Once again, the AFL’s uneven fixture is under fire with 8 rounds remaining and the battle for top 8 as close as ever. As supporters study the fixture intently looking for reasons why their favourite teams will still make the finals, commentators and experts have started to blame the AFL for a fixturing system that is inherently unfair and will influence the standings. There is however the largely forgotten fact that clubs do have some control over their own fixture – in the form of the moving or selling their home games.
Even with proposals being floated for a new fixture there seems to be no resolution in sight that deals with both fixture equality and the moving of games for commercial reasons. Games like the one played in China earlier this year give AFL clubs the opportunity to generate an extra source of revenue which can be particularly beneficial when a club is struggling financially at the cost of their true home ground advantage.
This does not always mean that the club is disadvantaged on-field of course. Hawthorn and North Melbourne have both been playing games in Tasmania for the last 5 years to huge success. Since 2012 these two sides have combined for an incredible 30 wins from the 36 games played in Tasmania.
Based at the MCG and Etihad Stadium these teams normally share their home ground with other sides. Unlike other clubs around the country opposition sides get multiple chances to play their ground per year – leaving them with a much smaller home ground advantage. By selling games to Tasmania they have each created a new home ground for themselves – one where they boast a true home ground advantage for a few games a season.
However where North and Hawthorn have succeeded many have previously failed. Moving home games is a risky business and while the money is no doubt appealing clubs must remember that the end goal is winning games of football.
Richmond famously lost 2 of the 3 games they played against the Gold Coast suns in Cairns between 2011-2013 when the Suns were still in their infancy. Melbourne played and lost 3 games against Port Adelaide in Alice Springs before finally breaking through against the Gold Coast this year. The Western Bulldogs, St Kilda and GWS have all also played home games outside their home state over the last 3 years to varying levels of success.
For the 2017 season 2 new deals were struck to play home games away from home. The Gold Coast Suns sold a home game to play Port Adelaide in China and the Western Bulldogs will play their first game in Ballarat on top of their existing deal to play 1 game per year in Cairns.
It is no secret that the Gold Coast Suns have struggled to find sponsors, gain members and prove their financial viability, so the offer from Port Adelaide of $500,000 to sell a home game was likely too good to turn down. Unfortunately the attitude from the coach and players clearly undid any good work the extra exposure might have achieved for the fledgling club.
For a side that only managed 1 win away from home last year to sell a home match and then put up a performance that was described as effortless is damning. This was a financial decision through and through with little respect for the impact it could have on the club’s performance.
The Western Bulldogs will be keen to avoid the same outcome in their first Ballarat clash – also against Port Adelaide later this year. Unlike many other Melbourne sides the reigning premiers have managed to consistently perform well at their home venue, winning over 75% of their games at Etihad since Luke Beveridge became coach.
Currently sitting 1 win outside the 8 the fixture quirks now seem very influential on what may be a disappointing season for the Bulldogs. Having played 14 games at Etihad last year and 4 of those ‘away’ games, this year’s fixture in contrast delivers only 11. With less opportunity to win at their home ground the Doggies will be desperate to win both the games they chose to sell or the reigning premiers will most likely find themselves missing the finals.
The take away from all this is that moving home games is risky. The stronger your home ground advantage the more you stand to lose from an unreliable second home ground. With so many sides on the verge of finals club management would be wise to look at the impact selling games can have – the money made may not be worth it.