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A winter tale of woe has put the AFL to the sauce

Giant Jeremy Cameron grabs Hawthorn's Ryan Schoenmakers, who handballs under pressure on Sunday.

Giant Jeremy Cameron grabs Hawthorn's Ryan Schoenmakers, who handballs under pressure on Sunday. Photo: Getty Images

The AFL has spent much of this year nodding empathetically about the awful impost on fans of steepling prices for pies, chips and beer at games.

It was an easy target for the league. It would be certain of unanimous support, could gnash their teeth but ultimately have virtually no capacity to do anything about it.

So the message was ''we hear you, we agree with you, we want to do something about it but well we can't. But aren't we good sports for feeling your pain?''

The reason 17,000 people turned out to see the reigning premier play on Sunday at the MCG had only a little bit to do with over-priced washed-out mid-strength beer and more to do with the arrogantly inhospitable scheduling of the game and, of course, the fact no one follows the other team nor gives a tinker's cuss about it.

Hawthorn played GWS at 4.40pm on a Sunday - and yes it was a cold wet first day of winter. A 2.20pm start time on a Sunday for parents of school-aged kids is a potential day at the footy (albeit an expensive one). A 4.40pm start time pushes it into the realm of school night outing. Getting home still meant for most people after 8pm. And then, if you haven't spent your last dollars on a pie and chips at the footy, getting dinner sorted and showers and getting to bed ahead of the first day of school for the week.

This then begs the question of whether the league was driven by getting people to games. The AFL has always furiously insisted it is primarily driven by increasing crowd attendance. But then schedules games at times unappealing to anyone but the TV broadcaster.

No season has ever fixtured so many games so hostile to the fan attending: Monday nights; Saturday twilight; Sunday twilight; Thursday nights. It is little wonder attendance is down.

Granted the league is sampling new time slots because there are now nine games a weekend and staggering them seems a better idea than clustering them. But hosting a game at 4.40pm that could have started an hour or two earlier comes at a cost and the cost is the fan who schleps to the game.

Yes the TV rights holders pay exorbitantly for the chance to show the game. They also pay for a game that has atmosphere because people attend. When you stop putting the games on when people want to go suddenly all games on TV will look and sound like, well, like GWS games.

Availability of a product is a far more significant deterrent to purchasing or consuming than price. If the game is not on when you want to go, then how much it costs is less relevant, not irrelevant, but certainly less relevant. Cost becomes just another reason not to go.

The AFL has accepted the Monday night experiment was a disaster and will not be proceeding with them. It should also do so with the wretched 4.40pm slot. The only logic in a 4.40pm game at the MCG on a Saturday afternoon is the broadcaster's desire to have three games segue into one another throughout the day - not the fans' preference for when to attend a game. So the insistence crowds are foremost in AFL thinking sounds disingenuous and patronising.

The other turn-off factor that should trouble the AFL is that typically games involving the big clubs would draw a large crowd irrespective of whether they were the home or the away team. That appears to be less obviously the case this year.

On Friday night St Kilda hosted Collingwood and fewer than 35,000 turned up. The result was presumed to be a foregone conclusion so they didn't bother. Plainly even the big clubs rusted-on, go-anywhere go-anytime fans want to see a contest.

The AFL presidents will meet on Wednesday. Clubs, large and small, might want to raise not just their share of the pie, nor even the price, but what times people want to go to a game to buy their over-priced pie.

51 comments so far

  • Good article. It would help too if the holding-the-ball/holding-the-man rules were judged in the way of the 70s and 80s. Far too many "stoppages" result from that massive change in interpretation, where instead a free-kick would've been given in the 80s, quickly opening up the play, and making the boring and predictable primary-school style rolling maul less effective.

    Watch a game which doesn't involve your own team, and see how many times you call "BALL!" and instead a "stoppage" is decided. Or watch an old game, and count the frees paid, and the "stoppages", and compare - the frees are now fewer, the stoppages about double.

    The idea of "let it go, let 'em scrag, let 'em hold onto the ball longer, then ball it up" was always going to result in mobile wrestling. I'd love to know who were part of the Brains Trust behind that brilliant idea. Still, at least the change of rule-interpretation has so revolutionized the game it gave us the beautiful (and telling) term "stoppage".

