Fans are staying away from AFL games in droves due to a wide range of issues, including controversial new rules and the high cost of attending football with a family, a wide-ranging investigation has revealed.
The average AFL Attendance this year has fallen to about 31,000, the smallest non-pandemic figure since the low of 29,100 in 1995.
The issue bottomed out on round 14 when just 6,208 people went to the highest-scoring game of the season between Greater Western Sydney and the Western Bulldogs.
GWS played one of the games of the season against the Bulldogs but there were hardly any supporters to watch it
St Kilda great Nick Riewoldt said on Fox Footy that match was “one of the best aesthetically pleasing games of the year to watch” and that it was alarming that so few people showed up.
“It’s worrying for the AFL – a big rivalry game,” he said.
“If the Giants have a rival, it’s the Western Bulldogs. The audience at the weekend was really disappointing.’
The only other match this season to draw less crowds was North Melbourne in round nine, which drew 5,114 fans to a Tasmania home game against Port Adelaide.
Empty booths have been a common theme since turnstiles started spinning again after the lockouts caused by the Covid pandemic
Covid is one of the reasons people stay away, but it’s not the driving force behind fans abandoning live games.
A Herald Sun reader survey has revealed why fans are staying home, with the league’s flawed ticketing system being a major reason for the drop in numbers.
The majority of respondents said rule changes — including the crackdown on dissent against AFL umpires — were the number one source of frustration.
Problems with the new ticketing system and the difficulty of getting to matches were also problems for future spectators, along with high prices for food and drink.
An internal AFL survey found that about half of respondents said digital membership was their biggest frustration, while nearly 40 percent blamed the ticket-purchase process for not attending.
“I just hope there are crowds of people at Victorian era cricket matches without the crazy ticketing system at AFL matches,” wrote Judith Kelly.
A fan named Cameron expressed frustration at not being able to get tickets: ‘I’m trying to get tickets for #AFLPiesGiants and nothing is available, the website says. Surely this is an ap**s take @mcg? There won’t be more than 20k on Sunday,” he tweeted.
AFL boss Gil McLachlan is moving to address some of the issues, taking the return of physical ticketing as the point of departure
AFL chief executive Gil McLachlan said physical membership cards would be reintroduced to fix the problem.
“Our most recently completed fan survey found that the digital ticketing ecosystem has been challenging for some to navigate, so we are bringing back the option of membership cards for 2023,” said McLachlan.
“The passion of football fans is unparalleled in world sport, and we will continue to ensure that we provide them with the best possible experience, whether that be in the stadium or on broadcast.”
AFL Fans Association president Cheryl Critchley said the constant rule changes over the past few years have frustrated many fans.
“They don’t like the amount of changes and some changes, like the ‘stance’ rule and a 50-meter dissence, are less popular than others,” Critchley said.
“In general, a number of factors keep fans at home. They include complicated digital ticketing, the floating fixture that makes it difficult to schedule, Thursday night games that are difficult for families and those who have to travel, Covid and total costs, including transport, food and drink.”
Dustin Martin of the Tigers kicks the ball during round 1 AFL game between Richmond and Carlton at the MCG
However, there could be some hope for the AFL on Saturday, with Geelong hoping to break a 1980 attendance record in the blockbuster clash against Richmond in the MCG.
The biggest crowd between the two clubs was 47,625 fans in Waverley and with so much at stake today, both clubs are hoping to break through the 50,000 mark.
Free tickets help increase the number, with members getting the chance to bring a partner, while the AFL issues free passes for children.
Cats CEO Steve Hocking said they are definitely looking to break the 1980 record.
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