Arguably one of Australia’s biggest events on the calendar each year, the 2020 AFL Grand Final has been thrown into disarray this year thanks to a global pandemic. Sports fans across the country at one stage were wondering if the game’s greatest spectacle would even go ahead. So far, the pandemic has caused havoc with the fixture list, shortened quarters and forced players and their families into isolated bubbles, all with the goal of continuing our great game in sharp focus. When the Grand Final was first discussed it was still blasphemous to even think it would be anywhere but the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Now, in early September, what should have been mere weeks from the big date, we have clarity. If you’ve struggled to keep up with all things COVID-19 and the wonderful game of AFL, here is everything you need to know.
Why is the 2020 AFL Grand Final changing?
COVID-19 and the global pandemic has left no stone unturned in its impact, including world sport. The AFL early in the season managed the problem by isolating and testing players, as well as club staff to ensure safety. When the pandemic progressed, it was necessary for the league to put more stringent measures in place to ensure safety and continuity of the competition. Following a brief break in play, the AFL released a roadmap for the remainder of the season, which included this year’s grand final plan. With the pandemic worsening in Victoria through increased case numbers, the AFL was forced to accept the game’s biggest spectacle couldn’t be played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. This was despite the agreed contract to play the games ultimate decider at the ground through to 2057. With this once in a lifetime challenge, the game’s administrators had to think laterally about what was in the games, players and publics best interest. As Australian’s, we don’t do well without sport, so rather than face the prospect of no AFL games, the game has to adapt. This meant a change, albeit temporary, in the venue for AFL’s game of games.
Who was vying for AFL’s biggest game?
When the powers that be at AFL headquarters decided to move the Grand Final, they immediately turned their attention to potential suitors, and there was no shortage of them. The AFL Grand Final represents an enormous opportunity to grow community awareness, boost local economies and potentially give government officials a big boost in approval ratings. After all, luring one of the most anticipated events on Australia’s sporting calendar to your city is sure to help your reputation. Not all cities could be considered though. For various reasons, most smaller cities or non-major cities were ruled out. Difficulties in broadcasting, stadium availability and capacity are just a few of the issues facing a prospective bid. That left three main contenders for the hosting rights, The Gabba in Brisbane, Adelaide Oval in Adelaide and Optus Stadium in Perth. All three of these contenders had the advantage of successfully hosting team bubbles for the home and away season, meaning they were perceived as safe and willing to accept domestic travellers. The next decision was to review the offers and hurdles that would need to be jumped over to organise the Grand Final in each city. These hurdles include meeting the necessary health obligations, completing approvals through state governments and organising the massive logistical challenge associated with moving the game. Each contender considered their bid very strong, but ultimately there was only ever going to be one winner.
Venue and time for the 2020 AFL Grand Final
The Gabba was the choice recommended to the Commission by the powerbrokers at AFL Headquarters including CEO Gill McLachlan. The Gabba represents an enormous opportunity for the AFL to continue to grow the game of AFL in a state which features one of the most recently added team to the competition, the Gold Coast Suns. The Gabba has a rich history of hosting some of Australia’s most important sporting events including The Ashes, so its safe to say they will embrace the importance of AFL’s biggest day. One of the challenges the league faced, however, was the climate and conditions of Queensland. The first bounce of the biggest day in the AFL calendar is historically scheduled for 2:30 pm, a usually beautiful hour for a Melbourne Saturday in September. That timing in Queensland, however, comes with added complications the AFL has had to make allowances for, namely the heat, humidity and the sun. The position and design of the Gabba, coupled with the Queensland sun means glare is a serious problem. Players in a recent weekend of fixtures were unable to see well enough, which impacted the quality of the football played. This means the first bounce of the 2020 AFL Grand Final will be at its latest scheduled time in history, either at twilight or the evening of October 24. This historic scheduling is likely to be welcomed by the lucky sides competing for the flag, as they won’t have to play in Brisbane’s unforgiving hot and humid conditions. The later time also allows for the game’s build-up to be enjoyed over a longer time period during the day.
What does it mean for the AFL going forward?
Moving the Grand Final is both a logistical and emotional challenge for a game that in its history has never been played outside of Victoria. There are many advantages to moving the Grand Final, including raising the profile in an otherwise Rugby League dominated state. The AFL Grand Final being in Brisbane, also means the AFL has the opportunity to run a rather large experiment, albeit during a pandemic. The 2020 Grand Final allows the AFL to test viewership in another state, hopefully, attendance as well, but it also allows the AFL to test the impact on Victorian viewers and their responses. The Grand Final is arguably one of the biggest drawcards in the game, so testing its success outside of Victoria could be a springboard for more radical thinking beyond 2020. Western Australia and South Australia have long been passionate advocates for the game, so a Grand Final for each may be a fitting thank you. Then you have the Sydney based franchises, the Swans and the Giants, who would both love to experience a home Grand Final if lucky enough to be there. The challenge for the AFL will be the justification for a move and the frequency at which it happens when there isn’t a global pandemic.
With the 2020 AFL Grand Final on the move to Brisbane, many fans will be wondering what to expect. The AFL is confident they have made the right choice in selecting the Gabba. With the Brisbane Lions a genuine chance of featuring in this year’s big dance, the fairy tale could almost be writing itself. Time will tell what the reaction is to this necessary change for the AFL and their biggest game of the year.
Leave your comments about what you think is to come in the 2020 AFL Grand Final. You can also read other blog articles on events happening around Melbourne, or how to set up a home brewery.