Carlton Set to Deliver Prime Time Footy Train Wreck

We've found the solution to give footy fans a much better line-up of Friday night games - a floating fixture.

We’re barely a month into the AFL season, but the decision to thrust a rebuilding Carlton side into four Friday night games this year, on top of the now-traditional season opening Thursday night clash against Richmond, must be questioned.

Despite coach Brendon Bolton constantly reminding the footy world of the Blues’ “green shoots”, his side only managed to win six games in 2017 (only one more than bottom-placed Gold Coast Suns), losing nine of their last ten. On top of their poor record, Carlton failed to kick a score of 100+ points throughout the entire season, playing a defensive, and often ugly, brand of footy. So when the AFL released the 2018 fixture, it was a shock to learn that they were gifted so many prime time games.

Every coach in the AFL has their own system and beliefs, so we’re not going to tell ‘Bolts’ how to manage his team, but after a low-scoring, low-finishing 2017, and a dismal start to 2018, Carlton do not deserve to feature in so many coveted Friday night fixtures.

We know the AFL can’t predict how a team will fare when they finalise their fixture shortly after Grand Final day, but we do have a proven, modern day solution to preventing poorly performing teams from stealing the Friday night spotlight... a floating fixture.

 

Floating Fixtures in England and Spain

While we love the fact that footy is “our” game and is so uniquely Australian, the AFL continues to try and grow the game overseas, holding regular season games in China and New Zealand, and inventing an entire new concept - AFLX - in the hope that it will grow the game worldwide (good luck with that).

But if the AFL are so keen to expand globally, they should emulate the fixturing methods of the English Premier League, the most watched sports league in the world.

In the EPL, the season runs for just under nine months, and apart from the first two months of the season, the league operates on a floating fixture. This means that the games for every round/weekend of the season are known when the original fixture is released, but the actual day and kick off time of each game (apart from the first two months) is not finalised until six to eight weeks prior to that round.

UK network Sky Sports, the primary broadcaster of the EPL, have a major input in determining kick off times and dates, while every club’s schedule (particularly if they have Champions League commitments) is also considered. It goes without saying that Sky Sports make their choices to boost TV ratings, but this results in better games being played in fan-friendly time slots, and regular “super Sunday” double headers featuring the best performing clubs.

We understand that the EPL is a 38 round season which allows more flexibility in their fixture, but if it’s good enough for the most popular league in the world, it should be good enough for the AFL.

Over in Spain, La Liga uses an even more flexible approach than the EPL when it comes to their 38 round schedule, as kick off times and dates are not determined until two to three weeks prior to each round.

Barcelona vs Real Madrid, arguably the biggest club game in world soccer will take place on Sunday May 6th (Spanish time), but La Liga did not finalise this and notify the clubs, fans and broadcasters until April 18th. Sounds like a logistical nightmare, but it always seems to work out for all concerned.

 

How the AFL’s Floating Fixture Could Work

We’re not suggesting that the AFL should follow Spain’s super-relaxed style of fixturing, but the game, and the fans would benefit from a more flexible approach, particularly when it comes to prime time footy on free to air TV.

Throughout almost every round of the 2018 season, only three games are broadcast on free to air TV each weekend, while every game is available on Foxtel. The AFL are earning $418 million per year from the current broadcast deal, so why not maximise ratings and give the fans a strong Friday night game every round?

The AFL should take a leaf out of the EPL’s book and release every round of the season as a floating fixture, apart from the opening eight weeks.

Then after Round 4, they could finalise the dates and times for Rounds 9-12, and repeat this process after Round 8 for games played from Round 13 through to Round 16. This process would again be repeated until the end of the regular season.

This provides the clubs with enough time to work out their logistical planning, and gives the AFL a better chance of serving fans an appealing Friday night game every week. It might even help the broadcast holders sell a few more ads.

If Carlton and the Western Bulldogs are both in poor form, then their game is probably better suited to an afternoon time slot rather than a Friday night, while a surprise packet (such as Richmond in 2017) could help attract more viewers.

From Round 1 through to Round 8, the AFL could schedule teams who performed well the previous year, along with some rivalry games to ensure that the opening two months of the season (which are not floating) are viewer-friendly.

 

Echo Charlie’s AFL 2019 Floating Fixture Plan

Games CoveredFinalised Dates and Start Time Announcement
Round 1 - Round 8October 2018
Round 9 - Round 12Immediately following Round 4
Round 13 - Round 16Immediately following Round 8
Round 17 - Round 20Immediately following Round 12
Round 21 - Round 23 (Last Round of Season)Immediately following Round 16

 

The AFL Already Has a Floating Fixture

That’s right, the AFL already know how to operate on a floating fixture, as Round 23 - the final round of the regular season - is not finalised until after Round 19. This sets up a strong finish to the season where meaningful games that impact the finals are given an appropriate time slot.

If the AFL and its clubs can mange this on one month’s notice for Round 23, then they have no real reason not to consider a floating fixture for the entire season. This will prevent struggling sides such as Carlton from receiving an undeserved amount of prime time games, and will most likely attract higher ratings.

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