AFL faces major battle to win back its fans

Half-empty grandstands have become a common sight in today's AFL, with fans staying away in droves. Photo: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images
Half-empty grandstands have become a common sight in today's AFL, with fans staying away in droves. Photo: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

The AFL is running the risk of alienating rusted-on supporters to the extent that they may never come back.

For many, the ritual of planning your week/month/year around following your favourite team around the country is over.

They have discovered there is life outside football and are finding alternative ways to spend their leisure time, something reflected by diminished crowds and TV ratings.

With so much uncertainty and fear in the community because of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are reticent to venture outside and gather in big numbers.

Restrictions on venue capacities have contributed to reduced numbers at games.

But many people feel more comfortable to watch from their living rooms and the AFL has contributed to that, making it much easier to view games in real-time on TV or other electronic devices.

The floating fixture suits broadcasters, whose substantial funding is so important to keeping the game afloat, but is not friendly to supporters seeking to plan their weekend activities.

Herein lies the paradox - the league wants more money from broadcasters and other content providers which they believe will increase their audiences, but games played in front of near-empty stands with no atmosphere make it less attractive to watch and demean the product.

While the pandemic has created a fixturing nightmare as the league navigates through a series of border closures and restrictions instituted by state and territory governments, the weekly uncertainty surrounding times and venues makes it harder to attend.

There is a multitude of reasons why people are not going to sporting events in large numbers in Australia.

The challenge starts with making your way to venues with limited access and parking, while people are not as keen to travel on public transport as previously.

Then there is the problem of being restricted within stadiums and not being able to sit in your regular seats.

Add the costs of attending for struggling families with the marked-up prices on food, drinks and merchandise and it makes sense to stay at home.

The AFL's incessant desire to tinker with the rules and the declining standard of the game with the talent pool spread so wide might also be factors in people turning away.

Whatever the reasons are, the AFL needs to provide incentives to encourage people back.

Here are a few ideas for 2022, assuming the season is not as affected by the pandemic: reduce prices on tickets, food and drinks and provide added bonuses for AFL and club members such as complimentary passes for at least six other games apart from home matches.

The league has done a great job to keep the competition going and overcoming the massive obstacles presented by the pandemic.

But AFL has always been a better product live at the venue than on TV.

Now, the challenge is to convince the supporters who might have lost their jobs and are struggling as a result of the pandemic to fill the grandstands, generate colour and build excitement again.

Ash Barty's Wimbledon victory was one for the ages. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty

Ash Barty's Wimbledon victory was one for the ages. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty

PROUD OF OUR ASH

Ash Barty's incredible win at Wimbledon is up there with Australia's finest sporting moments this century.

Barty's French Open victory more than two years ago was a magnificent achievement, but winning the singles at the world's greatest tennis championships surpasses that monumental performance.

There were plenty of tears shed around Australia after the Queenslander achieved her lifelong dream of winning the Wimbledon singles crown.

As more than 1.8 million Australians were firmly focussed on the diminutive Barty, it was hard not to become emotional as she spoke about emulating her idol and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley.

Barty honoured the 50th anniversary of Goolagong Cawley's first win at Wimbledon in 1971 by wearing a special dress as a tribute to her fellow Indigenous star.

Her victory broke a 41-year drought for Australia since Goolagong Cawley's second title in 1980.

Barty had to overcome adversity, including a serious hip complaint that ended her French Open campaign last month.

She did not play the perfect match to defeat Czech Karolina Pliskova. After making a glorious start and winning the first set 6-3, she faltered badly in the second set to lose the tiebreaker.

But the Australian's fierce determination and mental toughness, combined with superior court craft and coverage, shone through in the deciding set when it mattered most.

What a wonderful role model and ambassador Barty is for this country on and off the court with her humility and charm - the world no. 1 deserves all of the accolades coming her way.

Her victory capped off a memorable weekend for women's sports. Jamie Kah is another humble champion who became the first Victorian jockey to ride 100 metropolitan winners in a season and will be the first female to win the Melbourne jockeys premiership later this month.

JOY FOR ITALY

Sport can be cruel, especially if you're an England football supporter.

Losing the Euro 2020 final in a penalty shootout was bitterly disappointing as England was denied its first major international title in 55 years.

Italy's dramatic victory sparked wild celebrations around the world. Melbourne's Lygon Street was pumping with raucous Italian fans celebrating and it was great to see after a tough 18 months.

Has Howard got it right? Email: howardkotton11@gmail.com; Twitter: @hpkotton59.

This story AFL faces major battle to win back its fans | Howard Kotton first appeared on The Canberra Times.