Blockbuster AFL games need to end

Blockbuster AFL games need to end

20 Apr 2009

With the exception of this week's traditional ANZAC day clash between Essendon and Collingwood, ‘blockbuster’ AFL games fail to draw the attendances warranted by their significant coverage.

According to La Trobe University sports economist Dr Liam Lenten, they are also detrimental to other Victorian teams -- and the competition itself.


‘The twice per season guaranteed scheduling of matches between the privileged clubs, Carlton, Collingwood and Essendon, means that smaller-market Victorian teams get to play these teams less often,’ Lenten says.

‘Smaller-market teams, including Geelong, are missing out on the potential gate revenue that a home game can generate by playing these teams, not to mention the greater exposure.’

Dr Lenten says he has the numbers on his side to back him up -- from 1997-2008, Carlton and Essendon each played Collingwood the maximum 24 times, while Geelong have  played Collingwood on only 13 occasions.  

‘In compensation for this, an annual blockbuster levy (originally $25,000 per season, adjusted for ‘football’ inflation) is imposed on the big three; however, it is insufficient to cover what a smaller-market team would gain in revenue’, Lenten says.

The alleged benefits of ‘blockbuster games’ are also called into question elsewhere.

US economist Michael Butler at Texas Christian University found using Major League Baseball data that there was a 7% increase in match attendances (accounting for all other factors) involving a pairing of teams that had played each other less often in past seasons – that is to say that fans become tired of seeing their team play any other team too often.

‘I have recently been running some statistical models on AFL data, and my results thus far indicate that there is no such thing as a blockbuster ‘premium’, meaning that aggregate season attendances do not rise as a result of this practice,’ says Dr Lenten.

‘In other words, the big three draw larger attendances to their games between themselves purely because they are playing another large fan-base team.’
 
He says the practise of blockbuster games has led to other undesirable effects, such as the removal of the caveat that each side play each other once in the first 15 rounds last year, in order to free up restrictions on the season fixture.

‘As an example, in 2008 Geelong and Hawthorn didn’t play against each other until round 17,’ says Dr Lenten, ‘and footy fans did not like having to wait so long for a match like that.

'The simplest solution would be to extend the season. But if the AFL wants to maintain the 22-game season, this issue needs to be addressed – and there are alternatives to maximise attendance, such as greater emphasis on power-matching.’


Contact:
Dr Liam Lenten, School of Economics and Finance
Email: l.lenten@latrobe.edu.au
Phone:
+ 61 3 9479 3607
 

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