The JLT Community Series is in serious trouble. Take this as an example. On Saturday Night at Norwood Oval in Adelaide’s east, over 12,000 people packed into The Parade to watch a NAB AFL Women’s match between Adelaide and Brisbane. 12,000 people is huge, particularly given to get to Norwood over the weekend was no easy task with Clipsal 500 road closures in place. Also going against it were the fact that the Adelaide Fringe and Adelaide Festival of Arts were also taking place just down the road.
Meanwhile on Sunday, the JLT Community Series Match between Adelaide and Geelong, the first in South Australia for the year, drew a crowd of less than 4,000 people at Richmond Oval. We have also seen several games with less than 20,000 in attendance at Etihad Stadium over the last few weeks including one game of under 5,000 people. That is atrocious.
Where does the AFL sit on the JLT Community Series then? Does it matter that it has become almost solely a television product and that it is being played at half empty suburban crowds? The answer to that is probably not a simple one. In all likelihood, the JLT Series has been put to one side this year to focus on the AFLW competition and getting that up and going. There are mumblings that the pre-season competition could be in for an overhaul in the coming years, perhaps even in shorter form games, similar to the NRL’s Auckland Nines concept. But for now though, what can the AFL do to get more people through the gates?
One of the biggest reasons that AFLW has been so successful is that it is free admission. The standard of the product is not yet at a point where you could justify charging for it and in order to get people enthused about the game, free admission allows people to fall in love with the game and want to attend again. JLT Series games are a $30 venture for a non-member adult wanting to sit in the grandstand. It is free for members to get in, but if you are not, it is ridiculously expensive to take the family. As a product, charging for the JLT Series is not something that can really be justified either. Let people in for free, encourage them to come and see what their team has been working on over the summer. The AFL cannot be making much money out of it anyway, given the lack of crowds, so open it up or at the very least a gold coin donation or five dollar entry fee perhaps for non AFL Club members.
The other thing that has been moved away from to an extent this year is playing games in regional areas. Adelaide play their games at Richmond Oval, Noarlunga Oval and Etihad Stadium. Hardly areas that are deprived of footy action throughout the year. In 2015, the Crows played in Port Lincoln, which was great for the town and the area. I understand that this causes issues for television broadcasts and transport to and from locations, but it is 2017, surely there are ways to make these things simpler. Port Adelaide were given one game on the road at Mount Gambier and this is the template that should be followed. Every team plays one game in a regional area at least once every two years. Country people like footy too! In fact, most of them love it. Make it cheap to attend and surely the whole town shows up.
Finally, three pre-season games is too many. Two games, plus an internal trial is plenty. Give fans a taste of what is to come throughout the year and just get into the season. Two games would also mean that teams do not play second-rate sides, which create one-sided and pointless games. Play with normal rules and stop trialling rubbish suggestions in the JLT Series. The nine-point goal needs to be shelved. Now that the offer of free footballs for local clubs is not on offer, it serves no purpose other than to make the score look confusing.
The AFL over the last couple of years have tried to give back to the fans. Free or reduced entry, taking footy to areas normally starved of AFL action and playing the game with proper rules are all ways in which the JLT Community Series can be improved. It is the ‘Community Series’ after all.