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Twilight Grand Final completely missed the point

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But it’s not. In fact, it goes to the very heart of what makes Australian Rules football one of the nation’s deepest passions.

We cop the rule changes, the late Sunday afternoon fixtures, the trialling of AFLX, Thursday night finals and even the decision to enter new markets on the Gold Coast and Western Sydney rather than Tasmania.

But there’s a line. These innovations will only work if people still love the game. If the AFL polishes the product too much it risks reducing it to something consumers find entertaining, rather than something fans love.

And trust me, you find love in a game from being involved it in, not from watching a concert or fireworks on Grand Final day.

The Grand Final may well the be the AFL’s strongest asset that they want to promote to every inch of the country. Eddie McGuire wants it smack bang in prime time so that it can be the most watched event of the year: “If you want to be the No.1 rating show in Australia, you’ve got to be on in prime time.”

And, if the AFL’s current Grand Final ratings were poor, I’d agree. But they’re not.

Grand Final day is one of the best days of the year, when we gather with friends, family and other fans for beers and barbecues in backyards and pubs. People come together long before the game and are still talking life and footy long after the final siren. The game, played during the day, does what it is supposed to do. It brings people together.

If you want to win over kids and encourage them to play the game, love the game and be lifelong die-hards and advocates of the game, then you must also remember they don’t give a damn about the pre-game or half time concert.

I never recall thinking I’d rather be inside, staring at a TV, looking at a bunch of fireworks or singers on stage. I especially don’t recall thinking it would be brilliant if the game finished when it was dark outside. On the contrary, I was hanging onto every last second of daylight so that I could kick the footy with my mates.

On these days my love for the game would deepen – during the day, without fireworks or singers on a stage.

The AFL is only a part of the broader game of Australian Rules football. For it to remain the force it is, the grassroots need to be strong. Capturing consumers in markets who find the game mildly entertaining will reduce the game to something less than it is today.

And so to ensure kids go to bed each night counting down the days to the weekend, the AFL needs to foster grassroots participation. To bring people together to play, to be part of communities, to actively participate in the game and to form friendships.

This sort of active engagement is so much stronger than passive consumption of entertainment.

Plus, when it comes to fireworks and concerts, surely the money could be better spent. Like on the grassroots, for example, where fans fall in love with the game.

Sam Duncan is a lecturer in sports media and marketing.

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