Crows and Tigers fans may be in seventh heaven as their sides reached the AFL Grand Final next weekend – the Crows’ first decider since 1998, the Tigers’ first since 1982 – but they may have to wake up the rest of the Australian sporting public to tell them.
After one of the most thrilling AFL seasons in history, with three draws and no less than 28 games decided by a single kick or less, everyone was looking forward to a gasp-inducing run to the decider.
Unfortunately, the only response the finals series has induced is yawns.
Yes, there was the controversial elimination final in Adelaide where the Eagles knocked out Port by two points – but apart from that the score differences have been 36, 65, 51, 67, 59, 61 and 42. That’s an average of 54 points between the winners and losers of the other sevens finals matches – hardly showpieces stacked with excitement.
Certainly, the AFL can’t be blamed for these lopsided results and CEO Gillon McLachlan and the boys down at Docklands must be scratching their heads as much as the rest of us due to the huge gap between teams – and also the stunning turnarounds from week to week.
Sydney beat Essendon in week one of the finals by 65 points, then lost the following weekend to Geelong by 59 – a swing of 124.
Geelong, after their thrashing of Sydney, were themselves put to the sword 136-75 by Adelaide the following weekend – this after losing to Richmond by 51 points in the first week of the finals. So Geelong’s route through the finals was: lost by 51, won by 59, lost by 61, which gives you an idea of how haphazard and uncontested results have been. GWS had a similar finals journey: lost by 36 to Adelaide, defeated the Eagles by 67 and then lost to the Tigers by 42.
The crowds have suffered due to the one-sided scorelines and TV audiences have been switching off in their droves. One leading pundit likened crowds to those of World War I, where so many would-be spectators were overseas fighting for their country.
“The AFL has been embarrassed by a disgracefully-low crowd at the GWS-West Coast semifinal at Spotless Stadium,” wrote leading AFL pundit Tyson Otto on news.com.au.
“Just 14,865 fans watched on as the Giants blasted the Eagles by 67 points — the lowest since crowds were sparse because of World War I.”
Indeed the crowd was the lowest for a final since 1916, when just 9,960 watched the Fitzroy v Collingwood semi-final at a near empty MCG.
“The fifth lopsided result from six games in this year’s finals series only added to the underwhelming affair,” continued Otto.
“After only one close game in the first week of finals, fans endured two semi-final thumpings this weekend to continue the September snoozefest.”
A similar turn-off factor has been seen in TV audiences with both AFL finals last weekend out-rated by the NRL equivalent. This again had a lot to do with the competitive nature of the matches themselves.
Both NRL Finals hung in the balance until near the very end unlike the AFL games which were decided well before half-time.
So people may have started off watching GWS v West Coast but as the score ballooned they would have quickly switched to the much closer Broncos and Panthers encounter.
This result is all the more damning for the AFL as the NRL finals match was shown live in just two major cities – Sydney and Brisbane, whereas the AFL match went to all five – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
The AFL does have a blockbuster on their hands this week with the come-back Crows up against the home town favourites, Richmond.
But they will desperately be hoping that one side isn’t leading by 50 points at half-time resulting in another massive switch off.
Luckily for the AFL, this time they are not directly up against the NRL Grand Final, which is a day later on Sunday.