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AFL ticket system loses face value

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Chief sports columnist and associate editor with The Age

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Darren Birch said the AFL knew that potentially 80,000 might become 60,000 on Sundays.

Darren Birch said the AFL knew that potentially 80,000 might become 60,000 on Sundays.

After an underwhelming start to the season, and faced with simmering supporter discontent, the AFL acknowledges that it has not adequately gazetted and explained its new variable price ticketing system.

But it does not accept that the system is to blame for mediocre attendances, saying that has more to do with a calculated decision to make a soft start - since none of the MCG, SCG or Adelaide Oval were available for round one - and to experiment with Thursday and Sunday nights.

The AFL says some ticket prices have fallen - from $36 to $25 on the top deck of the MCG, for instance, even for blockbusters.It says nearly all tickets were sold in the first two rounds, even to matches in which crowds failed to meet expectations. The few unsold tickets generally were the cheapest, belying the idea that price was the issue.

"Is there confusion in the marketplace? Yes, there probably is," said AFL manager of commercial operations Darren Birch. "It is complicated. It is new. It is a difficult model for people to get their heads around. It is a significant change after a long, long time."

But Birch foreshadowed further change. He said the AFL hoped later this year to test dynamic ticketing, as used by some professional American sports.

"In the US, dynamic ticketing runs live with the game," he said. "So seating prices can go up - and down - depending on demand. We're not sophisticated enough yet to deliver that. But we may get a trial up this year."

Birch said he would also like to see greater capacity for resale of unused tickets at discount prices. He said the average 11-game member attended three or four games, but only about 2000 tickets a week were resold now.

He said the AFL had a problem with "third party pricing", for parking and food, for instance. "The public sees us as controlling it, but we don't. But as the peak body we've got to work really hard to influence that.

"I think most food and beverage costs at all stadiums are too high. There are reasons, but  there is a massive amount of work we can do in the door-to-door experience for the fans. Most of our research says it's total cost where fans are feeling the pinch. It's not ticketing in isolation."

Birch said the AFL had reformed its ticketing system because it was nearing a point where walk-up fans were getting a better deal than members. "We in the AFL have a very, very, very strong position to drive people to membership, because it's the lifeblood of the clubs," he said.

Birch said the new system operated at the MCG, Etihad Stadium and on the Gold Coast, but not Geelong. He said the league had given all clubs a mix of A (reserved tickets only), B and C games. "We didn't want to load Collingwood - with 14 games at the MCG - with A games," he said. "That's inherently not fair to their fans.

"For a lot of Collingwood members, the price point has gone down,'' he said. "At a Collingwood 'A game' at the MCG, 46 per cent of the available tickets have gone down. On Anzac Day, for instance, 4000 tickets went up in price, and 6000 went down.''

Birch said the AFL was acutely conscious of its tradition as a sport accessible to all. "We're very cognisant of the need to have affordability at our games. Anzac Day could sell out three times over, but you can still get a ticket for $25."

But he said the AFL also had to deal with ever rising costs, and give poorer clubs a chance to capitalise on big fixtures.

Birch said a comparison between the start of last season and this was not instructive. "Comparing round one, 2013, and round one, 2014, it's apples and oranges.'' When they were squared with their circumstances, the AFL estimated it was about 18,000 short of predictions this year.

Next year would be different again: because of the cricket World Cup, the AFL season would not start until April.

Birch said Sunday night games - including this week's Essendon-Carlton clash at the MCG - had been scheduled with half an eye on future broadcast deals. "You can't make your decisions without trying these timeslots. You've got to take those chances. The best way to trial it is not with a poor game, but with your best content."

Birch said the AFL knew that potentially 80,000 might become 60,000 on Sunday. "We're prepared to wear that," he said. "If it doesn't work for our fans or our clubs, we need to be aware of that."

