Has the AFL Missed a Chance to Attract New Fans?

Did the AFL miss an opportunity to promote Aussie Rules to an international audience during the ICC World Cup by not starting the season earlier?

The sub question to that one is – should the AFL allow clubs (and to a lesser extent, stadiums) to own certain parts of the fixture?

It could have, for instance, scheduled a game last Friday or Saturday night at Adelaide Oval between the Crows and Power and exposed the game to cricket fans and media from India, South Africa and New Zealand – all representing a demographic of potential converts.

The influence may have been minor, but the expansion, or survival, of a football code is a made up of many small gains over a long period of time: like promotional one-percenters.

I realise other factors were at play, but it also appears the AFL was compromised by allowing Carlton and Richmond to open proceedings at the MCG (arguably the most manufactured of the marquee games: while footy fans are excited about the start of the season, I doubt many neutral supporters are particularly licking their lips about Richmond and Carlton clashes at this point in their standings and rivalry – at least as a season opener).

The AFL has missed similar promotional opportunities in its own backyard before – during Formula 1 races, and at the Commonwealth Games, are a couple that come to mind.

Of course there was the NAB Challenge and before that the NAB Cup – the latter was a little more relevant from a promotional point of view, but even the scheduling of that didn’t have much of an eye to attracting the visiting unconverted.

Some people argue that the AFL already occupies too much of the sporting calendar, but I disagree. Indigenous codes like Aussie Rules, in small population countries like Australia, are particularly vulnerable to long term global influences, sporting and otherwise, and the AFL has no choice but to keep its game in people’s mind, especially in the off season.

The AFL may have been sensitive to public opinion and deliberately backed-off during the World Cup, but meanwhile, soccer and rugby league were going full bore; so, if that was the case it was misguided altruism.

I realise there were issues about stadium availability and that the AFL also probably wanted some clear air to start the year, but I can’t help feeling it let a promotional opportunity slip, seemingly to appease clubs at the expense of the code (not to mention issues of scheduling fairness).

And had the season already started it would have also had the side benefit of depriving the never-ending Essendon saga of a little oxygen.

About Paul Spinks

I have had writing published and performed in various mediums, though not always with the luxury of a deadline. Below are links to some pieces published beyond this great site. https://newmatilda.com/2017/07/30/its-time-for-our-baby-democracy-to-walk/ https://meanjin.com.au/blog/the-elephant-in-the-chamber/ https://overland.org.au/2017/11/australias-workplace-laws-a-narrative-tragedy/ https://newmatilda.com/2019/05/16/the-green-blind-spot-on-australias-expanding-population/ https://www.smh.com.au/sport/tennis/is-ashleigh-barty-the-saviour-australian-tennis-has-been-waiting-for-20200108-p53prl.html https://spinksytravelworld.com/pirate-of-padstow/ https://overland.org.au/2020/10/the-slow-death-of-a-public-institution/ https://overland.org.au/previous-issues/false-documents/fiction-paul-spinks/

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