Relegation and Promotion in the AFL
Promotion and relegation have always been a part of the English Premier League, and now we're introducing it to the AFL.
Could Relegation and Promotion Work in the AFL?
With the new AFL season just around the corner, there is already growing speculation regarding new rule changes and innovations, including a proposed wildcard round and mid-season trade window being introduced as early as next year.
It seems as if there is no sporting league in the world that changes their rules as much as the AFL does. In the last few years we’ve had the green-vested substitute rule come in - then get taken away just as quickly, the bounce recalled if the ball sails out of the centre circle, and the tribunal system completely overhauled. And that’s just the beginning, with two new clubs, preseason trial rules and wacky gimmicks such as AFLX constantly keeping footy in the news during the offseason.
While this gives local sports radio and a certain tabloid newspaper something to talk about, most fans just want the real season to begin so they can hopefully cheer on their team to victory.
It’s no secret that the AFL wants to expand their game internationally, but maybe they should adopt a few international concepts first, including a relegation and promotion system.
A chance for Tasmanian Footy
There are growing calls for an AFL team in Tasmania, but the league continues to ignore this and tries to keep the piece by sending Hawthorn and North Melbourne to host a few home games every season in the Apple Isle.
The Gold Coast Suns were introduced to the league in 2011 and still struggle to attract a crowd over 15,000 for their home games. And when they do, their fans are usually outnumbered by the opposition. This is a point which is constantly brought up by Tasmanian supporters, as they are a traditional football state who believe they are being neglected.
So why not give them, along with every other state in the country a chance to play in the AFL?
Relegation and promotion has long been a part of professional soccer throughout the whole world, and has been a successful feature of the English game since the 1880s. More often than not, the English Premier League relegation battle is more exciting than the title race, as the three bottom teams are demoted to the second tier (known as the Championship), with three teams coming up. The traditional pitch invasion for promoted teams is also a great highlight:
So how could this work in the AFL? Here is our solution
The champions from every state league (eg: VFL, SANFL, Tasmanian Football League) would enter a knockout competition at the end of the season, and for the purposes of this proposal, we’ll call it the ‘Promotion Playoffs’. If an AFL affiliated team/reserve team wins their state competition (eg: Geelong in the VFL), they will not be eligible for the Promotion Playoffs.
The teams would face off over the course of a few weekends, with the last two clubs standing meeting in the final. But the winner of this final does not automatically gain entry into the AFL, as they will face one last, extremely difficult obstacle.
The Promotion Playoff Final
Now here is where we give the AFL a major safeguard to agree to this idea, because the final team standing from the state leagues will then face the bottom placed AFL team from that season. The winner of this ‘Promotion Playoff Final’ is then granted a spot in the AFL.
While the team who finishes last in the AFL (the wooden spooners) would be highly favoured to defeat the best team from the state leagues, the prospect of this winner-takes-all match up would be must see TV, as the future of a whole club is at stake.
Brisbane Lions finished on the bottom of the ladder last year, while traditional powerhouse clubs Essendon and Carlton took the wooden spoon in 2016 and 2015 respectively. Imagine the hype surrounding their fight to stay in the AFL! This also lessens the likelihood of the AFL losing their biggest clubs.
Traditional state heavyweights such as Port Melbourne in the VFL or Glenelg in the SANFL would relish an opportunity to feature in a match like this, and even if they did not win, the exposure and sponsorship opportunities would be highly attractive. This would then lead to state league teams having more resources and more appeal to recruit recently delisted AFL players looking for a second chance, and could make the game stronger at a grassroots level.
Benefits of Relegation and Promotion for the AFL
Another reason why the AFL should consider this concept is the revenue the Promotion Playoff Final would generate from tickets and TV ratings.
Although the state league seasons would have to begin earlier than usual, the league could time their scheduling to play this game on the Friday night before the AFL Grand Final. This would not only be a great trial for the idea of a night Grand Final, but it would also be an easy sell to an audience already preparing for the biggest day of the footy year.
As the MCG would be off-limits the night before Grand Final day, the game could be played in the home state of the non-AFL team involved, with Etihad Stadium used if it is a VFL team.
If anything, it’s a chance to grow the game at a community level while bringing in more ratings and hence more money during Grand Final week. Some fans might claim that it is just another AFL gimmick, but they will still tune in to watch.
And if somehow, a big time AFL club was to be relegated to their state league, we believe the scenes would be reminiscent of when a Premier League club faces the dreaded drop to the lower leagues, including people of all ages shedding a tear, as seen at Sunderland last season:
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