AFL 2021 spectacle back again to daytime


MCG with full capacity for AFL Grand Final Image: MJR Group Ltd./Coliseum

The 2021 Toyota Australian Football League (AFL) Grand Final will return to its traditional timeslot (read during daytime) and home.

AFL club Presidents were told recently that the game would start at 2.30 pm on September 25th, 2021 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) in East Melbourne, Australia.

The Australian Football League (AFL) is the pre-eminent and only fully professional men’s competition of Australian rules football. Through the AFL Commission, the AFL also serves as the sport’s governing body, and is responsible for controlling the laws of the game.

Simon Gorr, Head of Infrastructure, AFL Melbourne, Australia, is a Member of Coliseum Strategic Committee.

The AFL Grand Final is an Australian rules football match that takes place every year, traditionally held on the final Saturday in September or the first Saturday in October.

The 1,00,024-capacity Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), also known locally as ‘The G’, is an Australian sports stadium located in Yarra Park, Melbourne, Victoria (Australia).

A statement on the Australian Football League (AFL) website read, “It is hoped that a capacity 100,000 spectators will be able to attend, pending COVID-19 protocols which last year forced the AFL to schedule a couple of firsts – a Grand Final played at night, at a venue outside of Victoria, the Gabba (the 42,000-capacity sports stadium in Brisbane).”

The AFL website statement further read, “In isolation, the 2020 Grand Final was a resounding success, and just reward for the preparedness of the State of Queensland to allow the home-and-away season to continue when other States had shut their borders. The half-time entertainment clearly benefited from the light show spectacle. But it was always the intent of AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan and the AFL Commission to return the 2021 match to a daytime fixture, largely as an acknowledgment to the trusted-on fans who love the ritual of a day game to determine the season’s premier team.”

The AFL Commission met recently to formalize its 2021 Grand Final position before informing the clubs.

McLachlan said the AFL Commission had decided to return to the traditional timeslot after a season that had been like none other in the game’s history – “Ultimately, the AFL Commission decided that while we will keep some of the unique components of the 2020 season, the prestige, nostalgia and atmosphere of the day Grand Final is something that people can look forward to. Wherever they are located around Australia, we want to give footy fans that familiar feeling back on Grand Final Day – a Saturday afternoon start-time, the build-up, the anticipation, friends, family and the BBQ in the backyard, all combining to make it the best event on the Australian sporting calendar.”

Added McLachlan, “We still have a lot of work as a league and a community to get the finish line, but I would love nothing more to see 100,000 back at the MCG on the last Saturday in September.”

The AFL has resisted the temptation to permanently keep the Grand Final as a nighttime fixture after the 2020 decider’s move to the evening due to the coronavirus outbreak globally which is still throwing life out of kilter in several parts of the globe.

‘The Age’ reported that last year’s Grand Final was held at the Gabba in Brisbane, beginning at 7.30 pm. It was the first nighttime decider for the competition and the first time the Grand Final had been held outside of Victoria. Though in-person attendance was restricted but it was a sellout crowd of 29,707.

‘The Age’ quoted McLachlan as stating, “We know that season 2020 was a unique season, and by necessity, we had to make some exceptional decisions surrounding the competition including moving most teams to Queensland and moving the Grand Final and the start time for the first time in its history. The build-up and event in Queensland was a huge success. Our members and supporters were incredible in continuing to support their teams last year and they want a season where they can return to some of the traditions and rituals around footy.”

Grabbing eyeballs

‘The Age’ further noted that not all Presidents supported the return to daytime move and some of them beg to differ. AFL team Gold Coast Football Club Chairman Tony Cochrane believed the ratings results and entertainment offerings available for a nighttime start would be greater.

Cochrane helped organize the entertainment for the 2020 night Grand Final at the Gabba.

The AFL also admitted that ratings would likely be up in the evening. But the league also believed the need for AFL fans in Victoria to experience the normality of a day Grand Final far exceeded those ratings and potential financial gains.

Lewis Martin, Seven’s Head of Sport and Managing Director in Melbourne, remarked, “We respect the AFL’s decision and, while we continue to step through another COVID-impacted season, broadcasting a Grand Final at any time will be a privilege.”

The first ever AFL night Grand Final in 2020 rated strongly, attracting 3.81 million viewers for the matchup between AFL teams Richmond Football Club and Geelong Football Club at the Gabba with the former beating the latter to win their third premiership in four seasons.

The 2020 AFL season was played mostly in Queensland because of Victoria’s second wave of COVID-19, which locked most of the State down for the winter.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk called the Grand Final’s move a “historic day” for her State, with Queensland beating out bids from Western Australia, New South Wales and South Australia.

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