Footy back earlier than normal: Why the new Opening Round concept is beginning to feel like a good idea even to the AFL purists
We understand by now that most novel ideas the AFL implement end up working, not necessarily because they’re good ideas, but because they have a massive market and a seemingly even bigger marketing budget.
I think Gather Round is still a silly idea, but I still find myself booked to make the trip to Adelaide from Melbourne for the second year running. Why? Because the product is good, and with novelty comes excitement.
That’s why, even though the Opening Round concept is again a touch strange, it does give us one important novelty: footy before we usually get it.
The earlier the season starts, the more one begins to wonder why the season didn’t always start this early.
The first week of March is remarkably early, but when the fixture was initially announced, the benefit was not immediately clear, because it was so far away.
But now we’re well into February, the home cricket season is essentially over, we’re back into the groove of work and school, and we’re in that awful period of waiting before the footy starts.
Even though only eight clubs play on that opening weekend, competitive footy is like nothing else. We’ll want to get a look at Brodie Grundy playing his old team and see how he fits in, Damien Hardwick at his new club and potential revenge for the Blues after the Preliminary Final.
These things usually only remain interesting for about two minutes until we get immersed in the game itself, but still, more people tune in because of it.
The fact that people are excited to see Hardwick coaching against his old team is another remarkable success of marketing, including towards me.
There is literally no spectacle to be had. We might get a shot of Dimma sitting in the coach’s box from time to time, yet we’ll all be glued to this apparently unmissable show. Some will even be starting to dream big for the Suns if he gets that win – or comes close.
So is it going to work? Well yes, of course it is. Because no matter how novel, strange or downright nonsensical an idea the AFL comes up with, we all know we’ll watch it. What else are we meant to do on a Thursday Night?
The thing is, the AFL need not market to the more loyal segments of their fan base anyway. Would I watch the first game of the season if it was held at 3am on a Wednesday? Yes, probably – and so would many of you reading.
They don’t have to do much to keep us happy. We’re already happy paying customers.
This incremental expansion of the season serves fans like us because it means we have to wait less time for some footy to start, even if we don’t like the idea in principle.
But it also suits the less rusted-on fanbase they’re always trying to grow. There are thousands of people around Australia who will only watch AFL on a Thursday or Friday night.
So give them more of it. Bringing games into NRL markets, and the start of the NRL season does have the potential to draw eyeballs to the AFL that aren’t usually there.
But even if that fails, the ratings will be massive, the stadiums will be full, and the AFL will have expanded by one extra week.
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This might be the only time we have the Opening Round in its current guise, or maybe it’ll become a regular part of the season.
But whatever the case may be, it’ll be a success, because we just can’t say no to footy.