AFL faces tough call on night grand final

September 27, 2021 BY
AFL NIGHT GRAND FINAL

A display shows a crowd attendance of 61,118 people at the AFL Grand Final match between the Melbourne Demons and Western Bulldogs at Optus Stadium. (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

A massive television audience for Melbourne’s drought-breaking AFL premiership will weigh heavily on league officials as they consider calls to shift the grand final back to the traditional afternoon time slot next year.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan relented to public pressure in March, when he revealed plans for this year’s decider to be played on a Saturday afternoon at the MCG.

But ongoing coronavirus issues in Victoria ultimately meant the showpiece was shifted interstate and played under lights for the second successive year.

Host broadcaster Seven Network reported an average national audience of 3.91 million viewers for Melbourne’s 74-point thrashing of the Western Bulldogs at Perth’s Optus Stadium on Saturday night.

The viewership was an increase from 3.81 million for Richmond’s win over Geelong under the Gabba lights last year and a huge 33 per cent increase on the 2019 decider, when the Tigers beat GWS in the most recent afternoon grand final at the MCG.

Seven said the Demons’ victory was watched by an additional 197,000 viewers on connected televisions and recorded more than twice the number of online streaming minutes of last year’s decider.

It was the largest television audience for a grand final since 2016 and fifth-largest ever.

Seven again threw its support behind the night grand final concept, lauding the success of another season decider that was broadcast live in prime time in the big east coast markets.

“Seven’s prime time coverage, underpinned by our expert commentary and insights, ensured more fans across Australia could enjoy the exciting grand final action,” Seven Network Melbourne managing director Lewis Martin said.

Optus Stadium was a spectacular stage as the sun set over Perth, with a lighting show and fireworks part of the pre-match and half-time entertainment, as well as the post-match celebrations.

Debate has raged over the grand final time slot for several years, with the majority of players, coaches and rusted-on fans appearing to favour the afternoon match.

The AFL is yet to give any firm indication about whether the 2022 grand final will be played in the afternoon or at night and a decision may not be made for some months.

In March, McLachlan said the league wanted to look after its supporters by returning to “some of the traditions and rituals around footy”.

Thank you for supporting local journalism!