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CAR 87 vs PTA 120 Report Stats
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NTH 60 vs ESS 99 Report Stats
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Round 2
Thu, 27 MarTimes shown AEDT
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ESS 86 vs HAW 90 Report Stats
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PTA 127 vs ADE 73 Report Stats
FRE 87 vs GCF 39 Report Stats
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BRI 68 vs GEE 93 Stats
MEL 30 vs WCE 123 Report Stats
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Round 3
Fri, 04 AprTimes shown AEDT
HAW 137 vs FRE 79 Report Stats
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WBU 100 vs RIC 98 Report Stats
ADE 71 vs SYD 134 Report Stats
GCF 114 vs BRI 61 Stats
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COL 76 vs GEE 87 Report Stats
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GWS 79 vs MEL 47 Report Stats
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Round 4
Fri, 11 AprTimes shown AEST
RIC 72 vs COL 110 Report Stats
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CAR 58 vs MEL 81 Report Stats
PTA 159 vs BRI 46 Report Stats
GWS 83 vs WBU 110 Report Stats
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GCF 49 vs HAW 148 Report Stats
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SYD 48 vs NTH 91 Report Stats
STK 50 vs ADE 136 Report Stats
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Round 5
Thu, 17 AprTimes shown AEST
BRI 63 vs RIC 106 Report Stats
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SYD 92 vs FRE 75 Report Stats
WCE 56 vs PTA 70 Report Stats
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MEL 78 vs GCF 86 Report Stats
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Round 6
Fri, 25 AprTimes shown AEST
COL 83 vs ESS 60 Report Stats
STK 79 vs BRI 82 Report Stats
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GCF 134 vs GWS 94 Report Stats
CAR 92 vs WCE 89 Report Stats
MEL 38 vs SYD 69 Report Stats
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WBU 83 vs ADE 92 Report Stats
RIC 52 vs HAW 118 Report Stats
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Round 7
Fri, 02 MayTimes shown AEST
CAR 70 vs COL 104 Report Stats
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HAW 175 vs STK 30 Report Stats
GWS 97 vs PTA 132 Report Stats
ADE 67 vs MEL 70 Report Stats
BRI 44 vs SYD 123 Stats
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GEE 81 vs RIC 76 Report Stats
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Round 8
Fri, 09 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 107 vs HAW 88 Report Stats
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Round 9
Thu, 15 MayTimes shown AEST
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Round 10
Fri, 23 MayTimes shown AEST
GEE 111 vs NTH 91 Report Stats
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GCF 119 vs WBU 74 Report Stats
CAR 81 vs ADE 76 Report Stats
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Round 11
Thu, 29 MayTimes shown AEST
SYD 148 vs GEE 38 Report Stats
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STK 54 vs COL 140 Report Stats
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MEL 75 vs PTA 95 Report Stats
BRI 98 vs CAR 91 Report Stats
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HAW 94 vs GWS 87 Report Stats
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Round 12
Fri, 06 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE 107 vs CAR 102 Report Stats
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HAW 123 vs WCE 79 Report Stats
PTA 129 vs STK 59 Report Stats
WBU 87 vs BRI 95 Report Stats
GWS 66 vs ESS 81 Report Stats
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GCF 74 vs SYD 109 Report Stats
FRE 90 vs ADE 50 Report Stats
NTH 116 vs RIC 88 Report Stats
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MEL 28 vs COL 61 Report Stats
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Round 13
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CAR 90 vs HAW 118 Report Stats
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RIC 85 vs FRE 105 Report Stats
SYD 98 vs PTA 94 Report Stats
WCE 103 vs GCF 100 Report Stats
BRI 80 vs GWS 125 Report Stats
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COL 98 vs WBU 106 Report Stats
ESS 77 vs MEL 78 Report Stats
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Round 14
Fri, 20 JunTimes shown AEST
RIC 51 vs SYD 62 Report Stats
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PTA 128 vs WBU 56 Report Stats
HAW 115 vs COL 86 Report Stats
GCF 118 vs GEE 78 Report Stats
FRE 105 vs BRI 22 Report Stats
ESS 101 vs ADE 92 Report Stats
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GWS 100 vs CAR 92 Report Stats
STK 70 vs WCE 103 Report Stats
MEL 66 vs NTH 107 Report Stats
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Round 15
Fri, 27 JunTimes shown AEST
GEE 89 vs ESS 80 Report Stats
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HAW 116 vs GCF 63 Report Stats
