Local sports clubs are demanding that the AFL take more account of the community leagues when planning big games.
- The AFL has scheduled its first finals game for a Saturday afternoon that clashes with local soccer games
- For many clubs, this is the first time a finals tournament has been played since 2019
- There are calls to change sending rules to avoid conflicts
It comes after the AFL announced their much-anticipated opening game between Geelong and Collingwood will be played at 4:30 p.m. on the first Saturday in September.
The Ovens and Murray Football Netball League (O&M) in north east Victoria begins its finals season on the same day.
The league has objected to the AFL game being scheduled at that time in the afternoon, saying people from the area would have to leave early in the day to get to the game and others would be glued in front of their TVs.
Members believed this would cannibalize spectators, volunteers and even players at local games.
“There is no doubt that it will have a significant impact on our finals,” said chairman David Sinclair.
“It’s a real slap in the face of community football.”
Yarrawonga Football Netball Club President Ross Mulquiney said it was a sign of a wider clash between struggling community sports clubs and major leagues over peak broadcast hours.
“Essentially, by not allowing them to thrive, they’re killing the goose that laid the golden egg,” he said.
Calls for “blackout” broadcast rules
In 1961, the Sports Broadcasting Act was passed in the United States in response to a court ruling on the NFL’s negotiation method for television broadcasting rights.
Mr Mulquiney said part of that law meant professional football games would not be broadcast on location on Friday nights and Saturdays when high school and college football games were being played.
“It’s the realization that these sports need their market to participate and compete,” he said.
He believed something similar was needed in Australia to ensure community sport could thrive.
“We compete with $10-a-month subscriptions that let you watch football whenever you want… [against] Live sport on a Saturday afternoon when we hope people will either come down and watch or come down and participate,” he said.
He said it’s a relatively new problem, but one that’s more common.
“We are fighting a losing battle,” he said.
“The question is, what does our society want?
“How much do we value people who are on the go, active, healthy, and socializing versus paying a few bucks more for some pro athletes to play a game?”
Back after COVID-19
The O&M league, like most community sports leagues across the country, has had a rough few years.
The entire 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19, and nationwide restrictions and lockdowns resulted in the 2021 season being abandoned in August before the finals could begin.
“It’s been three years for most of us since we’ve played a final,” said Mr. Sinclair.
“This is our opportunity now to generate some revenue and we are attempting to do so against the backdrop of one of the biggest blockbuster finals in the AFL in recent years.
“It’s just a massive distraction that community football doesn’t need.”
Mr Mulquiney said the issue was affecting leagues across the state, but many were not comfortable speaking out.
“It certainly seems so [by] If you stick your head up to make that point, it can sort of get cut off because you’re criticizing your employer,” he said.
But Mr Sinclair still hoped the AFL would hear her concerns.
“Hopefully the noise nuisance will give some thought in the future as to what the planning means for community football and the implications,” he said.
The AFL has been contacted for comment.