The balance of the about 50,000 – 25,000-26,000 – allowed into the MCG would be given to the clubs’ members, with Richmond having the overwhelming share because the Tigers are the home team.
In the case of Richmond v Carlton, this could well mean there are no tickets available to non-members.
The Tigers are considering holding off the unfurling of their last two premiership flags because of COVID restrictions on the crowds.
Richmond CEO Brendon Gale said he wanted as many Richmond fans as possible at the ground to enjoy the unfurling of two flags.
“We’d like to think there’d be a lot,” Gale told 3AW Sportsday.
“Clearly it’s a really proud moment and we want to share that with as many members and fans as possible.″
After the opening game against Carlton, Richmond play an away game against Hawthorn in round two, before hosting Sydney at the MCG in round three.
AFL ROUND ONE 2021 (times AEDT)
- Richmond v Carlton. 7.25pm. MCG. Thursday, 18 March
- Collingwood v Western Bulldogs. 7.50pm. MCG. Fri, 19 March.
- Melbourne v Fremantle. 1.45pm. MCG. Saturday, 20 March
- Adelaide v Geelong. 4.35pm. Adelaide Oval. Sat, 20 March
- Essendon v Hawthorn. 7.25pm. Marvel Stadium. Sat, 20 March
- Brisbane v Sydney. 7.45pm. Gabba. Saturday, 20 March
- North Melbourne v Port Adelaide. 1.10pm. Marvel Stadium. Sunday, 21 March
- GWS Giants v St Kilda. 3.20pm. Giants Stadium. Sunday, 21 March
- West Coast v Gold Coast. 6.10pm. Optus Stadium. Sunday, 21 March
“We’re hoping for 50 per cent capacity. That would lend itself to a fairly sizeable crowd, so we are planning along those lines but I’m not sure that’s going to be the case,” Gale said.
“We just need to watch and wait. We want to share this moment with as much of the Richmond family as possible. It may be round one possibly, but it may not.”
The same ticketing arrangement as for the opening game is expected to apply to Collingwood v Western Bulldogs, although there will be much less demand for that game than Richmond v Carlton, which is the first game that fans of those clubs have been able to attend (not counting AFLW games) in Melbourne since 2019, the first game for the Tiger army since both their 2019 and 2020 premierships due to the coronavirus-interrupted 2020 season.
It would apply to Essendon v Hawthorn at Marvel Stadium, which would have a much smaller crowd if the government mandates just 50 per cent capacity. The AFL is at pains to avoid banking on any percentage of capacity, knowing that it could change abruptly.
Club sources at Victorian teams said the best way to understand the ticketing arrangements for reduced capacity – whatever percentage the state government permitted – was to consider it like the way finals tickets are sold and divvied up, with club members having first crack, along with stadium members; the MCC, clearly, has many more stadium members, in the form of the MCC reserve, than Marvel, with AFL members allowed in to both stadia.
But the critical difference with finals is that the home team’s members will be given far more access than the “away” team – even a Victorian club that is “away”. In finals, there is no difference between home and away members’ rights.
The clubs and AFL, though, want to ensure that members who buy memberships that include “away” games in Victoria – a 16-game membership, for instance – will be given access, although there are fewer in that category.
“Full” members who purchase tickets for 11-plus games will be given priority over those who buy memberships for three or fewer games; clubs say the 11-game members are typically fewer than half of most clubs’ membership tallies.
The AFL had been hoping that 75 per cent of capacity would be achieved in Melbourne for the early rounds, a less likely scenario given that the current rules permit only up to 10,000 to attend any sporting event (such as the tennis or AFLW).
In Queensland, where the Brisbane Lions will play Sydney at the Gabba in round one, the government has allowed 100 per cent capacity. In South Australia, which will host Adelaide v Geelong, the percentage is 75 per cent, the same as NSW (GWS v St Kilda) while Perth’s Optus Stadium, on present rules, is allowed only 65 per cent for West Coast and Fremantle in a 60,000- capacity stadium.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.
Sam McClure is a sport reporter for The Age and winner of ‘best news reporter’ at the AFL Media Association awards.