Compromised integrity: Is 2024 the year the AFL finally goes too far with their fixture tampering?


AFL season 2023 was a huge success, with exciting brands of football, close finishes and a crowd attendance blitz, with more than eight million fans coming through the gates.

But with the league trying to compete with the likes of the NRL and their bold move to play in Las Vegas for the first round of their season, the AFL has decided to attack the NSW market and create an ‘opening round’.

The opening round consists of four matches, with two in NSW and 10 other teams essentially inactive.

With basically an extra round built in place the question is – has the AFL gone overboard with its fixturing?

The teams playing in the opening round will no doubt be licking their lips being able to get on the park before more than half the competition.

Jack Payne of the Brisbane Lions. (Photo by Russell Freeman/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

The eight sides involved in the opening round are likely to be more match-hardened for the second round than the 10 others watching on the sidelines.

Of course it’s likely teams not competing in the opening round will play extra match simulation games against each other to make up for it, but does it really match the rigours and high-intensity characteristics of an AFL match?

It will be interesting to see how long it will take to see coaches complaining about the imbalance and strange fixturing if their clubs start underperforming early on in the season.

Talking about imbalance, the new opening round implemented has resulted in teams having two byes mixed throughout the season.

The Lions and Blues have an early bye in round two, the Suns and Giants in round three and the Pies and Swans in round four with only time telling whether it will disrupt the momentum of the sides.

Although the 2020 COVID impacted season had negatives; non-home games, 16-minute quarters and crowd limits, what was great was the amount of games played.

Essendon’s Zach Merrett. (Photo by Graham Denholm/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

Every team played each other once, meaning an equal chance for all 18 clubs to play in September. In comparison, for 2024, an extra six games for clubs are played meaning they play six teams twice.

For example, Essendon was lucky enough to play against cellar dwellers West Coast and North Melbourne twice last year, whereas Fremantle had to play Brisbane and the then reigning premiers Geelong twice.

Is the extra money worth compromising the equity of the competition?

Remember when the BBL was at the peak of its powers in the 2015-16 season, TV audiences peaked with an average of 1.13 million viewers per match and an average crowd of 29,443 per game, just behind the AFL’s 33,428.

But after Cricket Australia signed a whopping six-year broadcast deal worth $1.182 billion with Foxtel and Seven they increased the number of games from 35 matches to 59. And the league is still trying to recover from making changes just for the sake of it.

The NRL home and away season goes for a staggering 27 weeks, which might explain the lower crowd attendance compared to the AFL. So is it the case of less is more?

Even though more footy is great, is change needed just because other codes are doing something different?

What are your thoughts?

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