AFL teams could reportedly be asked to play multiple times per week in shortened games under a radical plan floated to combat the coronavirus crisis.
The 2020 premiership season will start as scheduled, but fans will be locked out of stadiums indefinitely as part of the league's measures to counter the spread of coronavirus.
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Around 90,000 fans had been expected to turn out for Thursday night's season opener between Richmond and Carlton but the MCG grandstands will now be empty.
The AFL took the step after deciding against delaying the start of the season following Friday's decision by the federal government to place a blanket ban on gatherings of 500 or more people.
However there are fresh reports that the AFL will implement more radical measures for the start of the season.
According to 7NEWS, the AFL will attempt to complete as many games as possible before any potential suspension of the season.
League bosses are said to be keen to make sure all 198 regular season games are played, but there are concerns about a forced government shutdown in June and July.
In order to counter any financial losses that a shutdown would incur, the AFL is reportedly considering having teams play four or five games in a three-week period.
That would reportedly mean games are shortened, interchanges extended and player lists expanded.
As the 7NEWS report states:
“With the primary aim protecting broadcast funds in the wake of lost game-day revenue, 7NEWS understands the key measures include:
Forcing teams to play 4-5 games in a three-week period
Squeezing the fixture to play all 198 home-and-away games either side of an expected break
Shortening games, adding rotations and extending the interchange bench to combat fatigue
Expanded lists with players sourced from a possible mini-draft or more supplemental signings
Informing players they must stay home from university and study online
Promoting good hygiene and social distancing to limit the spread”
Fans locked out in unprecedented move
League boss Gillon McLachlan flagged the move to lock out fans on Tuesday, with a decision to be made in close consultation with government medical experts.
“It is important that we take the advice of those that know best and that advice right now is to continue with matches but not to host mass gatherings, which can put everyone at risk,” McLachlan said in a statement released late on Friday afternoon.
“I am disappointed for our fans but we cannot put them in a situation that potentially jeopardises the health and well-being of the whole community.
“The landscape is changing quickly; each organisation has their own set of challenges but our clubs, players, officials and fans know that the health and safety of all is the No.1 priority.
“We are working through a major issue that impacts the wider community and we will work with all our clubs and industry partners to ensure that footy finds a way.”
AFL clubs have implemented a range of measures, including excluding fans from training and banning autographs and selfies, in an attempt to protect players and staff.
In other developments on Friday, two VFL practice matches were cancelled and Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett issued a plea to fans to stand by his club as it braces for a huge financial hit.
In a letter posted on the club's website, Kennett urged supporters to buy memberships to help mitigate an expected drop in revenue of at least 10 per cent.