Taking equalisation one step further

by Andrew Gigacz

News that the AFL is looking at fixturing as a means of helping the equalisation of clubs, as reported by Jake Niall in last Friday’s Age, is most welcome. For too long the league’s “poorer” clubs have suffered at the hands of being fixtured in dead timeslots, against teams with lower drawing power, and buried on pay TV, a killer for fans who don’t have Foxtel, especially when their team is playing outside Victoria.

But I’d like to see the AFL go even further. Reports indicate that the AFL is neither willing to touch the Anzac Day blockbuster nor tinker with the twice-yearly meetings of the “big three”, Carlton, Collingwood and Essendon.

In the short term this undoubtedly makes financial sense. However, it also perpetuates, somewhat artificially, the rivalry between these clubs. The fact is that they don’t really need such assistance. Their supporter bases are so strong that they could play against anyone, anywhere, at anytime and fill the stands.

Why not take a step back and look at making the footy schedule less of a “fixture” and more of a “draw”? Imagine if the AFL came out and said, “right, these are our limitations: sides can’t travel interstate more than two weeks in a row, sides must not play more than two games within X days, the minimum break must be Y days and each capital city that has more than one team must have at least one game per week. With those restrictions only in place, we will use our software to generate a random draw for the 2012 season.”

Of course that’s a very simplistic approach. Other factors will have to be taken into account. But let’s keep them to only those that are absolutely necessary. What if Collingwood and Essendon were to meet only once in a season? Rather than dilute the occasion, this would heighten the anticipation, especially if both clubs are strong on the field at the time. (This very logic was used by the AFL themselves when they scheduled 2009 grand finalists Geelong and St Kilda to meet only once in 2010.)

And what if the computer threw up a meeting of Collingwood and Geelong at Skilled Stadium? Sure, not everyone would get in, but with all games being shown live from 2012, it means fans won’t miss out. And again, imagine the anticipation; Collingwood has not played at Kardinia Park since 1999. Fans would be very keen to see how the Magpies would fair at Geelong, especially if the Cats’ unbeaten home run was still intact.

Allowing such random variability into the draw could also have other welcome side-effects, such as the development of new rivalries. In a way this is already happening to some extent. Sydney and West Coast have played so many close games over the past few seasons that there’s a sense of excitement every time they meet. The AFL should assist with the fostering of such organically generated rivalries, rather than trying to artificially heighten those that already exist. Make the AFL’s marketing department work a little harder. They do a great job with Anzac Day but let’s face it, that game sells itself.

By biting the bullet and being prepared to allow other combinations of teams to come together on Anzac Day at the MCG, sure, the AFL will suffer a short term loss. But the long-term benefits are likely to be great. With more public exposure the clubs with a smaller supporter base will have a chance to build on it. By all means they will have to work hard to exploit such an opportunity, and so they should. But without having that opportunity at all, these clubs will be permanently consigned to small numbers and having to rely on financial equalisation.

Another benefit the AFL would glean from a more “random” approach such as this one would be to demonstrate transparency to the fans of the game. If the AFL could come out and say “these are the constraints we need to work with, these are the fixtures that are set in stone” (even if one of those has to be Collingwood and Essendon on Anzac Day), they could perhaps even allow the software-generation of the draw to be done publicly (although as someone with an IT background, I know that can be fraught with danger).

How about it Andrew? The AFL is in a financially sound position. How about rolling the computer-generated dice and letting fans everywhere see what happens?

Giga-note: this piece was submitted to the Age for consideration but rejected. Hence the more ‘formal’ tone compared to my usual prattle.

About Andrew Gigacz

Well, here we are. The Bulldogs have won a flag. What do I do now?


  1. As ‘Septic Bladder’ says of FIFA we are all one big happy family, Gigs.

    Once the Atheanian patriach has spoken for the AFL family we must accept his wise ways. What would you know. You are only a loyal, grass roots, scholar of the game. He’s on the big money.

  2. Clearisghted says

    You speak with great good sense and fairness. The AFL will never go for it.

