Thursday is the new Friday.
The AFL today released its fixture for 2019 and it confirms that there will be eight Thursday night fixtures next year, front-ending the start of the campaign with five of those landing in the first rounds of the season.
Carlton and Richmond will kick things off on Thursday, March 21, with their traditional season opener.
Premiers, the West Coast Eagles, will unveil their 2018 flag at home in round 2, when they take on the GWS Giants in a Saturday twilight game in Perth.
The AFL has also introduced five-day breaks between matches as a regular feature of the fixture, with Adelaide,Brisbane, Essendon, Geelong, Melbourne, Richmond, Sydney and the Western Bulldogs all facing short turn-arounds during the season.
AFL General Manager, Clubs and Broadcasting Travis Auld said “The five day break provides flexibility in the fixturing process to help deliver our fans the best games in the biggest time slots”
The AFL Players Association has ticked off on the five-day break arrangement, as participating clubs will enjoy a minimum seven-day lead-in and an extended recovery period following the match.
Collingwood have been rewarded for a breakout 2017 with a total of nine appearances in the box-office Thursday (2) and Friday (7) night slots. It includes a heavyweight Thursday night clash with Richmond in round two.
The much anticipated grand final rematch between the Magpies and Eagles is pencilled in for round 3 at the MCG.
The AFL has held faith with Sydney Swans, delivering them five Friday night appointments whilst it’s expecting Hawthorn’s big trade period to pay dividends, locking the Hawks into five Friday nights as well.
Carlton, who were Friday night regulars in 2018 – much to the frustration of many TV viewers – have been demoted. Other than the season opener, The Blues won’t be seen in that prime slot.
St.Kilda, Fremantle and Gold Coast Suns are in the dog house. All three clubs have been locked out of Thursday and Friday night football.
After being so resistant to the idea for many years, the AFL has expanded its Good Friday football offering. There will be two matches with North Melbourne hosting Essendon in a twilight contest in Melbourne, followed by The West Coast Eagles and Port Adelaide at Optus Stadium in Perth.
Who plays who twice?
Travis Auld, AFL general manager of clubs and broadcasting, explains the weighted rule.
— AFL.com.au (@AFLcomau) November 1, 2018
The AFL’s overseas foray will continue when Port Adelaide plays St.Kilda in Shanghai, China, in Round 11. The Saints will be racking up the frequent flyer miles mid-season. After returning from China they soon head to Townsville in Queensland to take on the Gold Coast Suns in round 13.
Each club is scheduled to enjoy a mid-season break with the byes to be staggered across rounds 12 to 14. The AFL has retained its floating fixture for round 23 to enable optimal scheduling for broadcasters and finals-bound teams.
“The AFL’s goal is that all clubs can compete equally for top-eight spots, and then those clubs playing in September can have the best possible lead-in and preparation for the most important matches of the season” Auld said.
With the fixture being hotly contested ground amongst all clubs and conveying significant commercial implications for teams granted top billing, the fixture will strike those teams relegated to TV’s side courts that some are more equal than others.