AFL grand final departs Victoria for first time

AFL grand final departs Victoria for first time

It’s official. The AFL is swapping the MCG for the glitz of a Queensland night decider at the Gabba, a first on both counts. But how will die-hard fans respond to this COVID induced turnabout?

While the new location won’t evoke the same sense of tradition as the G, expert on fan loyalty in sport, Dr Kevin Argus, argues fans are too heavily invested to withdraw support now.

“To suggest the relocation of the ALF grand final interstate may negatively impact loyal fans is to misunderstand the importance of AFL in their lives,” he explains.

As evidence, he points to the surge in Victorian club memberships during COVID-19, with Carlton and St Kilda among five clubs setting membership records. 

MCG Melbourne's home of footy will stand empty this grand final, which is slated for a night game on 24 October

“Loyal fans view their sport involvement as an important means of affirming their identity and self-esteem,” he says.

They’ll see the relocation “as a temporary god-send,”… and reprioritise the significance of the move “by assuring themselves it’s only a temporary anomaly due to the pandemic.”

In the end, there was no choice but to hold the deciding game anywhere but Melbourne to ensure the season’s survival and that of the code.

The AFL settled on 24 October as the date of the decider at the Gabba, with a restricted crowd of 30,000 due to physical distancing.

Leading sports marketing expert, Associate Professor Con Stavros, agrees the decision was inevitable.

“In a year of extraordinary disruption, supporters are resigned to the grand final crossing the border, so it carries little sting for fans of the league,” he explains.

He says "the league has done a remarkable job to bring the season to its climax just one month later than usual," despite facing a signficant hurdle in the shape of "internal border restrictions that no other major domestic league around the world has had to face."

 

Story: Diana Robertson

03 September 2020

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03 September 2020

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