AFL at night is an incredible spectacle.
Under the lights, with plenty more media attention, it’s one of the great things our game has to offer.
That’s why its baffling to fans that the AFL only scheduled seven Thursday night games this year. While granted this year they have gone to a new level, Thursday night footy has always been popular. Fans have flocked to the games all over the nation on these nights, as high quality games of footy under the lights during the week creates a raw, emotional atmosphere that allow supporters to escape from their week of work.
The winning supporter doesn’t even care that it’ll take him most of his night to get home on Melbourne’s public transport network, while the loser still had a night out in a great atmosphere with their mates.
It’s a classic case of win/win from the AFL. High quality games on these nights bring in big crowds, big TV numbers, and big money, allowing the game to grow even more. Despite being incredibly busy trying to dismantle the game with their ‘competition committee’, surely the AFL can see an opportunity as big as this when the numbers keep come rolling in, and clubs are calling up Gil left, right and centre looking for more of these marquee games.
Of the seven Thursday night games played this year, three have been played in Adelaide, two have been played in Melbourne, and the SCG and Optus stadium have held one game as well.
Three of these games pulled in more than one million viewers per game, and three had over 900,000 TV screens glued to the game. The only game that didn’t live up to these high standards was Port Adelaide v The Western Bulldogs, with a rather mediocre game still racking in 716,000 viewers over the course of the night.
To put this in perspective, at the halfway mark of the year for free to air games, AFL games have a national average viewership of 497,390. Keep in mind, most free to air games are also similar to prime time games, with these generally occurring on a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, while also being on Sunday afternoons. Games at other times, that are screened on Foxtel are watched much, much less, as these games only average 180,000 viewers. Perhaps taking out an early Saturday or Sunday game, would significantly boost the average AFL viewership.
And the AFL really needs it, as for the first time since 2011, the NRL is on track for a ratings win over the AFL on both free to air and pay TV.
The average free-to-air Audience for the NRL is 612,689 in 2018, compared to 317,003 for the AFL, and while Gil and the suits at AFL will say channel seven doesn’t screen the same free to air game in all states at the same time, and instead picks and chooses its matches based on the local audiences, the compensated numbers would still suggest the NRL are in the lead.
The most damning stat for the AFL though may be that the average pay TV audience (Foxtel) for the NRL is 244,853 in 2018, compared to 180,387 for the AFL, which both air nationally.
Many would believe that this drop in viewers would be wholly down to the aesthetics of the game, and while that may be true, the scheduling of the two sports may be the biggest difference this year, with NRL games being described as too ‘stop start’ due to a referee blitz this season decreasing the view of their game too.
Only once this season will the NRL not have a game on Thursday night, while they’ve also experimented further with a Wednesday night game. In comparison, there will be 16 times this year where the AFL for the round begins on a Friday night. This is a new market that the NRL have been quick to capture, and it will be hard for the AFL to break in should they wait for than a year to introduce more Thursday night games.
New South Wales and Queensland are the two states in which the AFL have found it typically difficult to grown the game, but now with the Swans and Giants making strong pushes for the top 8 in 2018, and the Lions looking as if they’ll be a premiership contender in the very near future, there has never been a better time to introduce Thursday night footy to these states. More exposure for the game, more exposure for the clubs.
Additionally, a large part of Thursday night footy not being introduced is the AFL’s insistence on teams having at least a six-day break, on request from clubs to prevent injuries and allow the games’ biggest stars to be available for games. But after the successful scheduling period that have come with Thursday night games this year, we see that it can be done for teams, in a very successful manner, and therefore there is no reason that Thursday night footy shouldn’t happen on much more of a regular basis.
Plus, who wouldn’t want to see more Roaming Brian during the week.