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Fans not there but TV coverage lifts ‘spirits’ on AFL return

Seven's cameras tried to capture the action, without showing the stands fans can't enter due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Seven’s cameras tried to capture the action, without showing the stands fans can’t enter due to the coronavirus pandemic. Credit:AAP

In the pre-game show, boundary commentator Daisy Pearce said Seven wanted the fans to feel they were “here in spirit” – and it wasn’t long before that felt like the case. The subtle background hum of crowd noise worked a treat but also allowed those who had enjoyed tuning into greater player interaction in round one to continue this. Replicating the rabid Tiger and Magpie armies is nigh on impossible but Seven did its best to do so, as Pearce said, “in spirit”.

When Tom Lynch lined up for goal early in the second term, a mild “booing button” – on behalf of the Magpies – was found. When he converted from a sharp angle, the cheers were heard. But these didn’t last as long as they typically would, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing depending on which club colours you wore.

Seven’s AFL executive producer Gary O’Keefe said he hoped the crowd noise would offer a “level of comfort” for viewers and it was hard to find fault in these unprecedented times. Network Nine, the owner of this masthead, and Fox Sports had enjoyed success with their injected crowd noise when the NRL season resumed a fortnight ago, and Seven deserved praise in following suit in what is a tougher sport to prepare for because on-field play is more chaotic.

A clever innovation was the Zoom-inspired fan zone, which had nine screens of supporters from each team cheering when their side booted a goal. It may have only been a small touch but, again, the “spirit” was there.

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Just how the commentary would work with star caller Bruce McAvaney in an Adelaide studio heading up the call remotely for the first time, while co-commentator Brian Taylor and the rest of the team were in Melbourne, was also a point of interest. Would it be disjointed, lacking that “special” touch? McAvaney had said he was “excited for the challenge but slightly nervous” ahead of the call, and hoped the bond he had built up with Taylor in recent seasons would help. Well, it wasn’t an issue, McAvaney and Taylor – two different personalities – “deliciously” feeding off each other as they typically do.

Seven appeared to cut back on the wide shots of the ground, for vision of the empty stands – reinforcing the lack of atmosphere – was a major issue in round one. In a bid to counter this, which is difficult when there were high balls into the forward line, digitalised club banners and sponsorship logos covered, in part, the empty seats of the lower-level bays.

And it wouldn’t be a Collingwood game without Eddie McGuire on hand. He was once nicknamed “Eddie Everywhere” and on this night, he was in two spots at once. Where he usually takes his seat in the MCC members area, he was seen in ‘isolation’ in the stands – and also behind the goals. Although, the latter, in “spirit” only. Or to be more precise, as a cardboard cut-out as part of the Magpies’ membership initiative. One would dare say it was the first time he was lost for words.

Fourteen minutes before the opening bounce, Seven also got the news it wanted, lodging paperwork with the Australian Stock Exchange revealing the two parties had agreed to revise the remaining three years of their contract, saving Seven an estimated $87 million as a result of the shortened ’20 campaign and the financial implications over the ensuing two years. It had also brokered a two-year extension until the end of 2024, giving the network and AFL security.

Seven will have a chance to tinker with its coverage ahead of Friday night’s clash between Geelong and Hawthorn. Then it’s over to Fox Footy to unveil atmospherics when its live coverage begins on Saturday. We all want the fans back but, for the time being, footy just being back should lift everyone’s “spirits”.

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