A whopping 73 per cent of fans want the AFL grand final to remain an afternoon affair, with 21 per cent in favour of a twilight event. And almost half of fans support the introduction of a Tasmanian team, but only if it means no other teams are forced to relocate or merge.
The annual AFL Fans Association survey, released exclusively in The Age, said retaining the traditional Saturday afternoon timeslot for the sport’s showpiece event was a priority.
Win, lose or draw, the majority of AFL fans are still in favour of a day grand final.Credit:Getty Images
The grand final was held in the evening during the pandemic-impacted years of 2020 and 2021, with Richmond defeating Geelong in Brisbane, and Melbourne crushing the Western Bulldogs in Perth. There was debate that it would become a twilight event at the MCG last year, but the AFL retained the 2.30pm opening bounce.
AFLFA president Ron Issko said fans wanted a family-friendly time.
“All those polls – when do you want the grand final – 2.30pm keeps coming up, the tradition, taking kids, then being able to celebrate afterwards and not coming home at a ridiculous hour,” Issko said.
“If you have a twilight or night time, it’s going to be that much harder afterwards. But broadcasters prefer twilight, so we have a little bit of a conflict there. It’s not easy for the AFL to balance that, but if the majority of fans say 2.30pm, then you have to go with 2.30pm. If it was 50-50, then it would be a different story.”
Host broadcaster Seven remains keen for a night grand final, pointing to a slump in television and streaming ratings in last season’s one-sided clash between Geelong and Sydney. There is also an argument pre-match and half-time entertainment will be more spectacular at night, and revenue from advertising will be greater.
Melbourne supporter Jan Sampson, who participated in the survey, told The Age tradition was important.
“I am a traditionalist when it comes to the grand final. I love the nostalgia that surrounds a day grand final. The important part for me is the game itself not the spectacle that surrounds it or the TV audience that is enhanced and increased but holding the grand final at twilight or at night,” Sampson said.
Ticket allocation for the grand final also remains a point of consternation, with fans wanting each club to have more than 17,000 tickets available to club members. The AFL last year froze entry-level tickets for the grand final for a fourth consecutive year at $185.
“Ninety-two per cent of fans support more than the current 34,000 tickets allocated to competing club members for the grand final. Qualitative comments from fans recognise the importance of sponsors and revenue but believe the allocation needs to be increased given the importance of fans to the competition,” the survey said.
“Fans also question the proportion allocated to MCC members, noting it is a national game.”
Issko insists there is a way to generate more tickets for club members.
“In the spirit of sitting down and discussing fan issues, let’s sit down and discuss that old chestnut of more tickets for competing club members … I am sure it is possible,” he said.
Fans remain opposed to a floating fixture, as used in the pandemic-impacted seasons. The AFL has rolled that back to a degree this season, confirming only the opening 15 rounds of the season.
“Fans want to book now and get cheaper fares and accommodation, but they can’t do it,” Issko said.
“If you are a Melbourne fan and want to travel to Alice Springs, is it a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night? How many days off do I take from work? I have to let work know. And if I have to book four weeks beforehand, the prices are going to be much higher than they are now.”
The AFL insisted it had listened to fans.
“The AFL continues to listen to fans on a number of grievances that they have previously faced,” an AFL spokesman said.
“We brought back certainty through the fixture, releasing the first 15 rounds in full.
“We have maintained pricing with a price freeze on general admission for the fifth year in a row in Victoria. Additionally, following a successful trial in 2022, the family ticket, consisting of two adults and two children has been reduced to $54, normally $64, and available at all home and away season games at both the MCG and Marvel Stadium.
“We brought back the option of mobile/digital or physical membership cards to give members choice on how they access the footy.”
Sampson said she and her family followed the Demons around the country.
Jan Sampson (centre) with her auntie Nola Gray (left), mother Irene Lang and teenage son Cooper. They’re all members of the Demon army, and Jan took part in the AFL Fans Association survey.Credit:Penny Stephens
“We are a family that does like to travel interstate to support our team. The floating fixture of the past few seasons and the continued ‘TBC’ for the second half of the season does make it difficult to plan ahead and take advantage of flight sales,” Sampson said.
The survey said: “Fans were told this was a temporary measure during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it now exists due to broadcasting considerations. Some fans want to see a full fixture to determine if it is worthwhile buying a membership, others need to plan well in advance to attend games and a floating fixture makes this difficult and more expensive.”
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan is still working towards awarding a 19th licence to Tasmania to join the league, but the major issue continues to be funding for a new $741 million stadium in Hobart. The AFL has confirmed it would invest about $360 million over a decade into a 19th team if funds from the federal government for the stadium at Macquarie Point are secured.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed that the Tasmanian government’s formal proposal was being considered in the lead-up to the May budget and the business case was being considered as part of a broader urban redevelopment process for Macquarie Point.
AFL chief Gillon McLachlan has much to work through – including a potential Tasmanian licence – before he leaves the top job. Credit:Alastair Bett
“The AFLFA welcomes the announcement by the AFL to spend $360 million on a Tasmanian team and is hopeful stadium funding will be secured to enable the 19th AFL licence to be provided to a Tasmanian team. Ninety-one per cent of fans are in favour of a Tasmanian team but only 47 per cent are supportive if that results in no existing clubs merging or relocating,” the survey said.
The AFL is conscious of cost-of-living pressures, having frozen the price of general admission at the MCG and Marvel Stadium this season. Adults are $27, concession $18 and children $5. But fans outside of Victoria have seating issues, particularly those in Perth where there are no general admission tickets available at Optus Stadium for West Coast and Fremantle games – only reserved seating.
West Coast’s cheapest general public reserved seats are $57, rising to $101 for the most expensive. Fremantle’s cheapest general public reserved seat is $38.
“With cost-of-living pressures rising since the 2021 survey, affordability is becoming increasingly important. There is a desire for uniform pricing and a view that attending matches is more affordable in Victoria. A concern about the Victorian-centricity of the AFL remains a common issue particularly in relation to the fairness of scheduling and location of the grand final,” the survey found.
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