As a matter of priority, the AFL should start making plans this week to have its round-14 match between St Kilda and Geelong moved from Etihad Stadium to the MCG. If the league is serious about making provision for the maximum number of fans to attend its games, then the wheels should be set in motion now for a venue switch.
With both teams unbeaten and, even at this early stage of the season, shaping as two of the clear-cut fancies for the premiership, the July 5 match will surely attract a minimum crowd of 80,000 — 30,000 beyond Etihad’s capacity. The attendance could even be higher if the Saints can keep up their scorching form and genuinely look like breaking their 42-year run of flag-less misery. Then, rest assured, gazillions of feral Sainters will descend on the game like some biblical locust plague.
It’s not as if time is an issue. The AFL has got more than two months to get organised. So why not get to it now — as in this week? Ring Stephen Gough at the MCG and Ian Collins at Etihad Stadium, notify the relevant people at the two clubs as well as the caterers and the cleaning contractors and whoever else needs to be notified and let’s get it on.
Once upon a time, such a move would have been in line with the AFL’s “best-fit” policy. This was how, in 1999, the league justified the closing of its 75,000 capacity stadium at Waverley in favour of a new, 53,000-seat stadium at Docklands. The AFL tried to reassure a sceptical public by saying any blockbuster games scheduled for Colonial Stadium (as it was then called) would be transferred to the MCG. Hence the “best-fit” bit.
Somewhere in the past decade, that policy has gone the same way as Waverley, and the University and Fitzroy Football Clubs: it’s become extinct.
AFL spokesman Patrick Keane said the AFL had not moved a match for “four or five years” and was hamstrung in any bid to do so.
“St Kilda is contracted to a minimum number of games at Etihad Stadium,” Keane said.
Which sounds like a limp-wristed, mealy-mouthed sort of explanation. If that’s the case, why not move another, less-popular game from the MCG to Etihad Stadium? Melbourne, for example, plays West Coast at the MCG the day before. And the following week, the Demons play Port Adelaide on a Sunday when Etihad is empty — in a “spectacle” that will draw about 70,000 fewer fans than St Kilda v Geelong. Could not some arrangement be made with Melbourne to compensate them for the loss of a home game?
As Geelong chief executive Brian Cook recently told News Ltd, the move is a no-brainer: “We would love the game to be at the MCG,” he said.
“Unfortunately it is not up to us. But to have a blockbuster with more than 80,000 at the home of football would seem a no-brainer.”
His counterpart at St Kilda, Michael Nettlefold, was just as enthusiastic: “We are always up for playing games that the most number of people can see. I can’t see a contract drama with Etihad. We are scheduled to play 15 games there this season and we played 14 last season. But it is the AFL that sets the fixture, so I guess it is up to them.”
Given that the Saints, amazingly, are scheduled to play only once at the MCG before this year’s finals — against Melbourne in Round 22 — a venue switch would hold a special attraction for them.
Whether it is as appealing for the AFL remains to be seen. But if the Saints and Cats continue to occupy positions 1 and 2 on the ladder after, say, 10 rounds, then the pressure to transfer the game will become almost irresistible.