The binding stadium deals that the smaller clubs based in Melbourne have to face are not doing the clubs any good financially. At the same time, there are a number of alternatives that the AFL are yet to tap into.
Ever since the AFL decided in their wisdom to cease fixturing matches at Optus Oval in 2006, the league has been forced to structure a draw around the nine clubs based in Melbourne, whilst having to play scheduled home matches at just two venues; the MCG and Etihad Stadium.
Even Geelong, whilst being allocated seven home matches at Simonds Stadium this year, are also fixtured to play additional home matches at the MCG or Etihad.
The situation of ‘best fit’ ground usage works well for clubs playing other Victorian sides, as the two venues attract a sufficient enough audience to justify their use for these games. Where a major problem arises, is when a Victorian side is drawn to play a non-Victorian side, as was the case on Saturday afternoon, where a paltry 13,284 attended the Melbourne-Fremantle game at Etihad Stadium.
This 52,000-capacity venue was three-quarters empty, and quite frankly the rows of empty seats looked awful on the broadcast. This almost certainly resulted in Melbourne losing money hosting this fixture, based on the 30,000 estimated break-even crowd figure.
This isn’t the first time this has happened this season either. All up there have been eight matches played at Etihad in 2012, involving a Melbourne-based club playing a non-Victorian club, where the crowd has been below 25,000.
The numbers for clubs such as North Melbourne and Western Bulldogs in these cases aren’t great, as they know beforehand they will lose money hosting these fixtures.
Additionally, for the audience watching on television, the near-empty stadium creates a feeling of empathy for the supporters who actually do attend such games, with a less ambient atmosphere than at higher-attended games.
So, what is the solution?
There are two options the AFL can adopt to solve this problem; either construct a boutique-style, 30,000-capacity stadium near Melbourne Airport, or simply fixture some extra matches at Geelong’s Simonds Stadium.
To construct a new venue from scratch near the airport would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and would only be viable if the state government contributed to the cost, in conjunction with building an Airport rail link. This would allow easy access from both the airport and the city.
The current contractual arrangements the AFL has with the MCG and Etihad’s owners would also need to be re-negotiated. While it is a wonderful dream, this arrangement is simply not feasible in the short-term. Thus, the AFL should just fixture home matches involving North Melbourne and Western Bulldogs when they are scheduled to play Non-Victorian teams at Simonds Stadium.
The current re-development will see Geelong’s showpiece AFL venue become one of the most modern and state of the art boutique stadiums in the country, and for it only to be hosting seven AFL matches a season is a monumental waste of resources.
If just four of the Kangaroos and Bulldogs’ games are played in Geelong per season, the money saved by those clubs that is not lost by virtue of writing a cheque to Etihad can only benefit them financially. Simonds Stadium can then justify the considerable expense on its upgrade by hosting fifteen AFL matches per season, rather than seven.
This has to be a win-win situation for the clubs, and the AFL, and why it hasn’t happened earlier is a mystery.