AFL Women's

Turf wars: It’s not the Gabba that’s holding back the AFLW Grand Final

AFL Women Brisbane Lions at South Pine

You reap what you sow – or perhaps the grass the grass is greener on the other side. Whatever pun is appropriate – after much debate, the Gabba’s turf isn’t in a state for footy this weekend due to field conditions. However, that’s only one of the problems for the AFLW Grand Final this Saturday afternoon between the Brisbane Lions and Adelaide Crows.

It was a case of an imperfect pitch as 25,000 seats were brought onto the ground for the concert, but regardless of the outcome of the ground’s conditions from Adele’s concert at the Gabba a week ago (which by all reports from punters was a great success), the decision to play the AFLW Grand Final on Saturday afternoon before the men’s Round 1 match – and not as a standalone game on Sunday night is a shame for all fans of both AFLW and AFL.

Here lies the problem.

In a league bound by no traditions for matchups, breeding its own rivalries and setting its own rules and time slots, the announcement was a missed opportunity. Not only is a Saturday afternoon timeslot unappealing for TV viewers who will no doubt be at local football practice matches or other routine weekend events, it becomes problematic. While the AFLW have been more than adamant the inaugural season is about exposure, the 1pm AEST start ironically provides less exposure for a Grand Final which will be shadowed and tucked away by both the hype of Round 1 and of course the following men’s game at Carrara. Although the game has no clashes in TV broadcasts as the men’s matches don’t start until 2.5 hours later at Etihad Stadium and SCG at 4:35pm AEDT respectively, it is dysfunctional for travelling Brisbane and Adelaide supporters.

Breaking down the timeslot, what does that tell you? Not having a standalone match has let down the women and all they have worked towards this year. The message it says is that a single men’s Q-Clash is ever so much more important than the women’s Grand Final. Playing as a “curtain raiser” or better known now as a “double header”, not only does the game start a whole 6 hours before the men’s game, but the travelling fans heading down the Pacific Motorway will need to leave before lunch, watch the AFLW Grand Final, and then wait 3 hours for the men’s game which will conclude just before 10pm local time. Add in a return round trip back up the highway for the Lions, and that’s a 12-14 hour day for the locals.

The missed opportunity here is that Sunday night is a much better option for exposure of the women’s game – if that’s what the AFL want to choose on this occasion and build towards the 2018 season. The only AFL clash on Sunday night would be the Fremantle vs Geelong match in Perth which rounds out the opening weekend for the men.

Shifting a match venue is not an easy feat, however the alternative of the South Pine Sports Complex (where the Brisbane Lions have hosted all three home games) would be more suitable than Carrara in this instance. A home crowd advantage and an atmosphere that would feel packed is a lot greater than a hollow Metricon Stadium in the leadup to the men’s Q-Clash.

With home games appealing to 5,500 against Collingwood, 3,500 against GWS Giants, and 4,200 against Western Bulldogs, all three AFLW games went well beyond the listed 3,000 person capacity. If the AFLW Grand Final were to be hosted here, then some fans would be locked out (alternatively charge a price on the gate and boost more women’s grassroots footy), but what does this mean for television? It also gives good reason for the AFL to help prepare a decision on a twilight grand final to see how to maximise a grand final broadcast under lights. Logistically, the lighting at South Pine may not be up to AFL broadcast standards, but with temporary lighting used in VFL and other AFLW matches, it surely couldn’t be too hard to get the standard up to high-quality broadcasting for one match that couldn’t be played at the Gabba.

In a season that has been filled with much delight for players, officials, and most of all the fans rekindling their love of the game getting back to grassroots suburban grounds, it’s a shame that the Gabba won’t be ready. However this oversight has allowed for not only a free shot to the NRL, F1 qualifying, the A-League, and the cricket’s fourth Test in India, and perhaps included the Fremantle vs Geelong match on Sunday night all to take over the box of 24 million Australians.

Unless you’re a conspiracy theorist that Britain’s Adele was actually planning for the Gabba’s comical pitch to be trashed so that the Poms to win the first Ashes test in November, there is the point that broadcasters have avoided testing the waters for the AFLW’s pinnacle match and have not let the fans choose what they’d prefer to watch this weekend. It would be certain that on free-to-air it would easily be a ratings winner to cap off a highly successful inaugural season.

On the eve of this weekend’s finale, the sliding door wasn’t even left ajar before it was quickly shut tight. I guess there’s always next year.

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