In 2014 as the AFL Commissioner Andrew Demetriou retired and a new one, Gillon McLachlan, was appointed, AFL fans in Melbourne furiously let loose with a list of pent-up demands that Demetriou world never listen to. Substantial numbers of long time fans insisted the game day experience was too different than it had been in previous decades. Average stadium attendance in Melbourne was down almost 20% in 2014. The grumbling of fans was plenty loud enough to attract a lot of newspaper & broadcast coverage. The new commissioner has quickly responded since taking office. Melbourne fans are at this moment dizzy with surprise and don’t yet know quite how to react because they have been given almost everything they asked for.
• Ticket prices are frozen for all games, including the Grand Final (in response to complaints that the AFL was pricing itself out of too many fans.)
• “Variable ticket pricing” has been scrapped (If a game appeared likely to fill the stadium beyond approximately 75% capacity, ticket prices were increased by 15%, even for those who had purchased tickets in advance or had season tickets. You would have to pay 15% more upon your arrival at the stadium. Fans REALLY hated this!)
• It is now permissible to bring your own food into Etihad stadium (in response to complaints of too high prices of stadium food. Example: one meat pie & beer at $16.00.)
• No more Sunday night games (in response to complaints that Sunday night is a work/school night for most folks and it is too late to be at a stadium. Some Thursday & Monday night games remain on the schedule. The TV channels like prime time games. Thursday, Sunday, and Monday night NFL games on TV in the U. S. are a big hit and the AFL, 7 Network, and Fox Sport want to imitate that success in Australia.)
• All Sunday afternoon games at the MCG & Etihad are free to kids under 15 years of age (in response to complaints of ticket prices being too high plus the opportunity to recruit new, young fans.)
• More Saturday afternoon games in Melbourne. (In an attempt to spread out games nationwide there have been no Saturday afternoon games in Melbourne on some weekends. To fans in footy’s city of origin this is equal to not having church on Sunday morning. Many Melbournians insist there always be a footy game at the MCG on Saturday at 2:00pm, not one hour sooner or later. Every Saturday at 2 at the MCG just like it was for decades.)
• Team cheer squads may go back to having larger sections at the goal posts, especially the front row and may go back to having bigger signs and banners. (Downsizing cheer squads came in response to regular fans claiming their view was being blocked. Cheer squads called the move repressive and site the cheer squads at Australian soccer games as being examples of what cheer squads at AFL games could be like.)
• Several minor on-field offenses that would have been under the scrutiny of the Match Review Panel & the Tribunal are now automatic with small cash fines, eliminating occasional rulings thought to have been too severe.
Referee calls thought to be too arcane and confusing to everyone are expected to be simplified. More coming here.
The malaise among footy fans seems to be largely confined to the city of Melbourne. Footy broadcasts from other cities show packed stadiums full of cheering fans and exciting games. Possibly fans in Melbourne have had their way for too long. Or maybe the burden of supporting nine teams in one city is becoming unsustainable. At any rate, some absent fans may never come back even in light of the AFL agreeing to a long list of demands in Melbourne. How these changes will work toward getting butts on seats will be seen in 2015.