Well, the Cricketer’s Arms Hotel in Punt Road and the London Tavern in Lennox Street will think it’s a great idea. As will the other half-dozen hostelries within staggering distance of the MCG.
But the biggest winners of all, of course, from a twilight AFL grand final will be TV and in particular host broadcasters Ten and Seven, who alternate coverage of the big game each year. Their already sky-high ratings on the last Saturday in September will now, presumably, disappear into the stratosphere.
But who else will benefit from this mooted plan for a 5pm start to the Grand Final, as revealed in today’s Age? Certainly not most footy supporters, if talkback radio is any guide this morning. To a man, and woman, they derided the idea.
Even David White, the head of sport at Channel 10, was unable to come up with a plausible reason – for public consumption, anyway. At one stage, he tried lamely to tell Neil Mitchell on 3AW that it would be a much better time for Western Australians who watch the game. Well that’s just dandy then; run a red texta through 110 years of tradition just so Western Australia, who comprise a tiny percentage of the overall audience, can tune in over a late lunch.
The real reason Channel 10 want to change the starting time is, of course, money and why should we be surprised otherwise? Having paid a massive fee for broadcast rights, the network wants to milk more money out of this cash cow by making it an 12- or 15-hour television event, warming up with some old grand final replays, throwing to the main pre-game panel about lunchtime then making a seamless segue to the game at 5pm. Afterwards, the cameras would continue to roll at the official dinners for the winning and losing teams. As White admitted today, Channel 10 would expect a bigger national audience with a 5pm start.
But the TV networks, and the AFL, will tamper with tradition at their peril. Quite possibly the changes will be made at the expense of the spectacle. Also, the social implications are potentially worrying.
Grand final lunches will surely become all the rage. By the time of the first bounce, half of the AFL-supporting public could be three parts cut. And those blokes who zig-zag their way to the game from nearby pubs will make for an interesting atmosphere at the ground.
Memo AFL: best book up the extra coppers now, and budget for all the overtime and penalty rates. It could make the worst excesses of the Kentucky Derby – or even Melbourne Cup day – look like a temperance society meeting.
In the unlikely event the North Melbourne Grand Final breakfast continues to flourish, that will mean a 7am start for those luminaries who attend, such as the Prime Minister, Gerry Connolly and the Opposition Leader, and at least a 9pm finish by the time they arrive back home. That’s a big day even by David Boon’s standards.
Also, the 5pm start is a compromise. The NRL grand final has become a night-time event in recent years but the AFL is sitting on the fence on this one – a position it is not altogether unaccustomed to. A twilight game is neither Arthur not Martha, neither day nor night. Or as it was once famously said of New Zealand’s pedestrian medium-pacer Bob Cunis: “His bowling, like his name, was neither one thing nor the other.”
No, best put the twilight idea to bed. Let’s call it a day.