  3. Dave Nadel says

    The guaranteed two games a year between Collingwood,Essendon and Carlton, while a financial bonanza are not always in the interests of the three clubs. In 1999 and 2000 when Collingwood were travelling poorly and Essendon were almost unbeatable most Pie supporters would cheerfully have forgone the non-Anzac day clash with the Bombers. Last year, when the situation was pretty much reversed Bomber fans might have settled for only one game against the Pies.

    I would be quite happy with a genuine draw BUT the Kardinia Park Cats vs Pies suggestion is a non-starter because although all games may be live more than half of them are on Foxtel which two thirds of Australians do not have. While Geelong remain a top side they have to play the sides with large memberships at the “G”.

  4. John Butler says

    Good food for thought here Gigs.

    Taking the bigger picture at the expense of short term profit? Will that ever catch on in management 101?

  5. I’ll happily admit to be a deluded soul, but not to the point that I believe the AFL would ever take any of these ideas on board.

    Dave, I don’t agree that Geelong v Collingwood can’t be at Kardinia Park while they are a powerhouse. In such a situation, or when any game is sold out, it should be mandatorily live on free-to-air TV. That’s a whole other story. And I’m certainly not deluded to the point where I believe the AFL will adopt that approach either.

  6. Chalkdog says

    A better way Gigs could be for every club to petition the AFL to only play Collingwood once. In 2012 they would get 5 byes. Sure they would get the points and arrive in the finals pretty well rested, BUT they wouldnt get the revenue. Imagine them havinhg to be the equal of Port Adelaide and asking for AFL assistance to support mid season trips to Alberqueque or wherever it is they go to meet Lance Armstrongs medical team…I thought this up over a couple watching StK v Freo at a pub in Prahran. I now refer to it as the “College Lawn Protocol”

  7. Dave Nadel says

    I’m sure I’ve explained this several times on FA already but the other Melbourne clubs are queueing to play Collingwood at the MCG. This is because under current rules, the home club gets the revenue. When Collingwood plays Hawthorn at the MCG and it is a Hawthorn home game, Hawthorn gets the benifit of the 60,000 fans that attend all Collingwood’s Victorian games. That is why Hawthorn has never suggested playing Collingwood at Swamp Oval Launceston.

    If you are interested in revenue equalisation the fairest way is to return to the old revenue sharing policy that the VFL abandoned shortly before it became the AFL. Under this system all gate takings are put into a common fund that is divided by 17. The big clubs would hate it but it would be fair and it might finally stop the illinformed whingeing about Collingwood games in Melbourne.

  8. smokie88 says

    Good work, Gigs. And some valid suggestions.

    Jake Niall is an excellent journo and I always read his atricles with interest.
    But I was a little taken aback by the suggestion that “the AFL’s fixture is
    emerging as a key part of discussions about equalisiation”.

    Are these people only just now waking up to the fact that the fixture is one
    of the AFL’s most potent tools when it comes to rewarding &/or punishing
    its clubs? We North supporters have been bbanging on about this for years.
    The AFL, if they so desired, could fixture a team out of existence.