    Commenter
    Lee
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    June 03, 2014, 8:51AM
    • @Lee this article is about scheduling, not rules, please dont change the topic. There are plenty of articles to comment on about rules, even some published today.

      I do agree however.

      Re scheduling and lower attendance, lets hope this is the start of the AFL realising the people they cr@p on each week are the same ones that pay all their wages.

      Commenter
      matty
      Location
      melb
      Date and time
      June 03, 2014, 9:36AM
    • I completely agree...or just apply the throwing rule effectively.

      Players are for some reason allowed to simply just let go of the ball now and it is termed "dispossession" instead! No it is not, it is a throw! Go back to pure and simple, was the prior opportunity? Yes, free kick or No, ball up. If the answer is No, did they dispose of it correctly or was it held in? So much simpler then did he dive on it, drag it in? etc.

      Players are penalised for having no time at all to get rid of it, then not penalised when they take people on have all the time in the world!

      And dw bout the fixture...the current AFL administration is a slave to the broadcast rights and doesn't care about the fans.

      Commenter
      Jez
      Location
      Melb
      Date and time
      June 03, 2014, 10:54AM
    • You have hit the nail right on the head. You only have to look at the Freo Bulldogs game to see where that interpretation has led to. It's still hard to believe that Freo only got 4 free kicks for the whole game.

      Commenter
      Phil
      Date and time
      June 03, 2014, 12:30PM
  • Completely agree. We need to remember that we aren't actually America when it comes to sport. America has a population more than 10 times larger than Australia; of course Monday and Thursday night games are going to work - they've got the population to fill stadiums, no matter what time the game is on.

    This year's scheduling has been the most antisocial, by far.

    Commenter
    Carlton guy
    Location
    Lygon Street
    Date and time
    June 03, 2014, 10:08AM
    • Too many people I know are ditching their seated club memberships (still a non attending member) and I am close enough myself to predict I won't renew next year either. Take out the Sunday games I don't attend and it is way too expensive and I can just stay home and watch it on TV like everyone else is doing. Just play some crowd sound effects over the game if it is going to be a TV only spectacle for some atmosphere.

      I'm a long time club member and I don't attend Sunday afternoon games. Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Saturday night and now I am forced to try a Thursday night (probably won't go as it will be too much to go straight after work & go to work the next morning) but Sunday is family time. The reality is there should be multiple games played at the same time across the country but now that TV is given the most consideration this won't happen. The AFL just stumbles along from one problem to another and it is so frustrating from rigged draws to changing rules. I wish we could have a National competition that doesn't have so may clubs in one city, every club plays each other twice, rules don't keep chaining and games are played when fans want to see them at fair prices for tickets and food & drinks.

      Commenter
      Peter
      Date and time
      June 03, 2014, 10:37AM
      • Absolutely agree. I looked at a membership this year, but after last year when I had to pay for a seat any way AND my membership I blew that thought away. Yeah, I could have gone a reserved seat but the scheduling of the games did not suit me or my family.

        Commenter
        Frustrated
        Date and time
        June 04, 2014, 7:35AM
    • Spot on Lee. I agree with your comments 100%.

      Commenter
      Stefy
      Location
      act
      Date and time
      June 03, 2014, 11:04AM
      • Great article. But if you were the CEO of the AFL and your remuneration was predominately linked to the growth in the broadcast deal, what would you do? Don't blame anyone except the Commission for choosing a pay structure for key executives that gives them exactly zero incentive to look after the fan. Link their pay to the number of people who attend the footy and you'll see a BIG change in scheduling.....

        Commenter
        Howard
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        June 03, 2014, 2:05PM
    • Why are people surprised about the scheduling of games to suit the broadcaster? Wasn't the AFL CEO's bonus attached to broadcasting rights? Every decision he made would have an influence on his income. Attach the bonus to average attendance and increasing "real" memberships and we might get the game back to the people. This isn't the US, there isn't a limited supply of product being sold to an over abundant audience. Currently there is an over supply of product in a very competitive market and a very limited and underfunded audience.

      Why do we have two new teams? Two extra games a week increases the value of the broadcasting rights and thus the bonus the CEO received. I don't this much of the legacy Andrew Demetriou has left. CEO's and bonuses attached to financial turnover are a recipe for short term gain and long term pain.

      Commenter
      Tony
      Location
      Glenburn
      Date and time
      June 03, 2014, 11:14AM

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