Forget ‘the year of the fan’ – 2015 is the AFL’s year of the Friday night stinker.
Week after week, fans are getting dished up footy’s equivalent of a microwave meal on a Friday.
We start with high hopes but immediately realise we should have known better.
It is still consumable, but only just, and by the end of it we’re wishing we went for something different.
So far this season we’ve seen margins of 69, 74, 32, 75 and 41 points on Friday night footy.
The fillet steak has been saved for Saturday night, or worse, Sunday afternoon, when we are already punch-drunk on live footy and the hyperbole and analysis that goes with it in this age.
One look at the fixture doesn’t fill us with much hope.
Sure, Essendon and North Melbourne at Docklands has potential this week, but of the next 13 Friday night matches, nine feature either Richmond, or even worse – Carlton.
There are few things in footy better than the Tigers at the top of their game in front of big crowds.
But they’re in horrendous form at the moment and their ball use against the Kangaroos on Saturday was comically bad at times.
The prospect of watching that six more times on a Friday night this year will fill any footy fan with dread.
Just like Mick Malthouse, the AFL’s fixture-makers did not see Carlton’s rebuild coming. Seeing them get flogged four more times on a Friday? No thanks.
Friday night footy should showcase the round’s best match. It is the most-watched game of the weekend and – given the big build-up and guaranteed fallout until Saturday afternoon at least – often the most discussed.
As winter gets closer and closer, people are less inclined to leave home on a Friday evening when, after a long week at work, watching the footy on the couch with a pizza (not out the microwave) in front of a warm fire is just too appealing.
Appealing isn’t the word you’d use to describe Tigers or Blues games at the moment, though.
So who is to blame? Aiming fire at the AFL seems harsh. They aren’t clairvoyants and, going by footy tipping competitions across the country, neither are we.
But we keep hearing it’s the most even footy season in years. So let’s start getting some of those games on in prime time. How is that done? With a floating fixture.
The NRL has one in place for the final six rounds of their season, with matches confirmed but timings still to be decided. Popular in sports competitions across the world, floating fixtures are designed to give broadcasters the luxury of picking who plays when and where. If it is good enough for the English Premier League, it’s good enough for the AFL.
Round 23 is already ‘floating’ in the footy world, but it is time to make it a more far-reaching element.
Immediately, thoughts go to fans and how they will be affected. That is why a six-week window where games and times are ‘locked in’ would be a must. That gives supporters who want to travel a chance, and gives others some certainty in how the fixture will look.
Of course there’d be logistical issues, like rest between matches and stadium availability, and picking a match six weeks in advance doesn’t mean it is guaranteed to be good.
But a flexible fixture would allow the AFL to give those teams in good form a lucrative Friday night match.
The Western Bulldogs – victorious in four of their first six matches and armed with one of the best young lists in the competition – have no Friday fixtures this season.
The Doggies or Carlton? It’s a pretty easy choice at the moment.
Friday night footy should be a reward. Bigger crowds attend, more people watch on free-to-air and appearances in the timeslot help drive membership numbers and sponsorship deals.
And, at the moment, Richmond and Carlton don’t deserve any rewards.
Friday Night Frights
Round 2: West Coast Eagles 20.11 (131) defeated Carlton 9.8 (62).
Round 3: Collingwood 21.14 (140) defeated St Kilda 10.6 (66).
Round 4: Richmond 6.15 (51) defeated by Melbourne 12.11 (83).
Round 5: Carlton 6.9 (45) defeated by Collingwood 18.12 (120).
Round 6: Collingwood 8.11 (59) defeated by Geelong 15.10 (100)