Ryan Daniels on why AFL opening round was zero out of ten after Melbourne Demons lost to the Sydney Swans

Ryan Daniels
The Nightly
5 Min Read
Will the opening round generate more fans in NSW and QLD?
Will the opening round generate more fans in NSW and QLD? Credit: Will Pearce

Have you ever sat down to open a can of tuna for lunch and asked yourself, what the hell am I doing?

This is tiny portions of mushed up fish, crammed into a can, vacuum sealed, stacked on a supermarket shelf, then stashed at the back of our pantries, growing dust — ready to star as the lead in the in-case-of-emergency lunch parade.

Did you know tuna can last up to five years in a can?

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Five years. In a can.

Warm, tinned, fish.

Then we spread it on a cracker or throw it in a salad. And no one asks any questions.

Somehow, the AFL’s Round Zero makes less sense than canned fish — and tastes half as good.

Don’t get me wrong, us footy fans will eat anything. It’s not as if we won’t watch this weekend. In the end we’re getting games a week earlier than usual. Cool.

Unfortunately, the execution follows the same old AFL path — stratified, finance driven, unbalanced and frankly, gimmicky.

Invest in the growth markets. Prioritise new eyes ... and stop ignoring the fans you’ve already got.

The AFL are lucky this is the greatest game in the world, because they sure spend a lot of time infuriating the fans.

The whole point of Opening Round was to ‘”steal” the attention of NRL fans while their game paraded around Las Vegas like a fresh-off-the-bus “actress” from Ohio.

Only, it didn’t really pan out that way. The Vegas games were played LAST weekend.

In the end, the AFL ended up with about half an hour of clean air.

The Swans and Demons started the season at 7.30pm EST on Thursday — just 30 minutes later the Knights and Raiders NRL game started — with five more NRL games to follow over the weekend.

In fact, the only day this weekend where there is legitimate clear air for one of the two codes, is tomorrow. No AFL games are scheduled, but the Dolphins and Cowboys face-off in, you guessed it, Queensland.

And we get it. International expansion isn’t an option, so the growth of the game depends on the eyeballs of those in maroon and sky blue. That’s where the money is — or at least it better be with the seemingly bottomless pit of resources the game’s been funnelling up there for so long.

The northern States have been the Jenny to the AFL’s Forrest for the better part of four decades. The league doting, fussing, protecting, loving these half-tapped markets, desperately wanting the same love in return.

All the while they’re off gallivanting with other sports. The best the AFL gets is a little under the bathrobe action in the dorm room.

The concept I can somewhat grasp, but the question is, why did it need to be just four games?

Couldn’t the league have had their northern games and still let the other ten teams be involved in opening round? Why not do another Gather Round and have all nine games up there? Give every State a Gather Round each season. See who does it best.

You can do this stuff without marginalising the rest of the league. It is possible.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 07:  Max Gawn of the Demons and team mates look dejected after the Opening Round AFL match between Sydney Swans and Melbourne Demons at SCG, on March 07, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/AFL Photos/Getty Images)
Max Gawn leads off his dejected team after their opening round loss to Sydney at the SCG. Credit: Matt King/AFL Photos/Getty Images

We shouldn’t have teams playing their first game next weekend against teams who spent a week working through the rust.

The price is a half-pregnant start to the year, an uneven ladder for the next six weeks, and 10 teams and their supporters sitting around like cans of tuna on a shelf.

The AFL gets further away from fixture equality with every move they make. At this point, it’s the last priority on their list.

Do we have enough MCG blockbusters? How do we maximise Collingwood’s drawing power? How do we get more people from Sydney to like us? Is Jenny the pea or the carrot? Then there’s a bunch of random gimmicks, followed by 40 feet of crap, and finally – equality.

At some point I’m a broken record on this stuff — but the playing field is about as level as a wave pool. I’m sure I sound like just another West Aussie whinging about the AFL draw — but can you remember a single decision in the history of the league that’s done a single thing to assist our clubs? To even out the travel issue? To grow the game in this State?

The nature of our game... won’t allow for complete fairness. But we don’t need to actively work against it.

The nature of our game — the number of teams, the fact ten of them reside within 75 minutes of each other, the brutality of the contest, and the fact we struggle to move away from tradition — won’t allow for complete fairness.

But we don’t need to actively work against it.

Last season, Collingwood spent 24 hours flying — around 14,600km.

Fremantle spent 86 hours in the air, for 61,464km.

The Pies play seven of their last eight games this season at the MCG. Can you imagine the advantage for say, Port Adelaide, if they got the same treatment at Adelaide Oval? West Coast or Freo at Optus?

Round Zero (out of 10) is just another way to tip the ledger, to prioritise a shiny launch party and a little noise over the integrity of the competition.

If you know anything about the AFL, you’ll know this is only the beginning. Bank on Round Zero coming back next year. If anything, they’ll double down.

Round Negative One! See your favourite AFL stars in an actual game of rugby league! Live from Parramatta! Join the fun!

The AFL must kick this inferiority complex, this need for some kind of northern affirmation. This thing they have is already awesome.

It’s like Chris Hemsworth entering a handsome contest. Redundant.

Invest in the growth markets. Prioritise new eyes. Just don’t create further disparity for the rest of the competition – and stop ignoring the fans you’ve already got.

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