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Yes, it’s a weird season, but it seems the fans don’t care

Malthouse recently wrote that this season “is virtually a non-season. There are too many restrictions and too much compromise for it to be fair and even for all”. Malthouse believes if teams can’t play at their best, 2020 “is at risk of becoming a Mickey Mouse season”.


Maybe Mick’s right. But for an accurate assessment of the legitimacy of season 2020, look no further than the fans of the game. For fans to engage with and invest in a sport, they need to believe it’s authentic and real. It is, after all, their game, and if they believe it’s been tweaked, manipulated or corrupted to the point it’s lost its validity, make no mistake, they’ll switch off.

But this is not happening. While few fans are allowed to attend matches across the country, they are still tuning in via TV and streaming services in their droves. The TV ratings are up everywhere you look. After round five of the season Foxtel’s ratings across their linear and video on-demand platforms were reportedly up by 21 per cent. Th elatest ratings report also highlighted that Seven’s average national audience is up 8.7 per cent. Overall, the broadcasters have reported strong increases in Melbourne (15.7 per cent) Sydney (20.2 per cent) and Brisbane (38.4 per cent). Thursday nights are up by more than 10 per cent, while the lucrative Friday night time slot has had a jump in audiences of more than 2 per cent, ensuring an average audience of more than a million fans.

A sport is only as strong as the endorsement its supporter base gives it and, make no mistake, for the AFL these are not the numbers that reflect a fan base disenchanted, or disengaged, with their game. Rather, it seems there’s an acceptance that while this season is indeed different, different is OK.

Of course, there may be a day when it all becomes just a little too strange, too difficult and too compromised for the fans and players to believe in the season, but the numbers show that day has not come yet.

You may argue that the game’s TV ratings are so high because there’s nothing else to watch but, in fact, that’s just another reason the game should be enjoyed and celebrated more than ever.


On the Friday night before Melbourne’s stage three lockdown restrictions were reintroduced, I ventured to a hotel in Hawthorn with a mate to watch my team, Essendon, play his team, Collingwood.

When the teams ran out onto the ground, the quirks and eccentricities characterising this season never seemed less significant. On the TV screen were my colours, my players, my team.

My heart started racing and my mate and I started barracking. And, judging by the atmosphere created by the smallish, socially distanced crowd at the pub, and the fact that more than 1.2 million fans tuned in from their lounge rooms across Australia, I’d say I wasn’t the only one.

Sam Duncan is a lecturer in sports media and marketing.

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