Sport AFL The AFL’s endless season rolls on as footy fans can’t get enough
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The AFL’s endless season rolls on as footy fans can’t get enough

The trade period is a key part of the AFL's endless season strategy. Photo Getty Images
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Adam Simpson never really got the chance to savour his recent premiership success.

On the Monday after his West Coast Eagles had won a classic grand final, the coach had to turn his mind to the new season that was just beginning.

The AFL’s ever expanding and all consuming post season.

The Friday after The Eagles had flown home to a heroes welcome in Perth, the coach and his staff were crunching the numbers and running a ruler over which players stay, who goes and who to chase for 2019 as the AFL’s free agency and trade period kicked into gear.

The idea that the final siren on AFL grand final day signaled footy’s curtain call for another year is a notion that belongs to the era of fat full forwards and bathrobes as bench attire.

On Thursday the AFL will release its fixture for 2019. It’s been strategically leaking aspects of the game schedule for more than two weeks prior to its release ensuring footy is never far from the headlines.

The AFL’s digital season is kicking goals. Photo: Getty

Fans will pore over it the moment it was released to assess their team’s schedule. AFL footy will be the only talk in town yet again.

The AFL has successfully created the never-ending season and its avalanche of headline news and events have become an all-year-round affair.

This is sport’s new digital gold rush where it’s not what’s happening on the field but what is happening on line that is almost becoming bigger than the actual game itself.

The numbers are staggering.

For the AFL’s Trade Radio coverage – a wall to wall audio and video talking shop about player trades – the coverage logged 41 million minutes of audio streaming and eight million minutes of video watched at an average of 24 minutes a visit throughout the trade period.

Darren Birch is the AFL’s general manager of growth and media. He said that the emergence of new technologies has helped unlock the demand for more footy, all the time.

“We already had a variety of activities like the trade period and the draft  that people were very interested in. The use of mobile and digital platforms meant we were able to convey this to the fans and they obviously have a terrific thirst for it.”

“We now have an incredible power to reach people across all platforms and fans can access the content they want on their own terms in their own time,” Birch said.

The thirst for footy talk seems to be boundless. Digital sports marketing expert and founder of Sports Geek HQ, Sean Callanan, agrees.

“No one has said we’re full. The fans are sitting at the digital buffet of content that is around the game and the appetite hasn’t slowed”.

Callanan said the AFL has followed the pattern of US sports such as the NBA which has led the way in understanding that the demand for content doesn’t stop with the final whistle.

“The AFL has shown that when they dip into this kind of content the fans want more.”

It’s testament to the power of the AFL to leverage its seemingly bottomless appeal and a strategic masterstroke that squeezes rival codes and other sports to the margins in media coverage and conversation.

What should be a simple administrative process where players re-negotiate contracts or find new homes has become a saga to be shrink wrapped and sold to ravenous footy heads who lap it up.

The NAB is the naming sponsor for trade and draft period as the AFL turns paperwork into profit.

Trade period ends in mid-October, but it is only the first stanza of the AFL’s endless roadshow.

The AFLW draft intersects the AFL draft – which is now a two-day event featuring a stand-alone, top-10 countdown for the best teenage footballers in a coronation ceremony that is part American kitsch, part footy club presentation night and compulsory viewing as fans wait to see which future star will pull on their club’s jumper next year.

The omnipotence of AFL coverage presents enormous challenges for other sports hoping for some clear air in which to operate.

One senior administrator in a rival sport admits the AFL has colonised the news cycle and made it a tough sell for their competitors.

“It’s relentless and it makes it a tough environment to operate in but we just have to provide a great product and tell a compelling story about our game and get on with selling the message”

“The AFL is an industry that employs hundreds of content providers who rely on the game for a living and it’s in their interests to talk it up. It’s a co-dependence that is mutually beneficial.”

And it seems we’re only just beginning when it comes to the evolution of the endless season.

“The AFL is still developing the event aspect, such as making the draft more appealing on TV and other platforms” Callanan said.

And as long as footy fans keep logging on like they have been, the off season will be the biggest season of all.

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