Richmond v Carlton - traditionally an MCG blockbuster. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
RICHMOND and Carlton have flatly rejected an offer from the AFL to host their traditional season-opener at Etihad Stadium next year - a move that would be necessary if the season was to start a week early to accommodate the players' request for two byes.
The AFL hopes to shift the clash from the MCG to the Docklands to cater for an earlier start to the season and with the MCG still required for cricket.
But both clubs said thousands of their fans would be left out in the cold.
The regular start to the 2013 season falls at Easter and AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou said yesterday opening on that weekend was far from desirable and the league preferred to split the first round over two weekends.
''We don't play on Good Friday, so what we might do is start a week earlier next year, which would allow us the opportunity to go to two byes,'' he said.
''We are looking at a scenario where you could probably start the season with our three main games at Etihad Stadium, because the MCG is unavailable, so that's in the thinking at the moment.''
The league has tried and failed to strike a deal with Cricket Australia to use the MCG a week earlier, as that clashes with the Sheffield Shield final, Demetriou said.
''We could have some cracking games on the Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights at Etihad Stadium, some traditional games, maybe even the Richmond-Carlton game,'' he said.
But the Blues and Tigers were far from impressed yesterday. Etihad's crowd capacity of just over 53,000 is about half that of the MCG, meaning thousands of Richmond and Carlton fans would be unable to attend.
''The round one fixture between Carlton and Richmond has attracted an average attendance of almost 75,000 over the past six seasons,'' Tigers chief executive Brendon Gale said.
''To switch one of the largest-drawing fixtures of the season to Etihad would mean an enormous number of Richmond and Carlton fans would not be able to attend the match, and that would be totally unacceptable to the club and our members and fans.
''It's a game both clubs have worked hard to develop and a game that supporters of both club's embrace, and the MCG is where it should be played."
Carlton chief executive Greg Swann agrees, saying Etihad is simply ''not an option''.
The MCC refused to weigh into the debate. Chief executive Stephen Gough said he would not intervene should the AFL schedule a season-opening game at Etihad.
Conceding that Richmond and Carlton would probably be ''disappointed'' at being forced to shut out fans, Gough said: ''We've got no say in the fixture. We have a contract with the AFL that we get 10 of the 12 best games, and at the moment we get something like the best 25, so we have no issue.
''It's up to them if they want to play Carlton-Richmond or Collingwood-Essendon at Etihad. We can't complain, but obviously those clubs would suffer a shortfall in revenue as a result unless the AFL had some plan for compensation.''
Gough reiterated that the current agreement was cricket and football shared the MCG on the basis of six months each, with cricket allowing the AFL to start its season one week earlier than contracted. To bring the season forward even earlier, cricket would have to agree.
''It's not our decision,'' he said. ''We often don't know until early March whether or not we need the ground to host the shield final.''