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Don't kill the goose that laid the golden egg

Will attendances suffer as the AFL spreads its tentacles?

Will attendances suffer as the AFL spreads its tentacles? Photo: Vince Caligiuri

It doesn't seem that long ago to some of us that league football was a game played exclusively on Saturday afternoons.

When South Melbourne went to Sydney in 1982, that became Saturdays and every alternate Sunday. A few years later, Friday nights were added to the menu. Later again, Saturday evenings. More recently, Sunday twilight.

I've heard more and more conceding that a Fox Footy subscription might actually prove more valuable than a club membership.  

In 2014, we're also going to see games on Thursday nights. And, as revealed by Fairfax Media on Tuesday, up to three on Sunday evenings. That's AFL football on up to five different days out of seven. Which, even for the diehards among us, seems a bloody lot.

Of course the TV networks drive the scheduling of the AFL fixture, and why wouldn't they? Such is the dearth of quality programming these days that Channel Seven will have to screen only a half-decent AFL match on a Sunday night to guarantee some good ratings.

And that's the problem when it comes to the dangers of the AFL killing the goose that laid the golden egg. That the potential for over-saturation is a longer-term argument that doesn't have an easily obtained set of numbers to back it up.

But that doesn't mean it's not a real concern. And that the AFL's increasing obsession with spreading its tentacles 24/7 across the sporting year doesn't risk turning off a significant section of its overwhelmed public.

It wasn't that long ago the league at least purported to find a balance between catering to live and TV audiences. But with the distinctly un-family friendly scheduling of Sunday twilight and now Sunday evening games, it's clearly given up even pretending. And what exactly are the longer-term ramifications?

Channel Seven has made no secret of attempting to slant its coverage towards the casual viewer more than the diehard fan, which makes plenty of sense for them. Whether it makes as much sense for the game itself is a lot more debatable.

As cricket has discovered to its cost in recent times via an obsession with the T20 brand and dwindling interest across the globe in the more traditional form of the game, casual interest doesn't necessarily translate into a more deep-seated and abiding love of the sport and a commitment to stick through the bad times as well as good.

In the AFL, there have always been enough diehards raised on football culture to keep the turnstiles clicking. But recently, I've begun to notice a change.

While most true footy fans would never swap the magic of actually being there for watching on the box, I've heard more and more conceding that a Fox Footy subscription might actually prove more valuable than a club membership.

With the glut of matches at varying times, to go to a game these days, for all its benefits, means missing out on watching on TV up to three concurrently. Sit in the outer at a dud match and you're stuck there. Flick the remote in the comfort of your lounge room, and you can easily exchange a shocker for a thriller at another venue.

If that trend were to continue, eventually the TV product would be played out in front of sparsely filled grandstands. That doesn't enhance the TV spectacle, all the while the home viewer remaining just another click of the remote control away from a different sport or program altogether.

We've already seen the signs of football fatigue in the prolonged free agency and trade period. Last week, I sent out a speculative tweet asking what sort of football stories people would like to read over the next month or two. A surprising number of people responded: ''None. We need a break.''

Last year, one of the greatest handful of AFL grand finals played between Sydney and Hawthorn was swamped within 48 hours by the start of the free agency period. Even the AFL eventually recognised it needed at least some breathing space, and this year pushed the opening back a week. But the genie had already been well and truly let out of the bottle.

Of course footy fatigue is more likely in October. But the AFL would do well to remember that old line about absence making the heart grow fonder during the season as well. A television network always concerned with the here and now of day-to-day ratings can never be expected to look past its immediate audience share.

But the caretakers of our game have a much more important master to serve, namely making sure a much-loved part of our sporting culture remains that way in our hearts, not just another dime-a-dozen slice of prime-time entertainment.

72 comments so far

  • Rohan, you are asking for management? I am not convinced that is in place at AFL headquarters.

    The Corporation
    Date and time
    October 29, 2013, 2:30PM
    • Rohan makes two good points:
      1) There's too much footy leading to satiation
      2) The scheduling is family unfriendly
      He is 100% correct. Both are correct and both are likely to damage footy's long term loyalties. The problem is that the boat has already sailed.
      There should never have been additional teams set up in Sydney and Brisbane. GWS is struggling to gain any recognition and draw any sort of crowd. The Gold Coast will probably end up eviscerating the Lions. Making up the numbers - these teams are there to create more games for TV,
      Same with the fixture list - game numbers and coverage to get live games at the optimum rating time.
      Ultimately it's self defeating. Cricket has almost killed itself, Rugby is a basket case and League is struggling for meaning. AFL is still the healthiest but for how long.
      So what to do about it that's more useful than whinging?
      Keep telling your club what you like and what you don't like. They are still judged by their membership numbers. Tell the AFL what you want them to do. Don't just carry on here, write, call, go and see them if you can.
      The future is ours to influence.

      Date and time
      October 30, 2013, 1:45AM
    • Bad start to this article. I'm in my 40s and I don't remember a time when footy was exclusively on a Saturday. Even before 1982 we had a game almost every Tuesday night.

      Date and time
      October 30, 2013, 9:30AM
    • I think the AFL's focus on this and a myriad of other issues needs to be almost entirely on what is best for families.

      I don't have kids of my own but the fact is that it is families that support the game in the long-term. It's kids that get passionate and become life-long supporters.

      So decisions re scheduling, whether to allow betting ads, and so on all need to focus on what is best for families. I personally wouldn't think it's best for families to have to let their kids stay up late on a Sunday night to watch their team play football.

      The latte-sippers like me are not the ones who are going to support the game through thick and thin, buy the team jumpers, etc.

      Date and time
      October 30, 2013, 9:47AM
  • I understand that footy is occasionally played on Monday but this article is really confusing. Keeps mentioning 5 out of 7 days but never once mentions Monday. Thursday-Sunday=4 days.

    Date and time
    October 29, 2013, 2:36PM
    • +1. Bit of a beat up. Most rounds will be Friday to Sunday which I enjoy. I do remember fondly Saturday arvo radio..."lets go round the grounds" at a break in play (We've got the close one here Harry...!!)

      Date and time
      October 29, 2013, 3:14PM
    • A seventeen round competition were each teams plays each other once would solve all the problems.

      Date and time
      October 29, 2013, 4:21PM
  • Well Rohan AFL football is steadily bleeding to death for me. Can anyone remember the most boring Grand final in history just gone. The game has been stuffed with the endless rule adjustments, interchange fiasco, TV 'fix'ture and ridiculous money going to players and all the coaches. Not to mention the free trade and interstate teams hadnouts. Certainly wouldn't pay my money to watch it, and you could count on one hand the number of worthwhile games in season 2013.

    Date and time
    October 29, 2013, 2:51PM
    • Well go somewhere else and have a moan. Roger Wilco and OUT!

      In the gut
      Date and time
      October 29, 2013, 4:39PM
    • But how good was the Hawks v Cats prelim the week before?

      if you expect the Grand Final to be a brilliant close game every year then you've got a short memory.

      Date and time
      October 30, 2013, 12:10PM

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