Fans fail to show for pre-season
Lions supporters among the sparse crowd cheer as Jonathan Brown and Daniel Rich take a lap around Etihad Stadium to acknowledge their support. Photo: Getty Images
Not only a less lucrative title in prizemoney terms, the AFL's 2013 pre-season grand final drew the worst crowd to the event in nearly three decades.
Though the league defended the popularity of the NAB Cup after Brisbane Lions defeated Carlton - highlighting that television ratings were up on last year - an attendance of 24,884 at Etihad Stadium on Friday night was nearly half the crowd that was at the same venue to watch the same clubs in 2007.
There has not been such a low attendance to a pre-season grand final since 1986 when 19,627 people attended Waverley Park to watch Hawthorn beat Carlton. Since 1977, only two other crowds have been poorer - 24,812 in 1985 and 20,028 in 1982.
While NAB Cup grand final crowds have fallen since the most recent highpoint of 50,533 were at Etihad to see St Kilda beat Geelong in 2004, attendances exceeded 40,000 in 2011 and 2010, albeit with two Victorian clubs duelling.
The highest crowd on record for a pre-season grand final was 75,533, for a match in 1993 between Essendon, eventual home-and-away premier that year, and Richmond at Waverley. Also, 74,786 witnessed Hawthorn beat Port Adelaide in 1999 at the last pre-season grand final Waverley hosted.
That NAB Cup matches are not included in club memberships - meaning Carlton and Brisbane members had to pay to attend on Friday night, where AFL members did not - is clearly a factor for fans.
The cheapest general admission ticket for Friday's night grand final was $26, the cheapest for a child was $5, while the cheapest family deal was $52.
''The NAB Cup continues to be a popular pre-season competition with fans and clubs, particularly as many games are played in regional centres where local communities get to see their AFL teams play live,'' said AFL corporate affairs boss James Tonkin.
''We were expecting a crowd of around 25,000 given an interstate club was playing, so were pleased with the attendance and also the TV audience, which was up on last year.
''The Gabba was not available to host the game in Brisbane, hence the decision to play the match at Etihad Stadium. A match at Metricon - not the Lions' home ground - was expected to draw a crowd of around 5000-10,000 people.''
The opening night of this year's NAB Cup competition involving Essendon, the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood in a triangular competition at Etihad Stadium drew more than the grand final, with 26,921 attending on a Friday night.
''Based on recent years, the NAB Cup crowds were largely what we expected,'' Etihad Stadium's communications manager Bill Lane said.
The keenly anticipated first bout between Carlton and Collingwood since Mick Malthouse became Blues coach clearly would have drawn a healthier audience than a match involving Brisbane, which pocketed $142,000. Carlton won $40,000 as runner-up.
In 2008 the prize for the pre-season premier was $350,000 and $160,000 for second.