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 bringing a family to football, a wide survey has revealed.
Average AFL attendance has fallen to around 31,000 this year, the lowest non-pandemic figure since the 1995 low of 29,100.
The problem came to a head in round 14 when just 6,208 people showed up to watch the season’s highest-scoring contest between Greater Western Sydney and the Western Bulldogs.
GWS played one of the games of the season against the Bulldogs, but almost no fans were there to see it
St Kilda great Nick Riewoldt said on Fox Footy the game was “one of the best aesthetic games of the year to watch” and it was alarming that so few people showed up.
“It’s concerning for the AFL – a big game of rivalry,” he said.
“If the Giants have a rival, it’s the Western Bulldogs. The weekend crowd was really disappointing.
The only other game this season to draw a lower crowd was North Melbourne in the ninth round which drew 5,114 fans to a home game in Tasmania against Port Adelaide.
Empty stalls have been a common theme since turnstiles started turning again after lockdowns caused by the Covid pandemic
Covid is one of the reasons people are staying away, but it’s not the driving force behind fans abandoning live games.
A survey of Herald Sun readers has revealed what is keeping fans at home, with the league’s faulty ticketing system a major reason for the drop in numbers.
The majority of respondents said rule changes – including a crackdown on dissent against AFL referees – were their biggest cause of frustration.
Problems with the new ticketing system and difficulty getting to matches were also problems for potential spectators, along with high food and drink prices.
Internal AFL research showed around half of those polled said digital membership was their biggest frustration, while almost 40% blamed the ticket buying process for their non-attendance. .
“I just hope there are loads of crowds at cricket matches in Victorian times without the silly ticketing system at AFL matches,” Judith Kelly said.
A fan named Cameron expressed his frustration at not being able to get tickets: “I’m trying to get tickets for #AFLPiesGiants and nothing available, it says on the website. It’s probably ap**s take @mcg? There won’t be more than 20,000 there on Sunday,’ he tweeted.
AFL boss Gil McLachlan is set to iron out some of the issues, with the return of physical ticketing as the starting point
AFL chief executive Gil McLachlan said physical membership cards would be reintroduced to help solve the problem.
“Our most recent fan survey identified that the digital ticketing ecosystem has been difficult for some to navigate, so we’re bringing back the membership card option for 2023,” McLachlan said.
“The passion of football fans is unmatched in global sport, and we continue to ensure that we provide them with the best experience possible, whether in the stadium or via broadcast.”
AFL Fans Association president Cheryl Critchley said the constant rule changes over the past few years had left many fans frustrated.
“They don’t like the number of changes and some tweaks, like the ‘stand’ rule and the 50m dissent penalty, are more unpopular than others,” Critchley said.
“Overall, a series of factors are keeping the fans at home. They include complicated digital ticketing, floating mounting which makes planning difficult, Thursday night games which are difficult for families and those who need to travel, Covid and the overall cost, including transport, food and drinks.
Dustin Martin of the Tigers kicks the ball during the AFL Round 1 game between Richmond and Carlton at the MCG
There might be some hope for the AFL on Saturday, however, with Geelong hoping to break a 1980 attendance record in the blockbuster clash against Richmond at the MCG.
The biggest crowd between the two clubs was 47,625 fans at Waverley and with so much at stake today, both clubs are hoping to break through the 50,000 mark.
Free tickets will help boost numbers, with members able to bring a companion, while the AFL has issued free passes for children.
Cats general manager Steve Hocking said they definitely plan to break the 1980 record.