Increasing the margin

If the AFL’s Round 1 was as thrilling as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, than Round 2 was as sad as James Cameron’s Titanic (the part where Kate Winslet decides to let Leo die even though there was clearly enough space for two)

I am of course referring to both the moving tribute to the late John McCarthy, and the displeasing and disappointing performance by the Melbourne Football Club.

Essendon’s 24 goal victory over the Demons became Melbourne’s heaviest defeat at the MCG, spanning 116 years and over 1100 games. The final margin was the 20th largest in history, and the first time the margin of 148 has been ever recorded. For Melbourne, it was their second loss in as many weeks, and is likely to foreshadow yet another unsuccessful season ahead for the struggling club.

No football fan would have enjoyed that game, showing once again, the alarming differences between the top and bottom teams. This very notion of a ‘non-competitive balance‘, where results are predictable and teams get romped every weekend, gives The Boss many sleepless nights. A highly competitive league is essential for fan support, sponsorship and basically everything. That is why the Salary Cap and National Draft Priorities were introduced to even out the competition in 1987 and 1993 respectively. (Another graph on that later)

However, in 2012 the league recorded their lowest average attendance figures since 1996, a dangerous sign of the unhealthy state of competition. Many factors can contribute to this, including the introduction of GWS and the Gold Coast, as well as the premiership performance of the ‘Big Four’ Melbourne teams. Yet, the disparity of the league still remains an issue.

So I asked myself the question, how does today’s competition compare to previous eras in terms of close games and winning margins. Here is my findings…


You’ll notice here the likelyhood of a draw has decreased since the history of the VFL, as the average margin recorded from all games has increased. However, it is important to note that the average game score has also increased, diluting these figures.

At another time I would like to focus on the smaller picture – by analyzing the last 20-30 years of competition, to plot the direct effects of those competition stabilizers mentioned previously.

But for now, let’s all hope for a more competitive season ahead, and that this grim beginning is saved by a happy ending. Roll credits.

RIP J-Mac,


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About Jake "Cobba" Stevens

Cobba Stevens works in sports social media and content. A keen middle-distance runner in both the ammos and the pros, he's also one of the youngest 'old bloods' supporters in Melbourne.


  1. Nice infographic.
    I think the key point in this is that there is a trend toward disparity in the results. You have highlighted the increased in average game score as an indicator to increased game margins (and the reduction in draws).
    While that is a factor, increased scoring power is not really a driver in increased margins.

    If you look at the charts here, you can see (as you found) the average game score has increased by about 10 points since the 30’s, but the margins have BALLOONED from the mid 70’s onward.

    My analysis considers financial disparity as they key influence to increased margins and blow-outs. Initially in player payments (pre salary cap / draft), and later in off field spends.

    There is also a table of performance of teams from 2000-2009, arguably the most competitive and even decade of football in VFL/AFL history. Reasons for this? Well, the draft and Salary cap for sure, but also the financial guarantees provided by the AFL to all clubs. It could also be argued to have been a decade before the off field spends went wild (with sports scientists, trips to Arizona, etc).

    To get a fair, balanced competition, spending controls (and fixture / exposure balancing… see this need attention from the AFL.
    And it needs to happen now.

    Apologies if I hijacked your piece… love seeing analysis and quality graphical info.

  2. Jake "Cobba" Stevens says

    Nah well done mate, great analysis. A pretty simple graph given the time restrictions on the piece. At some other point I’d definately like to look into the issue further.
    I think its pretty clear that I’m not the only one to have pondered this issue – Heck, people get paid bucketloads for this kind of research.

    Great information mate! – Great blog too!


  3. Mark Duffett says

    I don’t have precise data handy, but having calculated them for well over a decade now (for the Monash Uni tipping comp) I can confirm that the standard deviation of winning margins has increased appreciably in recent years.

  4. Clever stuff Cobba. You don’t have an Uncle Gigs do you?

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