The AFL has made a concerted push in recent years to give the game back to the fans, with the AFL just recently announcing that more tickets will be going to club members and taken away from the corporates.
However, if the AFL was serious about doing right by the fans and a majority of their key stakeholders, then Thursday night football would be phased out of the AFL fixture as opposed to its prominence this year.
The obvious point from a fan perspective is that Thursday night is a school/work night, meaning it is immediately alienating families from attending the footy. The other issue for the fans is a majority of sporting clubs in the winter months around Australia train on a Thursday night and it is typically club night where selection is confirmed for the weekend. Therefore, fans are caught between their sporting club and their AFL team and being forced to make a decision that shouldn’t have to be made.
AFL House idolises everything and anything that comes out of America and in particular the NFL, which is the model the AFL tends to follow when it comes to any sort of major decision about the makeup of the game. In the NFL, Thursday Night Football is an established part of the fixture, hated by players but seen as prestigious for any franchise to play on a Thursday night. The AFL needs to be constantly reminded the indigenous game of Australia is different to the most watched sport in America.
Therein lies the monster the AFL is creating for itself. The TV dollars control the game and often dictate what the AFL does. TV ratings are through the roof on a Thursday night for all the reasons that fans won’t go to the game on a Thursday night, it is too hard so the “we’ll watch it at home” attitude swings into gear, therefore punishing the clubs of potentially crucial gate receipts in marquee matchups.
The quality of teams matter as well on these Thursday night matchups and also the potential “viewer fatigue” that can start to happen. If a team is playing in a Thursday night primetime fixture, it is extremely likely they’ve either played the previous week in Thursday night football or Friday night football. This is where the casual fan begins to be punished. Watching the same teams in primetime every week is not good for TV ratings, especially when a team is scheduled to a lot of primetime fixtures and turn into a disappointing football team. (See Carlton two seasons ago). Primetime football should be for our best teams and it should be rotated around for the constant exposure to the teams that are deserving.
Don’t forget the players either. It is utterly ridiculous the West Coast Eagles are playing off a five-day break in a match at the end of the season could be the difference between a double chance or even a finals berth. With the way the game is being played at the moment, such a short break seems unreasonable for us to expect the highest quality football to be played.
The ratings might be up, but we need less Thursday night football, not more.