The AFL should keep the grand final on the road every year

Tradition should be celebrated, but not when it gets in the way of the game’s growth and integrity.

The 2021 big AFL final in Perth, and Sunday’s big NRL final in Brisbane, flashed an exciting opportunity about what could have been the future of the Australian rules.

The AFL is at one of the most important moments in its history. Decisions made in the coming months will leave an indelible legacy on the size and health of the game. The top AFL executive brass must realize the gravity of the moment and take full advantage of it.

The increased accessibility of international sports (such as the NFL, basketball, and European football), enabled by emerging streaming platforms (e.g., Stan Sport, Kayo, etc.), will have an unprecedented effect on fan awareness of the AFL.

Aussie rules will continue to compete with other mainstream entertainment platforms, such as Netflix, in what can only be described as an increasingly contentious viewership market.

For the AFL to thrive in this emerging, saturated environment, it must actively rebrand itself as “the Australian game” and tailor its rhetoric to its actions. The AFL must work thoroughly with every fanbase in every state and attract the attention of casual or otherwise disengaged supporters.

That’s why the $500 million deal it signed to keep the grand finale in the MCG through 2057 is one of the most egregious missteps in the game’s history.

Limiting the AFL’s biggest spectacle to a single oval in a single city will significantly hurt non-Victorian support for Aussie rules. Denying cities the opportunity to host the grand finale not only prevents an economic boost to the local region, but also misses the opportunity to spark interest among casual or new fans in that state.

Interstate teams playing against Victorian clubs have further cited the obvious integrity issues in hosting the game in the MCG. It undermines the competitive meritocracy of the game by providing a consistent and unfair home advantage to Victorian sides.

There are two alternative frameworks for hosting the grand final in one location each year. For both models, the AFL would have to cancel its current agreement with the MCG.

(Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Superbowl Model
The Superbowl model is based on rotating venues that the NFL hosts each year. In the NFL, host cities offer the right to hold the Superbowl in their stadium 3-5 years in advance. For example, Superbowl 54, which was played in Miami in February 2020, was the result of a bid selected by the NFL in 2016.

The main advantage of this model is that the integrity of the game is unquestioned. Indeed, the game is almost always played on a neutral field where neither side is based (eg West Coast and GWS would play in Brisbane). Another benefit would be that it grows the game by capturing the excitement of fans, creating a palpable buzz and economic boost within that state.

The biggest downside to the Superbowl model is that fans of competing teams will likely still have to travel to see the grand finale.

Tom Brady’s Buccaneers was the first team in NFL history to win a Superbowl at home. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

“Home advantage” model
The ‘home advantage’ model is taken from the NBA’s game seven advantage. In the NBA, two teams play a best-of-seven series, with the first team to win four games advancing to the playoffs.

The team that finishes higher up the ladder will play the deciding game 7 in their home city. In an AFL context, the grand final would be played on the home court of the highest-ranked team remaining. For example, if the Swans and Freo played in the Grand Final, with the Swans finishing first on the ladder and Freo finishing fifth, then the Grand Final would be played in the SCG.

The benefits of this model are that at least one team will play for their home fans, saving interstate soccer families time and thousands of dollars in travel costs. Another advantage is that since about half of the AFL teams are based in Victoria, the MCG will probably still host the grand final every two years.

The biggest disadvantage of the home field model is that the big final place is decided two weeks before the game.

What do you think of Roarers? What is the best model?

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