The AFL’s decision to rob Brisbane of a NAB Cup grand final in its home state is a shocker on so many levels.
In pure football terms it belies the unwritten rule of even a pre-season competition that the team that earned the right not to travel in the final play-off should be rewarded. In financial terms for the cash-strapped Lions the decision will probably cost the club close to $100,000 – the difference between the winner’s and loser’s prizemoney on Friday night.
More importantly, Brisbane will go into 2013 having travelled interstate three weeks in a row – a genuine issue when the club was led to believe that the highest finishing club would host the final.
The decision appears purely dollar-driven but I believe the AFL has put short-term dollars and the appeasement of its free-to-air broadcaster ahead of the bigger and ultimately richer picture. A NAB Cup grand final in foreign territory would have been good for the Gold Coast Suns, the fair decision for Brisbane and a move that Carlton was fully expecting.
Etihad Stadium will attract a bigger crowd than Brisbane could have achieved on the Gold Coast but the league keeps telling us what a magnificent boutique arena Metricon has proved and certainly any number greater than 12,000 looks adequate there.
The Gold Coast is not proving the sports-mad community the AFL had hoped for and the competition has reminded us again and again that Queensland, with its financial struggles, has damaged the sporting landscape.
Surely a marquee game between Brisbane and one of the biggest clubs in Australia would have proved some form of fillip. Particularly on a weekend when no NRL game has been scheduled anywhere hear Metricon or anywhere in Queensland.
The league claims it was still debating as late as Saturday evening where to play the game. Not true according to Brisbane or the Gold Coast. Both clubs were told last Thursday that, irrespective of the weekend’s results, the grand final would be played at Etihad.
The Suns – whose Metricon Stadium officials had been preparing for a potential bonus AFL fixture – were also disappointed.
AFL chief Andrew Demetriou said on Monday that he had great sympathy for Brisbane and that had the Gabba been available the game would certainly have been played there. But the ongoing cricket problem, which has again disturbed the AFL fixtures for the 2013 season, is irrelevant on this occasion.
Demetriou said the decision had nothing to do with the wishes of Channel Seven, that it had been a difficult one and that in the end it was financial.
“I think, on balance, we’ve done the right thing,” he said.
But Demetriou’s confidence was unconvincing. The league would have had almost a week to build up the clash in southern Queensland. It clearly feared Brisbane fans would not travel to Metricon in big numbers but that is exactly what the competition should be encouraging and taking risks for if it is to achieve a bigger footprint in southern Queensland.
The AFL took the risky and expensive step of establishing teams in non-traditional markets and yet now it has backed away from a small, but golden, opportunity. It’s not as though the difference in dollars counts for anything in the grand scheme of things.
In purely financial terms the pre-season premiership team will collect about $200,000. The loser about $120,000. If Mick Malthouse’s Carlton cannot defeat Brisbane with an extra day’s preparation and playing at home then it clearly won’t be trying.
Where the great expansionist cause is concerned you’d have to conclude that, on this occasion, the AFL wasn’t really trying. It has wasted the sort of chance that doesn’t come around too often.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.