Sport Other Sports Super Bowl: The lessons that Australian sport can learn

Super Bowl: The lessons that Australian sport can learn

Tom Brady celebrates New England's Super Bowl win. Photo: Getty
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The Super Bowl is over for another year.

New England’s comeback was exciting, if you’re into American football, and the half-time show attracted worldwide headlines.

The NFL does a lot of things right with the Super Bowl, from the build-up to the entertainment, but the best thing it does is keep the occasion moving.

It is called fairness. The Super Bowl goes around the country, giving plenty of fans a chance of being there for the sport’s day of days.

And that is where the AFL and the NRL could learn a lot.

They purport to be national competitions but the Melbourne-centred AFL’s geographic limitations are on full display each and every Grand Final week when, supposedly, the nation’s eyes drift to the MCG.

It is at odds with what we are told so often – that it is a truly national game.

If that is the case, the AFL needs to expand its horizons beyond Richmond.

Where the NFL takes its biggest day across the United States, the AFL confines it to the outer wing of the MCG and the NRL stays in Sydney.

For the AFL, the line is that Melbourne is the home of football and the Grand Final at the ‘G is the tradition.

But if the game is to expand nationally, this tradition, surely, has had its day.

It is not the VFL anymore; eight of the competition’s 18 teams play outside Victoria.

Gold Coast against Greater Western Sydney would, in the current structure, play a Grand Final in Melbourne. Photo: Getty

Sport is now big business and like most administrations, the AFL is keen on a buck.

To maximise the Grand Final’s commercial potential, it should adopt the NFL’s practice and allow cities to bid for the right to stage the game.

Houston’s NRG Stadium secured the Super Bowl by knocking off Miami. Minneapolis will host the next Bowl after agreeing to build a billion-dollar roofed stadium.

With the completion of the new Perth Stadium and the revamping of the SCG and Adelaide Oval, most cities have the facilities to host the AFL Grand Final.

None have the capacity of the ‘G, but few stadia do, and that shouldn’t be the criteria.

An interstate Grand Final would show that the AFL is committed to promoting the code nationally and, significantly, would also lessen the home ground advantage which interstate clubs face when they come to Melbourne.

It is blatantly unfair – take 2015 for example.

West Coast, who finished higher than Hawthorn, and beat the Hawks in a qualifying final, had to travel to Melbourne for the season decider.

And who did they play? Hawthorn, at the MCG, their home ground.

The 2015 Grand Final was unfair on West Coast. Photo: Getty

Let’s face it – both the AFL and NRL Grand Finals are now a day for the corporate hangers-on rather than the fan.

As with the Super Bowl, they are largely television events – most of us watch on a screen.

The fair thing is surely to keep the Grand Final moving. The tourism benefits for each city would be significant.

Let cities bid and, like the Super Bowl, determine the winner in advance.

As the Super Bowl also highlighted, major sporting shows are better spectacles at dusk or night, and more profitable in primetime television slots.

The NRL has followed this method – to great success.

Its pre-game entertainment hits the mark and ratings are through the roof but the AFL remains stuck at 2.30pm.

From Meatloaf to Tom Jones, past AFL pre-game performers have featured too many fading rockers and Vegas veterans. This year, we’ll probably get a crinkled-cut crooner from Croydon.

Entertainment at the 2016 NRL Grand Final. It just looks better at night. Photo: Getty

The Bowl does it much better because it invests in big-name acts, and uses lighting and props to showcase their performances.

So, Gillon et al, get rid of the pre-match singalong. It doesn’t work.

Most people aren’t in the stadium to begin with. Put the show on at half-time when the stands are full and make it a 12-minute blockbuster, just like the Super Bowl.

Use the entertainment to hook in non-AFL fans. A Bruce Springsteen, a Lady Gaga or a Beyonce will do this.

Daryl Braithwaite and The Horses, John Farnham and You’re The Voice, and the side-splitting half-time sprint featuring Melbourne’s fastest cabbie, won’t.

Use the act to attract a younger demographic to the game.

The NFL does this so well.

Why else do couched spuds around Australia, who have no interest in the NFL, watch the Super Bowl?

To paraphrase a former US president, it’s the show stupid, not the game.

Dr Tom Heenan teaches sports studies at Monash University.

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