  9. Mark Doyle says

    I do not take Jake Niall’s journalism in the ‘Age’ seriously. He is nothing more than a ‘Kite Flying’ parochial Victorian journalist. The AFL is a very well managed football competition and is the most democratic and fairest football competition in the world. The AFL has a draft, club player salary cap, shared administration service, special dividend compensation for poorly managed clubs and supporter affordability, which provides all clubs with equal opportunity. This is the ultimate in football socialism! I do not want competitions such as most of the European soccer competitions, which are dominated by a few rich privately owned clubs. The German Bundesliga is the most democratic and affordable competition for supporters in Europe. With respect to the AFL home and away game draw, local rivalries are desirable to promote the game – local rivalry games between the W.A., S.A., QLD., N.S.W. (next year) and VIC. teams are essential. In Victoria Collingwood has the best rivlalry with Carlton and Essendon and should be maintained. My club Geelong has developed a good rivalry with Hawthorn, which has evolved over the past 50 years with grand finals in 1963, 1989 and 2008 as well as in recent years some close hard fought games. With respect to the current struggling clubs such as North Melbourne, Melbourne, Port Adelaide and Richmond, their current position is only the result of poor management. In the recent past 10-15 years clubs such as Geelong, Collingwood, Hawthorn, Sydney and West Coast have all had financial, administrative and political problems and have been forced to make tough decisions to trade their way forward. Clubs such as North Melbourne and Port Adelaide should take note. Both these clubs need to be competitive by increasing their revenue by at least $20 million dollars so that they can have a significant budget allocation for such things as player development, sports medicine, sports science and membership support. Current struggling AFL clubs can also be inspired by the German Bundesliga club, Borussia Dortmund, which was on the brink of bankrupcy in 2003 with debts totalling 120 million euros. They operated under administration until 2006 and got an excellent coach in Jurgen Klopp and this year are the German champions.

  10. Steve Fahey says

    Very interesting discussion and great article Gigs.

    Local derbies twice a season are essential for the interstate teams esp in the newer markets of Qld and next year NSW. Commercial realities plus building traditions of rivalry.

    Personally I think that there would be a lot of advantages in a 17 game season from next year, playing every team once and each alternate season playing them at the opposite venue (when applicable). Equitable, simple and good for player welfare but bad for TV revenue, and was consigned to death with the recent TV deal. 17 games would also have allowed for interstate footy in a 2 week block in the middle of the season. C’est la vie !!

  11. Steve,

    I like your proposal but the AFL is addicted to money so it would not happen.

    By the way is the opposite venue for playing interstate or home ground clubs for Collywood The Dome? (The opposite side of the city centre.)

  12. Clearisghted says

    Smokie 88, I agree, North are enduring a fixture which appears to be punishment for not going along with the AFL’s line of: “Let’s steal your house, which has been in your family for 100 years, and move it to a place thousands of miles away.”

    The ‘transparency’ that the AFL talks about practicing, but never practices is, in a weird way, happening – we KNOW that whatever the AFL say with regards to nurturing the game, is clearly said to protect their own interests and plans.
    In every respect, and despite the smoke and mirrors they employ to have us believe otherwise, they behave like bully boys circling their next ‘victim’ in the school yard. Those who join in the bully circle; those who support those unassailable clubs who, for the minute anyway feel safe, are also culpable.

    In protecting your ‘house’, it is fair to give the intruder a jab to the nose. Like all bullies, they will howl as a result of it.

  13. Phil Dimitriadis says

    I like your serious side Gigs! The article is thoughtful and sensible, unlike the fixturing of the AFL. Ideally a fixture over two years could balance out the home and away advantages, but I fear cash is and will be king over the next few years as the AFL expands. It would be more likely that Geelong play Collingwood in Shanghai before they play them at Kardinia Park. Why not get a FACEBOOK page happening on this issue?

  14. Peter King says

    And Collingwood would have to travel as far as say Western Bulldogs each year.
    Well put Gigs but as usual the money will come before anything. The AFL is loosing fans and will eventually loose money. Its not all about Collingwood

  15. Agreed on all the main points here. (Mostly that the AFL won’t actually do anything).

    What would be wrong with Cwood playing in the ’boutique’ venues? It would make the anticipation greater knowing that there were limiited seats available and a ticket would be a prize…

  16. like the philosophy.
    one thought on the ANZAC game.
    rather than being random fixture each year, how about the winning team from the previous holds their place, to play a random team?

    then holding the ANZAC trophy would meaning something year to year, and gives a smaller ‘title’ for clubs to vie for.

  17. Rick Kane says


    re Mark Doyle’s point: the hyperlink above is to a story, from last year, about thesuccess of the German Bundesliga.

    There would also appear to be ideas that could be picked up in the Australian Rules/AFL context. I particularly like the idea that teams wanting a licence to play in the league have to commit to an academy as part of their organisation.


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