It is true that the AFL has moved a long way from its suburban roots. Gone are the days when the most stringent away expedition for players and fans alike was the trip to Kardinia Park to take on the Cats. Nowadays, players are travelling interstate on a weekly basis and are more acquainted with aeroplane food than those of yesteryear were of the Werribee fish and chips that they used to devour on the way home from Corio Bay.
An analysis of each of the fixtures and accompanying pricing categories of each of the nine Melbourne teams shows that not only are teams playing less games in Victoria than they used to, but that the price of going to the footy can vary greatly depending on which team you support.
As this table shows, the days of the 12-team VFL competition, where each team was Victorian, are long gone and Melbourne-based fans are seeing their teams play less than ever before. Whilst in the 1970s, a Hawthorn supporter could follow ‘Kennedy’s Commandos’ for 22 Saturdays, they are now only able to gorge on the delicious Cyril Rioli and his teammates 13 times without leaving the state. This is the equal lowest figure and is due to the fact that Hawthorn (as well as North Melbourne) play four home matches (the Kangaroos play three) in Tasmania.
What is also apparent is that the fortunes of your team now have a direct correlation to the amount of money you are to hand over and the amount of value which you receive for your membership. Given that the new variable pricing structure requires fans to book a seat for ‘A Reserve’ and ‘B Reserve’ matches and strongly encourages them to do so for ‘A’ matches, the table displays the extra costs involved in purchasing these reserved seats on top of the general admission, home and away club membership.
Given Melbourne’s recent record, it would not surprise many to see that their effective price per game is the lowest of the nine clubs. What may surprise some people though, is that Essendon, a club who has not won a final since 2004 (compared to the Demons’ most recent in 2006) has the highest effective price per game, which at $28.50 is just over 47% higher than that of Melbourne’s.
Admittedly, the new variable pricing structure is not necessarily based around quality of football. If that were the case, the model would be a bit more dynamic and games would not be categorised two months before the season starts. The various categories are allocated based on the historical attendances for each game. Essendon, for example, is continually fixed to play Collingwood on ANZAC Day, which traditionally draws a crowd a 90,000 or more. They also feature in the ‘Dreamtime’ game against Richmond, which attracts over 75,000. In their first five Melbourne-based games in 2014, Essendon has played to a total of 276,997 (55,399 average, ANZAC Day included), whereas the Demons have played to a total of 133,308 (26,661 average).
What the table clearly demonstrates is that a club membership can still provide very good value if a member is able to attend all Melbourne-based matches. Although the analysis takes into account the token ‘membership pack’ that each member receives, value can also be gained through voting rights, early access to tickets, club recognition and placement in a ballot for Grand Final tickets. When you throw in the intangible feeling of being a member and not a supporter, there is a lot that a club can draw upon to get you to sign up.
The challenge for clubs lies in the historical attitude of supporters which have been taught in previous years to pay early for the membership to avoid later costs. An Essendon member who pays $290 in November will end up having paid $484 by the end of August if they wish to attend every game based on the new reserved seating requirements. Whilst that still works out to be a good deal, it does not necessarily appear that way when one is constantly trying to recall their Ticketmaster or Ticketek user name and password.