Football filling the vacuum with fan fails | AFL

PRIORITY: Rohan Connolly says the best interests of fans should always come first. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images
PRIORITY: Rohan Connolly says the best interests of fans should always come first. Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images

AFL football moves at lightning pace these days, not the games themselves so much as the landscape which surrounds them. So does the modern news cycle. And that's not necessarily a marriage made in heaven.

The game's administrators increasingly get itchy feet when not enough is seen to be happening, perpetually worried another sporting code will start occupying the public consciousness instead.

It's why what once passed for an off-season barely exists anymore, the immediate aftermath of each year's grand final now occupied by a draft camp, then trade period (which sometimes garners more publicity than the actual games), the national draft, even the release of next season's fixture, all carefully stage-managed for maximum exposure.

As for the fourth estate reporting on all this activity, well, what was always a healthy slice of coverage has long been at saturation point.

There's a lot more media covering the game. A lot more content to churn out. Plus, the advent of social media.

Sometimes, there's not really enough news to go around.

Which is why, even during the season, something like the bye rounds (meaning three fewer games) will leave gaps that must be filled.

That's about the only reason I can come up with why even arguably my favourite TV football show "On The Couch" on Monday night started going down the black hole.

It's a show which, unlike most others of its ilk, actually talks about the games which have been played, analyses them in some depth, and discusses in serious detail (usually backed up by meaningful statistics) why this or that team, player, coach or club is performing well or in trouble.

But with less of substance to consider this week, with only six games instead of nine to scrutinise, even Gerard Healy, Jonathon Brown, Nick Riewoldt and Garry Lyon went down the rabbit hole of big ideas, which would dramatically change the way AFL football is played, all on the flimsiest of pretexts.

They weren't new ideas, either.

One has been talked about on a seemingly annual basis for years now. And the other has been a more recent hobby horse ridden (perhaps not so curiously) by the television networks broadcasting the game it would benefit.

Riewoldt became the latest (though arguably the highest profile) pundit to suggest a "playoff" for the last couple of spots in the final eight in the week now taken up with the pre-finals bye (another AFL device introduced without enough thought of the consequences, which for several top four teams has proved fatal).

His rationale was keeping interest alive in the season, perhaps more pertinent right now given there is a two-game gap between eighth and ninth on the ladder.

Unlike some, Riewoldt did at least have the grace to concede the benefits to broadcasters.

His claim that the "fans want it" though, I think is highly contestable.

Fans seldom like change of that magnitude. And in this case, I'm solidly with them.

The final eight since its revamp in 2000, has been in my view the best finals system we've had, and the most accurate reflection of the season which has preceded it.

Well, at least until the pre-finals bye (introduced in 2016) left too many top four teams playing not enough football when it matters most.

It's worth noting the fans weren't too keen on that idea, either, and that some of us critics were ringing the alarm bells immediately.

But the playoff idea effectively adds an extra week to the final campaign, making it five weeks in duration.

It also potentially gives a finals opportunity to a team good enough to finish only 10th of 18 teams and win even less than 50 per cent of its home and away games. Does that level of mediocrity deserve even the chance of finals? I'd argue strongly no.

Healy, meanwhile, was riding the "we need shorter games" bandwagon again, something which seems to have been embraced pretty much only by those who work for the broadcasters, having never even been on the radar prior to last season's games shortened by necessity because of the pandemic.

He did produce some numbers to back his argument up. Games lost to injury this season had increased by 18 per cent on 2020.

Those numbers, however, hadn't taken into account reduced interchange rotations nor stricter protocols for players who had been concussed. They appeared pretty sketchy.

And you can't help but feel cynical about this idea, mainly because shorter games would enable the AFL and broadcasters to squeeze more of them into a condensed period, similar to last year's couple of "Footyfests".

Great for TV. Great for fans?

Well, I haven't come across many, if any, clamouring to see less of their teams in action.

Let's call a spade a spade here.

These are both ideas which obviously suit the official broadcasting partners of the AFL.

But what of the most important stakeholders, those people to whom all this entertainment is supposedly catering?

Like the night grand final, it's all getting a little tiresome. Each year, someone with a vested interest puts it on the table, and each year the fans (and in the case of the night grand final the players) resoundingly shoot it down.

We know there's a lot more content to come up with these days, guys.

But how about for once just taking no for an answer, stop imposing this self-interest on everyone else, and giving the punters the sort of information they actually want?