By Matthew Hughes
The Gabba will host the 2020 AFL Grand Final on Saturday October 24. Photo: Jono Searle/AFL Photos/Getty Images
The recent announcement that the AFL Grand Final will be held outside Victoria for the first time ever was something most people didn’t expect to see in their lifetime.
Two years ago the Victorian Government signed a 40 year agreement with the MCG, which guaranteed them the showpiece event every season until 2057 (it has since been extended to 2058 after losing it for this year).
However, the extreme circumstances surrounding COVID-19 in 2020 left the AFL with little choice but to look interstate, and the Gabba was the right option after all Queensland has done to accommodate the league this season.
All of a sudden Queensland has a literal “once in a lifetime opportunity”, to showcase the benefits of playing the penultimate game at more than one location.
Now I usually consider myself a traditionalist, but in some cases, tradition has to make way for the greater good. After all, I’m sure if it weren’t for changes Australian rules football would look a lot different to the game we play today.
After living in Melbourne for the last four years, there’s nothing more that I love than seeing 100, 000 + screaming fans packed into the MCG every year, and all the festivities that go with it. I love the parade and the buzz that engulfs the city.
However, there is one thing that even the most naïve fan would be forced to admit. Holding the Grand Final permanently in one location gives an advantage to the home team.
The MCG has had its Grand Final contract extended until 2058. Photo: Justine Walker/AFL Media
Whether it’s the home crowd support, less travel time, or more familiarity with the ground there is an advantage, however slight it may be.
From the years 2014-18 interstate teams that finished higher on the ladder were forced to play the Grand Final against a Victorian team at the MCG. In all these seasons except one (2018) the interstate team lost the game, and interestingly enough in all five games the interstate team lost or drew the free kick count.
Now I’m not saying if any of these Grand Finals were played interstate it would have changed the result, but don’t we think if there is to be any advantage on Grand Final day it should go to the team who finished higher on the ladder?
I know most people will argue the game’s greatest spectacle should be played at the biggest stadium, but there’s no reason we can’t have a great contest inside a packed 40,000-60,000 seat stadium. The NFL regularly holds the Super Bowl, one of the world’s most viewed sporting spectacles, in 60,000–70,000 seat stadiums.
Now I am aware that it may not be viable to hold the game at say Giants Stadium if GWS were to qualify first, but maybe a deal could be struck where the game was at least played in the biggest stadium in that team’s state.
Australian sports are lucky in that we have a finals system, with a winner-take-all game. In sporting leagues like the Premier League in England, it is the team that wins the minor premiership that takes home the ultimate prize. Even in sporting leagues like the NBA where the NBA Finals are one of the great spectacles, they play a best of seven series where the higher ranked team gets more home games.
Just like these leagues the AFL is far from amateur and is worth billions of dollars. A premiership for a club makes a huge difference in its ability to prosper and therefore no one should be given an undeserved advantage.
It has been 38 years now since South Melbourne relocated to Sydney to become the league’s first non-Victorian team, and 30 years since the VFL was renamed the AFL. For the AFL to become truly national the Grand Final cannot be permanently played in one location. Good luck to the Gabba in holding the first interstate grand final next month. I only hope I live to see the second.
Cover Photo: AAP/Darren England