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The final insult

Date

Jake Niall

Illustration: Mick Connolly

Illustration: Mick Connolly

DAVE the CFO is a corporate fat cat. Naturally, he had no trouble getting a ticket to last year's drawn grand final, where he was stuck sitting next to a large and bellicose woman, whose ignorance about the game did not stop her from barracking hard.

Dave is a keen Pie, while the woman, who wore no team colours and seemingly had no allegiance, had adopted the Saints for the day. In the third quarter, as Brendon Goddard and a heroic Lenny Hayes began to turn the match towards the Saints, she tapped Dave on the shoulder.

''Why,'' she asked, ''is there that rectangle coming out of the goals?''

One would like to think that this woman was an isolated instance of someone who has no business attending the grand final, but we all know that there will be thousands of know-nothing theatregoers like her sitting in some kind of corporate or sponsors' seat on Saturday, and that plenty of rusted-on members of each club will be confined to barracks, so to speak, at home.

Many football folk have been conditioned to accept the theatregoer's grand final. They shouldn't.

The allocation of grand final tickets is a stain on the game's soul. It is a travesty that the AFL recognises, but has not made a sufficient priority. It is a moral issue, a test of leadership and a question of core values - does the AFL really care for the people who care most? Andrew Demetriou has made the right noises about the tickets; now he must take strong and decisive action. If he does this, he will distinguish himself from his business-as-usual predecessors.

The grand final replay of last year must become the template for ticket distribution in the future, when the competing clubs were given a far greater share. If the replay was, relatively speaking, a dud game compared with the draw, its atmospherics and crowd mix were vastly superior. Ideally, at least half the 100,000 grand final tickets should go to the clubs involved.

The replay was strikingly similar to what happened in the 2001 Wimbledon final, when rain delays meant that genuine fans were able to watch Pat Rafter and the multiple personalities of Goran Ivansevic. The Wimbledon stands contained genuine electricity and passion.

The fate of the grand final is comparable to inner city gentrification - well-heeled people are attracted to the colour/atmosphere, but by moving in, they erode the very vibrancy that attracted them in the first place. The preliminary finals are said to be ''the best weekend of the finals'' in part because they aren't like the grand final: the real fans get in. Friday night's atmosphere at the MCG proved it.

Note to corporate interlopers - don't go to the game. If you get offered a ticket, give it back to the competing clubs (the black-and-white one is called Collingwood).

As it stands, the fundamental problem is that the grand final is treated as the property of the entire AFL and all of its clubs, when it should be owned mainly by the competing clubs and their members. Too many tickets end up in the wrong hands and I include the Melbourne Cricket Club's members, whose automatic right of entry is an archaic tradition that detracts from the spectacle; surely, some of the MCC area can be given over to fans of the two clubs. The walk-up system is out-moded, as the failure to fill the MCC for the replay last year demonstrated. MCC members should remember that the AFL pays most of the rent, and millions of taxpayer dollars have been invested in their ground; it is not so simple as ''we pay our dues and get into the GF''.

First, though, the AFL has to do something about the three-quarters of the ground that it controls. This can be done by removing tickets from the 16 clubs that aren't competing and handing them to the participating clubs. The notion of Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney - clubs without real supporter bases yet - having access to several hundred or a thousand tickets demonstrates the ludicrous status quo.

Drugs and alcohol are not the only addictions that bedevil football; the clubs are addicted to the revenue they get from scalping grand final tickets.

The new deal for struggling clubs, to be announced by Demetriou tomorrow, is the perfect opportunity to force clubs to go cold turkey. In effect, they can be compensated for the money they lose from the officially sanctioned scalping of grand final tickets. Demetriou has hinted that this will happen. The question is whether this will be a fiddle at the edges or a genuine reform.

Last year, 14,000 or so tickets were handed to the 14 teams that weren't involved. Why can't this number be cut to a few hundred each? Chop out some of the MCC tickets (the AFL members give first dibs to club support members), cut back the ''events packages'' and tickets you can win by turning up at Fed Square et al - and the grand final can be rehabilitated. Once the change is made, the sponsors, clubs, players, etc will be re-conditioned to the new paradigm. The broadcast billions mean there is no longer an excuse for this shabby status quo.

Fix it Andrew.

74 comments

  • I agree. Its down right shameful that the two competing clubs only get to share slightly over a quarter of the seats that the MCG can hold. It doesn't matter which two clubs are playing, but when you have a loyal fan base who make the effort of attending games week in, week out only to get shafted for the big game at the end the situation needs to be looked at.
    I have attended every game I could and entered the ballot last week, however I can look forward to watching the game at home while someone enjoys a seat courtesy through the pox that is corporate tickets.

