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No perfect answer to split bye rounds, says AFL

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 26/05/2014 Jon Pierik
Port fans cheer on their team at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday. The AFL says attendances at the games during the three bye rounds this year are up 30,000 overall compared to the three bye rounds in 2013. © Getty Images Port fans cheer on their team at the Adelaide Oval on Saturday. The AFL says attendances at the games during the three bye rounds this year are up 30,000 overall compared to the three bye rounds in 2013.

The AFL says there is ‘‘no perfect answer’’ to the bye system, and will judge the latest three rounds of split matches against round 18,  spread over two weeks.

With the need for two byes this season at the request of the AFL Players Association, debate has again flared about what is the best format, ensuring the season retains momentum.

Having a full weekend free of matches or just the one stand-alone fixture, as had been the case years ago when Sydney and Collingwood met at ANZ Stadium, appears all but ruled out, with matches held over a fortnight or three weeks the preferred option at AFL headquarters and among broadcasters.

AFL general manager of broadcasting and scheduling Simon Lethlean said the current system, with six matches held over each of the three bye weekends, had strong merit.

‘‘At the end of the day, fans and media just don’t want byes at all, which is not possible. But we have two this year, I think for the first time, so we are trying out what we think both are best,’’ he said.

‘‘I don’t think it’s the right thing to have no games for the week and isolating one game ... as was done in the past, no one likes that one game. You sort of can’t win.

‘‘I think the six games does allow a few things. I think we have had less negative feedback this year than probably ever, because there were some really strong stand-out games amongst all the rounds.

‘‘What it does allow you to do though, with six matches, is to ensure every week in the non-Victorian markets there is a team from each of those markets playing every week, as compared to playing potentially no footy on that weekend in Adelaide and Perth.’’

AFL supporters in the northern markets had at least one game involving a state-based club to either attend or watch on television, ensuring rugby league was not given blanket coverage.

Lethlean said attendances this year were up 30,000 overall compared to the three bye rounds of 11, 12 and 13 last season, while television ratings were identical.

He said spreading matches over three weekends allowed marquee games such as the Adelaide and Collingwood clash at Adelaide Oval, the Geelong and Fremantle blockbuster at Patersons Stadium and last weekend’s sell-out between Port Adelaide and Hawthorn to be given major recognition.

‘‘The real quality games in bye rounds can really stand out and be consumed and attended really, really well, which is great,’’ he said.

What wasn’t consumed as well was the Monday-night clash between Carlton and St Kilda in round eight at Etihad Stadium.

There was a modest attendance of 26,708 but a healthy audience of 200,000 tuned in to the exclusive Fox Footy clash, which the Blues won by 32 points.

While the AFL admits there is a general feeling scheduling matches on a Monday can stretch the weekend too long, the contest itself will also be used to judge the night’s success.

This clash has been shifted to a Monday in recent years in part to avoid Mother’s Day, a day in which families appear to prefer to remain at home.

‘‘It’s a bit of a traditional one that we have stuck with. It’s never been in the bye rounds before. It probably got more attention because it was one of six games and part of Sunday being a bit more barren than usual, so it stuck out more,’’ Lethlean said.

‘‘We end up judging those matches on the contest which it wasn’t one of our best games of the year. At the time, both clubs weren’t in great form.

‘‘It’s a bit like last night (Carlton versus Adelaide). Sunday twilight - some people don’t speak positively of, but it ended up being a great game, great ratings (229,000 on Fox Footy) and a pretty good crowd. You do get caught up in what the actual contest was sometimes.’’

Lethlean said the AFL would consult with the Saints, who have been the home team in recent years, as to whether they wanted to retain the Monday fixture.

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