Round 1 of the 2017 AFL Premiership season kicked off on Thursday night with what has become the traditional season opener – Carlton versus Richmond at the MCG. The fierce rivals have opened the AFL season since 2008 largely due to the fact both teams will attract a bumper crowd at the home of football.
But is it time to break this 10 year old tradition? I think so.
It’s been a long time since either Carlton or Richmond were a force, and just because they have crowd pulling power doesn’t mean they should be the lock-ins to start the AFL season. Surely, to start the season the AFL would want the best possible spectacle? A game filled with passion and context?
Which is why I think the traditional season opener should always be the Grand Final rematch from the previous year. Sure, if the Western Bulldogs were playing Sydney on Thursday night at the MCG their crowd might not have been as big as the one at the Carlton versus Richmond game, but I bet the game would have been a better contest between the two best teams of the season prior.
Carlton and Richmond drew a very impressive crowd of over 73,000 people to the ’G while the next night the Bulldogs and Collingwood showdown pulled in just over 66,000 punters to the AFL’s colosseum. A difference of 7,000 isn’t that great when it comes to the spectacle that’s going to be on show. Surely if Thursday night’s match saw the Swans trying to gain a modicum of revenge of their grand final conquerors the crowd figure would still have been well in excess of 60,000 people.
Since 2008 Carlton have played finals just four times, and Richmond only three times – hardly a record worthy of being the league’s showcase season opener. Despite some close contests the two traditional rivals have hardly provided a spectacle worthy of the first round’s big drawcard.
A grand final rematch, while not a guaranteed thriller, is far more likely to provide an epic contest than a game between two of the league’s underachievers over the last two decades. A grand final rematch would also have greater context and have more riding on it than two cellar dwellers putting on a scrap – no matter how intense the rivalry.
Imagine the theatre as the wounded Swans would come out trying salvage some pride against the foes who vanquished them on the biggest stage of 2016. Certainly sounds like a more entertaining prospect to me than watching two teams I know will struggle this season.
A grand final rematch makes so much sense as a season opener, but unfortunately it is not sense and what the fans what that dictate’s the AFL’s agenda. It is the crowd figures, and therefore the dollar signs that steer the ship at AFL House.
The prospect of smaller teams or ones who draw less of a crowd in Melbourne, say North Melbourne against the Giants – or heaven forbid a game between two non-Victorian teams played outside Melbourne – would terrify Gillon McLachlan and the hierarchy at the AFL. If we returned to the mid-2000s and a grand final rematch was Sydney versus West Coast at the SCG, or worse, in Perth, the bigwigs at the AFL would have heart attacks thinking about all the lost dollars.
— Mike Simms (@SimmsyDos) March 25, 2017
Unfortunately, this is why we may never see the season opener being a heated and fiery battle between the benchmark sides of the previous year. We might be stuck between watching two mediocre, but traditional, rivals scrap it out in the middle of the MCG. If the AFL were to change the season’s first match, it is likely it would go to two other traditional Victorian rivals.
Personally I could think of no better way to start the season, and no game I would rather see on the opening Thursday night than a battle between the reigning premiers and runners-up. Where it is played and the crowd numbers don’t matter, although I’d like to see the losing side get to host the game (so this year it would have been Sydney versus the Bulldogs at the SCG) but I’m willing to compromise – if a Melbourne-based team is involved the game can be played at the MCG.
Regardless of where the match is played, the AFL should give us the game most likely to produce the best contest between two good sides to kick off the season, and that, is a grand final rematch.
@AFL any plans to start the season off with ..say a grand final rematch? Or atleast teams competing for the flag this year?
— Conrad (@conradisawesome) March 23, 2017