A poor Round 1 that saw crowds down by a third on 2013 shows that the AFL has lost touch with grassroots fans, the AFL Fans Association says. And not having the MCG was only partly to blame.
In 2013, 365,867 people attended Round 1. This fell to 245,301 in 2014 – down 120,566 - despite two extra games at Etihad Stadium to partly compensate for the three played at the MCG last year.
AFL Fans Association president Brian Clarke says dragging Round 1 out over 10 days, unpopular game times like Thursday and Sunday nights and huge ticket price rises under the new variable pricing system all kept people away.
Collingwood’s Etihad Stadium clash against Fremantle drew only 37,571 and despite being Jimmy Bartel’s 250th game in a revamped Simonds Stadium holding 33,500, Geelong attracted just 23,622 to its opening game against Adelaide.
“And this was after offering two for one tickets, which is unheard of at a Victorian AFL game,” Brian says. “This is not surprising given reserved seats now cost up to $85 at Geelong. The Thursday night game time - a school and work night - was also a huge turn off.
“Fans have voted with their feet and will continue to do so if they are taken for granted. Even diehards have a breaking point and many are reaching it. Hopefully things will pick up with the Richmond-Carlton blockbuster and the MCG becoming available, but many fans already have had a gutful.” A straw poll on the AFL Fans Association facebook page (www.facebook.com/aflfans) found most were unhappy with the new pricing structure that saw general admission rise by up to 100 per cent.
“For a not for profit organisation who keeps telling us that the fans are the biggest stakeholder, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the AFL listens to its accountants over and above the fans,” said one. (More comments are printed on the next page)
Brian says not only is the AFL now completely corporatised, it does not even appear to consider fans stakeholders. In its 2013 Annual Report, the AFL relegated them to consumers or, worse still, bums on seats:
“The Toyota AFL Premiership Season fixture aims to maximise attendances at all of our matches to enable fans to access the game in strong numbers, continue to build our sport as the number one code in this country, provide all clubs with the opportunity to contest the finals and deliver a great outcome for all key stakeholders in the AFL competition – players, clubs, officials, broadcast partners, key sponsors, venues, state affiliates and Federal and State governments.” (2013 AFL Annual Report)
“This about sums it up,” Brian says. “While sponsors, clubs and paid officials are specified as AFL stakeholders, the fans whose support ultimately funds football are not. When you look at sheer numbers, supporters are actually the AFL’s biggest stakeholder.”
The AFLFA provides a voice for AFL fans across Australia on issues affecting them such as ticketing, rules, game times, commercialisation and memberships. AFLFA membership is free and anyone can join at www.aflfans.org.au.
Asked if ticket price rises would put them off attending games this year, these are some of the replies.
“For a not for profit organisation who keeps telling us that the fans are the biggest stakeholder, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the AFL listens to its accountants over and above the fans … It’s all about lining the pockets of the AFL brand. They are on the nose and I will not be attending anymore games.”
“This coming Friday a case in point. Would have loved to see Hawthorn v Essendon, but a combination of high prices and the difficulty and inconvenience of booking tickets for several people sitting together means I'll be watching from the couch or the pub. I know it's not the end of the world, but it is a pain in the bum!”
“The MCG seat prices for A games are especially stupid, the same position but at the opposite end or side of the ground can be two categories higher in cost....because? Compare top level behind each goals for A games.”
“The commentators and I suspect administrators who maintain it's cheap would rarely, if ever, be exposed to the nature of the prices that fans have the biggest beef with.”
“$9 can's of bourban and $6 pies let alone the ticket prices need $100 just to see the night out.”
“For me to take my Family to a game it costs over $200. get stuffed its Foxtel for us.”
“Absolutely LOVE going to the footy, you cannot beat it but with prices as high as they are that counts us as a family out which is VERY disappointing.”
“I won't be going anywhere near as many times as I usually do. I usually average about 16-18 per year including finals, I think this year I will go to about 6. Too expensive.”
“If nothing changes by next year, I won't be going as much. Usually go to all games in Melbourne for my team. Already have my membership for this year, but hidden costs will likely lead me to drop it next year and only go to a few games next year.”
“It's a joke, considering the average fan can't even go to the grand final. The paying fan puts these players where they are and we can't get to that last day in September.”
“I think AFL should be more about the grassroots fans especially families. We are age concession now, but still have to travel from country Victoria. We do not have foxtel. It is too expensive. Thursday games should NEVER happen. There is such a thing as overload. It appears our game is now all about the TV.”
“I no longer go watch St.Kilda play for many of the reasons above. Apart from unfair price-gouging, being forced to book reserved seats on top of paying GA prices is particularly annoying. I really, really hate not being allowed to choose where I want to sit. “Half the fun of going to the footy was the social side, particularly the friends I made there - but the AFL is making it more and more difficult to sit with people you know unless a) we all take out membership AND reserved seat packages or b) organising everybody well ahead of the day and pre-booking everything (and paying through the nose to do so!)”