STK 73 vs RIC 117 Report Stats
FRE 88 vs WCE 81 Report Stats
SYD 106 vs GWS 60 Stats
BRI 70 vs NTH 66 Report Stats
Sun, 29 JunTimes shown AEST
WBU 91 vs MEL 85 Report Stats
ADE 99 vs PTA 76 Report Stats
COL 91 vs CAR 76 Report Stats
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Round 16
Fri, 04 JulTimes shown AEST
NTH 108 vs HAW 88 Report Stats
Sat, 05 JulTimes shown AEST
RIC 79 vs BRI 54 Stats
GWS 72 vs ADE 140 Report Stats
GCF 80 vs COL 75 Report Stats
MEL 34 vs FRE 97 Report Stats
PTA 60 vs ESS 62 Report Stats
Sun, 06 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR 151 vs STK 66 Report Stats
WCE 51 vs SYD 79 Report Stats
GEE 69 vs WBU 56 Report Stats
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Round 17
Fri, 11 JulTimes shown AEST
ADE 92 vs HAW 104 Report Stats
Sat, 12 JulTimes shown AEST
MEL 36 vs GEE 102 Report Stats
NTH 92 vs STK 33 Report Stats
WBU 94 vs GCF 66 Report Stats
BRI 64 vs WCE 76 Report Stats
SYD 122 vs CAR 51 Report Stats
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RIC 126 vs PTA 106 Report Stats
ESS 103 vs COL 39 Report Stats
FRE 136 vs GWS 60 Report Stats
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Round 18
Fri, 18 JulTimes shown AEST
CAR 109 vs NTH 86 Report Stats
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STK 118 vs FRE 60 Report Stats
GWS 87 vs GEE 94 Report Stats
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PTA 72 vs MEL 69 Report Stats
WBU 94 vs ESS 101 Report Stats
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WCE 42 vs RIC 59 Report Stats
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BRI 110 vs GCF 56 Report Stats
HAW 104 vs SYD 94 Report Stats
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COL 82 vs ADE 98 Report Stats
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Round 19
Thu, 31 JulTimes shown AEST
FRE 83 vs CAR 78 Report Stats
Fri, 01 AugTimes shown AEST
SYD 79 vs ESS 57 Report Stats
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ADE 105 vs WCE 136 Report Stats
RIC 89 vs GWS 62 Report Stats
GCF 117 vs STK 64 Report Stats
NTH 79 vs GEE 111 Report Stats
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MEL 51 vs BRI 74 Stats
HAW 107 vs WBU 45 Report Stats
COL 76 vs PTA 70 Report Stats
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Round 20
Fri, 08 AugTimes shown AEST
RIC 95 vs ESS 77 Report Stats
Sat, 09 AugTimes shown AEST
GWS 51 vs NTH 126 Report Stats
CAR 97 vs GCF 58 Report Stats
HAW 115 vs MEL 65 Report Stats
PTA 58 vs SYD 84 Report Stats
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BRI 63 vs ADE 168 Report Stats
STK 99 vs WBU 122 Report Stats
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Round 21
Fri, 15 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR 76 vs GEE 82 Report Stats
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SYD 127 vs STK 56 Stats
GCF 47 vs PTA 56 Report Stats
ESS 77 vs WCE 74 Report Stats
COL 56 vs BRI 123 Report Stats
ADE 69 vs RIC 79 Report Stats
Sun, 17 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH 111 vs WBU 61 Report Stats
MEL 34 vs GWS 98 Report Stats
FRE 110 vs HAW 91 Report Stats
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Round 22
Fri, 22 AugTimes shown AEST
PTA 140 vs CAR 37 Report Stats
Sat, 23 AugTimes shown AEST
NTH 101 vs ADE 94 Report Stats
ESS 108 vs GCF 89 Report Stats
GWS 67 vs COL 75 Report Stats
WCE 119 vs MEL 53 Report Stats
HAW 94 vs GEE 71 Report Stats
Sun, 24 AugTimes shown AEST
BRI 48 vs FRE 106 Report Stats
WBU 67 vs SYD 130 Report Stats
RIC 98 vs STK 72 Report Stats
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Round 23
Fri, 29 AugTimes shown AEST
COL 56 vs HAW 121 Stats
Sat, 30 AugTimes shown AEST
CAR 90 vs ESS 90 Stats
FRE 105 vs PTA 97 Stats
SYD 65 vs RIC 68 Stats
NTH 123 vs MEL 93 Stats
GEE 143 vs BRI 81 Stats
Sun, 31 AugTimes shown AEST
GCF 99 vs WCE 151 Stats
ADE 141 vs STK 62 Stats
WBU 109 vs GWS 115 Stats
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Fri, 05 SepTimes shown AEST
HAW 104 vs GEE 68 Report Stats
Sat, 06 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 93 vs FRE 69 Stats
NTH 93 vs ESS 81 Stats
Sun, 07 SepTimes shown AEST
PTA 132 vs RIC 75 Report Stats
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Fri, 12 SepTimes shown AEST
GEE 92 vs NTH 98 Stats
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FRE 83 vs PTA 105 Stats
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SYD 136 vs NTH 65 Report Stats
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HAW 97 vs PTA 94 Report Stats
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Sat, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
SYD 74 vs HAW 137 Report Stats
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Sydney Swans 22 17 5 0 142.88 68
Hawthorn 22 17 5 0 140.78 68
Geelong Cats 22 17 5 0 113.77 68
Fremantle 22 16 6 0 130.40 64
Port Adelaide 22 14 8 0 129.92 56
North Melbourne 22 14 8 0 117.04 56
Essendon 22 12 9 1 106.34 50
Richmond 22 12 10 0 105.77 48
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