The AFL Should Leave the Grand Final Alone
The AFL season has only just started but there is already talk surrounding this year's Grand Final and its start time.
Why the AFL Should Stick With a Day Grand Final
The AFL season has only just started, but already, there has been a heavy focus on this year’s Grand Final, and more specifically, the annual and ever-growing debate surrounding the time slot of that one ‘day’ in September.
While 17 teams have spent their entire summer trying to formulate a game plan to catch last season’s surprise packet Richmond, the probability of a night Grand Final appears to be increasing.
It is no secret that the AFL is unforgiving in its chase for more revenue, and more exposure in non-traditional footy markets such as New South Wales and Queensland, and there is a belief that moving the Grand Final from Saturday afternoon to Saturday night, or evening, will attract higher ratings.
Call me old fashioned, but for just this once, the AFL should honour some of our game’s traditions, and stick with a day Grand Final. While the league continues to search for new places to grow its brand, sometimes you have to look after your own backyard first. Below are some important reasons why the best day of the year should remain untouched.
Although the AFL might suggest otherwise, sometimes it is fine and actually beneficial to respect and honour tradition. The AFL Grand Final has always been held on a Saturday afternoon, and footy fans from all over the country have embraced this. Whether they are one of 100,000 people packed into the MCG or are watching the game on TV, the last Saturday in September is sacred for every Aussie Rules supporter.
The Grand Final Breakfast, pre-match entertainment and spine-tingling roar of the crowd after the Australian national anthem are some of the most unique traditions in world sport, and simply do not need to be tampered with. Not to mention the half time kick-to-kick taking place at thousands of Grand Final Day BBQs across Australia.
Along with Grand Final traditions, the Saturday afternoon time slot also holds a special place in AFL/VFL history, as it was historically the traditional time when most games were played. In 1990, the first year that the VFL was known as the AFL, five of the seven Round 1 games were played on a Saturday afternoon. We are now accustomed to Thursday night, Friday Night, Saturday twilight, Saturday night and three separate Sunday time slots in today’s game, but that does not mean the Grand Final has to follow suit.
The Players and Fans
The AFL may not know this, but the two most important groups of stakeholders in Aussie Rules are the fans, and the players. Without either of these, the game cannot function.
On top of having to train and get ready for what is probably the biggest game of their lives, the participating players have an enormous amount of commitments during Grand Final week, including after the game. There’s open training sessions, press conferences, breakfasts, tv, radio and newspaper interviews and Friday’s Grand Final parade, and the commitments do not stop once the game has ended.
Win or lose, both Grand Final teams have a post-match dinner function with family, friends, sponsors and certain supporters. If the Grand Final is moved to an evening or night game, this function will then be moved to the following day, instead of giving the players a Sunday to let loose and celebrate, or commiserate Saturday’s result.
Players often talk about butterflies and anxiousness leading up to the Grand Final, and most likely do not need an extra five hours of this with a 7:30pm (AEST) start time as opposed to the current 2:30pm start.
On top of the players’ Grand Final commitments, supporters of both participating clubs and footy fans in general all have their own duties to fulfil on Grand Final day. Whether it’s sorting out their mode of transport to the game, accomodation for interstate fans, or hosting a party at their house, moving the game to a later start time would be an inconvenience for many fans, and also means people will be drinking for longer. A problem that the police and pubs will have to deal with, not the AFL.
It is ‘Aussie’ Rules Football
Go anywhere in the world and show a local person some AFL highlights, they are truly amazed by our game. It’s unlike any other sport in the world, and it should stay that way. Yes the Super Bowl is played at night and it is an amazing spectacle and the Champions League Final also is held at night, but so is every Champions League game - sticking to the traditions of the competition - so why change this wonderful AFL tradition for a few more dollars?
The AFL continues to try and take the game global and while this may have some benefits, they need to accept that it is Australia’s game (apart from NSW and QLD really), and what makes this game so great is that we, as a country get the opportunity to all contribute in our own special way.
Australian Formula One star and keen footy fan Daniel Ricciardo recently threw his support behind a night Grand Final claiming it would make for a better spectacle under lights, but his perspective is coming from a sport which is European-centric and runs on international TV money.
While it would be foolish to deny that some international sporting ideas such as relegation and promotion are worth considering, the local audience is the most important when it comes to Aussie Rules football. Sport in major markets such as Europe and North America may be better suited to holding their showpiece events at night to attract more viewers, but in Australia, switching the Grand Final from afternoon to night time will barely make a difference.
Another idea being floated is extending the half time break to allow time for an extravagant Super Bowl-esque half time entertainment show. Again, it works in America, because their version of football is a stop-start game with little momentum. Aussie Rules footy is the complete opposite, and momentum is crucial in the modern game, so please Gill, if it aint broke, don’t fix it. Plus, we already love the famous half time sprint!
To remind everyone how good a Saturday afternoon Grand Final looks, take a look at the below video from last year’s decider, mixed in with radio commentary from the losing team’s perspective… “Good bloody night”.
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