    Commenter
    Winston Smith
    Date and time
    September 25, 2011, 11:49AM
    • There is a newspaper article or three on this subject every year. Niall nails the issue as well as I can remember anyone doing.

      A solution is to scrap the anti-scalping law. In an open market the desparate would stand a fair chance of getting a ticket. As it is now, the well-heeled look after themselves and don't have to pay all that much for the privilege.

      Commenter
      Nigel McGuinness
      Location
      Alphington
      Date and time
      September 25, 2011, 11:53AM
      • Good luck Jake, but I will not hold my breath waiting for AD to put the fans first!!
        How many tickets do the AFL HQ hand out to their mates??

        Commenter
        John
        Date and time
        September 25, 2011, 11:56AM
        • I agree. The grand final is a farce in the way tickets are distributed. Let the genuine members and supporters get in go see the two best teams fight it out.

          Commenter
          kbe
          Date and time
          September 25, 2011, 12:00PM
          • Hear! Hear! I hope Andrew's reading this!

            Commenter
            George
            Location
            Malaysia
            Date and time
            September 25, 2011, 12:01PM
            • You failed to mention that the MCC members who attend the GF have waited for 25-plus years for the privilege. There are no guests or corporates in the MCC on GF day. If people want to watch the GF from the MCC they should do what every other member has done - put their name on the waiting list.

              Commenter
              Richard
              Location
              St.Kilda
              Date and time
              September 25, 2011, 12:08PM
              • I agree that 45-50% of tickets should go to competing clubs but I disagree that this should come from the MCC. The Reserve is, and should remain, strictly members only on Grand Final day. To compare those in the Reserve, genuine football fans, to corporate and celebrities who don't know the game is ludicrous. I would be cheering hard for Geelong this week, even though I'm a Kangaroo.
                However, I would be in favour of the MCC allocating a percentage (maybe 5000 of the 22,000) to Full members who have previously listed themselves as supporters of the competing clubs. The MCC could even strike a deal with the competing clubs to allow 2000 who are members of both MCC and, for example, Collingwood a seat in the MCC Reserve.

                Commenter
                Luke
                Location
                Warrandyte
                Date and time
                September 25, 2011, 12:16PM
                • Jake, I think that you should do a little research, before commenting about the MCC members giving up some of their seating for the Grand Final. If you had done you would have found out that members pay a large amount of money to become one and if it wasn't for that money you would not have a southern stand, a grand final a cricket season or indeed a stadium. The real problem lies with the AFL allocation to corporates who did not bother to turn up for the replay last year. I and all my family attended both grand finals and paid for the privilege. A journalist has an obligation (check the code of ethics) to tell both sides of the story.

                  Commenter
                  judon
                  Location
                  elwood
                  Date and time
                  September 25, 2011, 12:20PM
                  • @Jake
                    It's all too convenient to whinge when your team is in the final but Collingwood is not going to get its 50,000+ members in. The AFL is to blame.. 100%. They've turned the game into a business and the average punter is not in their sights. The AFL are chasing the corporate $$$. The AFL killed the "original game" where Home and Away season actually had an advantage to the home team.. but the AFL have forced clubs to close most local grounds and share the corporate sponsored stadiums. 30,000 at Victoria Park gave far more atmosphere than 50,000 at the G. Unfortunately, the GF is strictly business. So unless you're in marketing, a corporate sponsor, an AFL or MCC member, the weekend punter will be lucky to get a general admin ticket. I support the notion that only the competing AFL clubs should get access to AFL proportion of reserved tickets as that's the bonus of making it to the GF. The other clubs would support the same notion if their team reached the GF. As clubs strive to get 50,000+ members, inevitably there are going to be members who miss out as the capacity of stadiums will not get much bigger than the G.

                    Commenter
                    AndyRoo
                    Date and time
                    September 25, 2011, 12:28PM
                    • "Stain on the game's soul" Common, Jake, you need to only look a little more carefully: try blatant match fixturing to maximise crowds at the expense of struggling clubs; try outrageous slaps on the hand by the tribunal keen to trivialise violent clashes and minimise games suspended by players; try the cosy arrangement with alcohol companies; try the sickening promotion of gambling this year. Greatest game in the world: YES. Greatest con in professional sport by a peak body: getting there (but a fair way to go on FIFA). The AFL can and should be doing better on ALL the issues mentioned above.

                      Commenter
                      Phil
                      Date and time
                      September 25, 2011, 12:33PM

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