Let’s just say it now.
The AFL pre-season is a snooze.
Yes, there’s plenty to like about it. It’s great to have footy back for the first time in almost five months.
It’s also great to see the AFL give back to those communities that give it so much, both metropolitan and rural.
But ever since 2014, without any sort of structure of semblance of stakes, the AFL preseason competition has taken a real nosedive in interest.
The 2017 iteration of the competition sees its lowest average turnout recorded since 2005 – an average of 6,127 spectators at each of the 27 matches.
It’s clear the AFL fan base is losing interest in this new structure of the pre-season.
At least with the cup format that preceded it, there was something for teams to aim their compasses at, even if it was usually just fool’s gold at that.
Here are four novel ideas to inject a bit of interest back into the precursor to the home and away season.
Return to the cup format
It’s taken a four-year hiatus and some extremely snooze worthy pre-season matches to realise that maybe the cup format wasn’t so bad after all.
Maybe it’s due for a return? Maybe the attendance figures will be some of the best in years.
Either way, it can’t be confusing or convoluted, similar to how the 2013 edition was. Give us some pools, we’ll sort out some winners from those pools, and sooner or later we’ll be crowning a champion.
This was famously tried in 1996, under the branding of the ‘Lightning Premiership’.
It is perhaps best remembered for many of the crazy rules experimented with during the competition, but it was without doubt an intriguing weekend, and disappointingly, it has been the only time we have seen such a format in AFL football.
With March Madness just about to kick off in the United States, there’s no better time to have our own knockout tournament.
Not only would this provide extra incentive for AFL teams to give their younger stars a run, which is one of the things we love about the preseason, but who wouldn’t love to see their local state league team play against the big boys?
Not only would it generate plenty of interest at a community level, which is no doubt important to the JLT Community Series, but perhaps it would give state league players the opportunity to showcase their talents against AFL clubs.
Obviously it wouldn’t be the professional level tune up that AFL clubs are after, but we’re all well aware that the preseason competition is an opportunity to find match fitness, not necessarily form.
Another concept put into test during the 1996 Lightning Premiership, a ‘Magic Weekend’ would certainly cure attendance woes.
The concept of the Magic Weekend is to see all teams playing over one weekend at one stadium – ideally with three matches on each day, perhaps with shortened quarters.
The concept is successful in the English rugby league competition, and is currently one of the most popular events on their calendar.