With another NAB Cup Grand Final fast approaching, it’s important to take a step back and assess the good and the bad associated with this sometimes controversial competition.
This season, AFL head honchos decided to stick with the traditional pre-season rules such as the nine-point super goal and the modified mini-matches in Round 1.
A contentious interchange cap was also introduced, prompting certain coaches to take the AFL to task on what this new rule may mean in the future and its further implications. We later learnt that by 2014, premiership season matches will have interchange restrictions. This further promoted much debate amongst footy fans.
The pre-season competition has always caused much angst across footy circles. Whilst it is a time to give the fans of the respective clubs a glimpse into what lies ahead for their team, we have unfortunately seen the negative side of meaningless matches with two players breaking down and having their seasons ended before they had even begun.
No matter what your opinion is on the merits of having a commercialised pre-season competition as opposed to friendly matches organised by the clubs, there is a clear opportunity to grow the game currently being overlooked.
The AFL has often preached that it is “Australia’s game” but in some instances, actions have failed to back up the talk. The NAB Cup is a chance to take games to places that would rarely get the chance to experience our great game in the flesh. In recent years, certain matches have been taken regionally but there is no reason not to look at converting the NAB Cup competition into a fully-regional tournament.
Admittedly, the AFL is finally waking up to the notion of growing the game but more can be done. Pre-season matches played in regions not usually exposed to live footy have the power to bridge the gap between your average country footy fan and the stars of the game that make the game great.
Over the past few years, crowds at NAB Cup games have been nothing short of abysmal. There has been a clear message sent from footy fans to AFL figureheads that the majority of fans aren’t willing to attend meaningless matches and would rather stay at home and wait for the real competition to get underway.
Crowds of 6,000 at Etihad Stadium do nothing to grow the game in Australia and instead provide an eerie atmosphere at the ground.
We all saw what happens when we put NAB Cup games in regional areas. Places such as Mandurah and Wangaratta in Western Australia respectively both achieved crowds of 8,000 and above, greatly growing the sport and the all-important brand.
A country kid that went to those games would have connected with a club and its players. This sort of engagement is simply not feasible in the regular season when the all-important dollar is more crucial that spreading the matches across various areas of Australia.
There is so much more to be gained from making the NAB Cup a regional area only competition barring the Grand Final. It is also important to note that clubs that visit the regional areas put on footy clinics for kids that are the next generation of footy supporters. This was typified when Essendon set aside a full week in regional Victoria to work with the younger generation of footy fanatics.
Those who attend pre-season matches at regular venues such as AAMI Stadium and Etihad Stadium are the sort of the supporters the AFL has already won over. They are the people who are more likely to attend home games of their certain club.
In the commercial world, the country towns are being left behind and it’s important we don’t forget them. These remote places are where some of the greatest footy stars in the game grew up.
It’s a dangerous precedence to forget the melting pot of Australian Rules. By making the NAB Cup a strictly regional competition, it helps grow the game regionally and strengthens that important connection that ensures our great game goes from strength to strength for generations to come.