AFL under pressure to make grand final change after ratings disaster

Not even some serious star power could help boost the underwhelming TV ratings for the AFL grand final. Pic: Getty
Not even some serious star power could help boost the underwhelming TV ratings for the AFL grand final. Pic: Getty

The AFL is under renewed pressure to ditch its traditional daytime slot for future grand finals in the wake of underwhelming ratings figures from Saturday's decider.

Geelong won their first premiership since 2011 after thrashing the Swans by 81 points at the MCG, in what was the first grand final played in Melbourne for three years.

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The Covid-19 pandemic saw the 2020 edition of the AFL decider shifted north to the Gabba in Brisbane, while Perth's Optus Stadium hosted last year's grand final, with both kicking off at night across most of Australia.

This year's edition returned to its traditional home at its usual 2.30pm (AEST) time slot, which unfortunately coincided with a significant drop in TV ratings around the country.

OzTam ratings released on Sunday showed 2.179 million viewers tuned in across the five major metropolitan markets.

The figure was well down on last year's number, when 3.006 million watched the twilight grand final played in Perth, which was broadcast in prime time in the big east coast markets.

It is also a huge drop from 2020, when 2.979 million watched the night grand final played in Brisbane.

Channel Seven heavyweights say the figures are clear evidence that TV viewers would prefer the AFL grand final to be held in the evening.

“We will always support the decisions the AFL makes for the fans,” James Warburton, Seven West Media Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, said in a statement.

“The numbers and comparisons are clear for all to see to support a primetime AFL Grand Final. It‘s a national game and a twilight or primetime bounce will maximise the audience for the code.”

Patrick Dangerfield, pictured here celebrating with fans after Geelong's grand final triumph.
Patrick Dangerfield celebrates with fans after Geelong's grand final triumph. (Photo by Morgan Hancock/AFL Photos/via Getty Images)

While the ratings flop may help bolster the argument from TV executives to shift the AFL grand final to a night time slot, they do not tell the entire story.

Some factors in this year's lower numbers include fans flocking back to public venues in Melbourne and watching in large groups after two years spent in and out of lockdown.

Pubs, clubs and other public venues around the country were full of supporters watching this year's decider, unlike the previous two years when large swathes of the country were in lockdown.

The one-sided contest may also have played a role in viewers tuning out, with Geelong surging to a commanding 35-point lead by quarter-time.

The result was effectively put to bed when the Cats kicked six unanswered goals during the third quarter.

Seen here, Geelong star Patrick Dangerfield celebrates with Cats fans after winning the 2022 AFL grand final against the Sydney Swans.
Geelong star Patrick Dangerfield celebrates with Cats fans after winning the 2022 AFL grand final against the Sydney Swans. Pic: Getty

AFL world split over grand final time slot

Regardless of the ratings, Geelong premiership midfielder Cam Guthrie said he would like to see the grand final remain in the traditional time slot at the MCG.

"Saturday arvo at the MCG is pretty special," Guthrie told reporters on Sunday.

"We got the full experience this year being down in Melbourne and yeah, it was amazing."

The ratings disaster came despite the AFL's huge outlay on luring UK pop icon Robbie Williams to Melbourne to spearhead a successful grand final entertainment show with Australia's Delta Goodrem.

Delta Goodrem, pictured here performing with Robbie Williams at the AFL grand final.
Delta Goodrem performed with Robbie Williams at the AFL grand final. Image: Getty

Strengthening the argument for a night time grand final was the fact the NRL preliminary final between Penrith and South Sydney registered 414,000 viewers in the biggest Sydney market, compared to 375,000 for the AFL grand final.

With two Sydney teams vying for a spot in the NRL grand final in a more rugby league-centric Sydney, those figures are perhaps not surprising.

While many AFL fans agree that the lower TV figures are proof that a night grand final is the way forward, there are still a lot of fans who want the game to stick with tradition.

with AAP

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