The AFLX, occasionally referred to as footy’s answer to cricket’s Big Bash League, may be the game of Australian Rules football’s best chances to gain some international exposure.
Yet it seems that with one notable exception, the teams taking part in the debut of the short-format game are fielding desultory seven-man teams, so it would appear as though the majority of the AFL clubs are not taking the three tournaments all that seriously.
The premiers from 2017, the Richmond Tigers, will be travelling with as few as 12 players for the AFLX tournament heading to Sydney for their pool in the tournament.
The AFLX debut is taking the spot formerly held by the first round of the JLT Community Series. For the most part, the top players, those who do show up for AFLX play, will be limited in their appearances, for obvious reasons.
The idea of a shorter game, with fewer players and simpler rules, seems on the surface to be custom made for the short attention spans of a sporting public that thrives on instant gratification, but more than one club has had to resort to lowering ticket prices and coming up with other incentives to bring out the crowd.
The brain trust at the AFL wisely decided to televise the matches on free-to-air outlets, which should at least encourage the curious to tune in. That gives the AFL hope that AFLX games will draw more viewers than typically switch on for pre-season matches.
The clubs playing in Melbourne are projected to draw over 20,000 spectators to Etihad Stadium, but in Sydney at Allianz Stadium, 10,000 would be a realistic expectation.
There is also the thought that AFLX will cannibalise AFLW, but that could be a natural development as the AFLW novelty has worn off and it remains to be seen if the women’s league can continue to attract an audience.
The AFL is trying to penetrate worldwide markets and they are keen on China with its billion plus population. They are sending Port Adelaide and Gold Coast to Shanghai for an actual game, but from a wider perspective, the AFL might have the same experience as the NFL does with playing games in London.