The biggest collisions of the Australian football season could come after the coronavirus pandemic has passed.
And the heaviest impacts could be sports competing for space. There are only so many marquee venues in the sports-mad nation of 25 million.
The 100,000-seat Melbourne Cricket Ground is the premier venue for Australia’s national summer sport.
The main tenant in the winter is the Australian Football League, which runs the home-grown brand of football called Australian rules. In terms of TV audience and crowd attendance, it is the most popular sport Down Under. The G, as the Aussie rules followers call it, has hosted the Grand Final of the top-flight football competition in September in all but five years since 1902.
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan and Cricket Australia chief executive Kevin Roberts have said they’ll work together for both sports to co-exist if there’s overlapping seasons. But with so much uncertainty over how and when the winter sports leagues can recommence, something will have to give.
McLachlan has said a relaunched AFL season could run until December, three month later than usual. The problem is, the MCG is one of seven stadiums booked out for cricket’s Twenty20 World Cup, which runs Oct. 18-Nov. 15, and then will need to be prepared for the annual Boxing Day test that starts each year on Dec. 26, It is usually the most-heavily attended cricket match of the year. Docklands Stadium in Melbourne is a regular AFL ground but also a key venue for cricket’s Twenty20 Big Bash League over the summer.
In other state capitals such as Adelaide, Brisbane, and Perth, the main cricket stadium doubles also as the major AFL venue.
Eddie McGuire, president of the Collingwood Football Club, which has one of the biggest supporter bases in Australia, liked the idea of going back to the suburban stadiums — long overlooked for elite games — to alleviate any potential congestion.
“There’s a real opportunity to do that and that could be something that comes up again with the dramas that have been going on about whether (Docklands) would be available because of cricket,” McGuire told radio network Triple M on Wednesday. “But there’s plenty of opportunity. I think that these venues are going to play a far bigger role.”
Particularly if games are to be played in empty stadiums, as they were in a surreal opening round last month when 2019 champion Richmond opened the season with a win at an empty MCG.
Princes Park in Carlton, which hosted three Grand Finals during World War II, is being touted as an alternative venue, along with Essendon’s Windy Hill and the old VFL Park at Waverley, which hosted the 1991 Grand Final.
The Western Bulldogs first mooted the idea of hosting AFL games at Whitten Oval, and the St. Kilda club is open to hosting games, too, after staging women’s AFL games last season.
With just one round completed before the AFL shutdown last month, scenarios for how to play out the season have been too numerous to count. A proposed relaunch date in July is possibly too soon to start amid travel bans and strict social-distancing regulations.
Meanwhile, the players are taking deep pay cuts. Staff and executives at all 18 clubs and the AFL have been cut, stood down, or put on reduced salaries. Broadcasting deals are in limbo, which is the case for the Australia’s National Rugby League competition and the multi-national Super Rugby tournament. Sports events around the world have been canceled or postponed, including the Olympics.
For now, all 18 AFL clubs have reportedly applied for federal government emergency assistance, which potentially supports some businesses to pay eligible employees a minimum of 1,500 Australian dollars ($930) every two weeks for up to six months.
“Our guys are working through it, but it feels like it’s going to apply to people in the industry who have been stood down. It’s obviously a huge plus and an incredibly positive thing for so many people,” McLachlan said. “If the clubs’ applications are successful, the assistance could go some way toward ensuring they can ride out the massive financial hit being taken during the AFL shutdown period.”