFL’s principal purpose of developing the game in Queensland and New South Wales. The league’s emphasis on exclusivity during the Opening Round, combined with requests for local attendance, was a concerted effort to enter new markets and reach a larger audience. In that regard, I would definitely say Opening Round has been a success. Strong attendances, plenty of storylines and a strong showcase of the game in the non-AFL states.

Tom Papley celebrates a goal.

Sydney’s Tom Papley. (Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

Was Opening Round a reaction to the NRL’s Las Vegas showcase?

Yes. The NRL’s ambitious expedition to Las Vegas sparked concerns and discussion about tackling a market dominated by the NFL. In response, the AFL’s decision to create Opening Round might be regarded as a strategic attempt to establish its new product, a dedicated split opening week in Australia. By doing so, the AFL avoids taking a blind plunge abroad and retains the community-centric features that epitomise Australian Rules football.

Does Opening Round set the stage for international expansion?


The AFL’s history of promoting Australian Rules football in nations such as China and New Zealand during the premiership season demonstrates a desire to pursue international prospects. These two games came with mixed local responses and would take a much more refined approach if they were to do it again. The Opening Round split, with its “Week 0” and “Week 1” structure, allows the AFL to consider expanding the game outside Australian shores.

Where could the AFL go?

Ireland: With a long history of Irish players succeeding in the AFL, Ireland stands out as a prospective destination. The time zone difference isn’t favourable, but the bye round could serve to nullify this concern. Local teams of Irish players could serve as a platform for an AFL curtain-raiser game, generating local interest and allowing for talent scouting.

AFL Power vs Suns in Shanghai

The Gold Coast Suns hosted Port Adelaide Power at Shanghai’s Jiangwan Sports Stadium in 2017. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

United States: Pat McAfee’s strong voice in raising awareness of Australian Rules football among American audiences presents a unique opportunity. His analysis of Aussie Rules throughout the COVID period put a spotlight on the sport in America. AFL teams, like Collingwood, already engage with McAfee’s show and America has an idea of what our game is like because of it. Drawing on the NRL’s endeavour into the American market, the AFL might take a similar approach, leveraging McAfee’s to bridge the gap and promote the sport to a larger audience. The difference I believe the AFL could lean on is the novel nature of the sport and its unique displays of athleticism when compared to the NRL.

AFL’s Opening Round not only paved the way for prospective worldwide development, but also revealed a deliberate response to the NRL’s global ambitions. As the league navigates these unfamiliar waters, Australian Rules football may achieve new heights in the future years, drawing fans well beyond its traditional stronghold.