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by Johnson Leung reporting for AFANA from Melbourne with contributions by the AFANA staff

Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants, the AFL's newest team, will kick off the 2012 season with a local derby against cross-town rival Sydney, according to the schedule revealed recently in Melbourne. The Giants will play the Swans at ANZ Stadium on Saturday, March 24 in the only match of the week, to celebrate the new club's entry into the national competition. Richmond and Carlton have kept their season-opening marquee fixture on the following Thursday night (March 29), with Hawthorn hosting Collingwood on Friday, March 30, in Nathan Buckley's first game as Magpies' coach. High-profile Melbourne recruit Mitch Clark will face his old club, the Brisbane Lions, in his first game for the Demons, on Saturday afternoon (March 31) at the MCG, while reigning Premiers Geelong will kick off its title defense with a trip to Patersons Stadium to play Fremantle that night.  The schedule changes adversely affect fans in North America as there are fewer games that start prior to 1:00 AM US EDT.  Even if ESPN and TSN wanted to show a match at 12:00 MN US EDT every week, that will no longer be possible as the schedule caters (predictably) to the needs of the Australian television networks.

AFL Chief Operating Officer Gillon McLachlan defended the huge gamble to give the Giants a stand-alone season opener, stating it put the city of Sydney center stage for the start of the season. "With a start-up club in a new market, it's about awareness and growing a club from a standing start," he said.  The Swans will be the only Top Eight team from last season to play GWS twice, a scheduling decision designed to smooth the new team's entry into the competition and to avoid the competition's best teams getting an unfair advantage from two percentage-boosting wins against the newcomers. The Giants will play their first game at their new home ground (Skoda Stadium, formerly known as the Sydney Showground), in the Homebush area of Sydney's west, in Round 9 against Essendon.  The match will pit Giants' coach Kevin Sheedy against the club he mentored for 27 years and against his former star player James Hird, now coach of the Bombers. The Giants will also play a game at the 10,000 person capacity Blacktown International Sports Park and two at Canberra's Manuka Oval.  GWS Acting Chief Executive David Matthews said the Giants were thrilled, rather than daunted, by the stand-alone season start and pleased with the draw overall. "As the AFL's 18th and newest club we don't underestimate how tough a competition it is particularly for a young emerging team" he said.

The home-and-away season will be played over 23 rounds, consisting of 198 games. Every club will have a bye, scheduled over one of Rounds 11, 12 and 13 (six games each round and six teams with a bye for each of the three rounds). The AFL will once again decide timeslots for matches in Round 23 closer to the time to allow maximum flexibility for those going into Finals, and has not ruled out scheduling two Friday night games.

Collingwood and Geelong will meet twice in 2012, with the 2011 Grand Finalists facing off in Rounds 8 and 16. The Pies will face five of 2011's Top Eight clubs twice in 2012 and will be the only team to do so. Their season will include return match-ups with the Hawks, Cats, West Coast Eagles and Carlton plus traditional rival Essendon. Geelong will have to wait until Round 4 to reveal their Premiership Flag at their first home match in Simonds Stadium (formerly Kardinia Park) against Richmond.

Other features of the 2012 schedule include:

• All 18 clubs will play each other at least once with five "make-up" games, where teams play each other twice.

• Nine regular timeslots across Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including a new Saturday twilight fixture starting at 4.40 PM AEST, allowing Foxtel to broadcast three games back-to-back on its new 24-hour AFL channel. The Brisbane Lions (six) and Gold Coast (four) will play the most matches in the new Saturday twilight timeslot.

• Only 13 games will start at 2.10 PM AEST next year and only five of those games are in Melbourne.  The era of early afternoon football on Saturday has all but disappeared. 

• Friday night matches will begin 10 minutes later than last season at 7.50 PM AEST.

• Saturday night games have been pushed back from 7.10 PM AEST to 7.40 PM AEST.

• One Sunday afternoon game will start at 3.10 PM AEST allowing the Seven network to show the game live immediately before its 6PM news bulletin.

• Five clubs - North Melbourne, Melbourne, Gold Coast Suns, Adelaide and the Sydney Swans - will have the bonus of playing GWS twice in 2012.

• Skoda Stadium, Blacktown International Sports Park and Blundstone Arena (formerly Bellerive Oval) in Tasmania's state capital Hobart will all host AFL matches for the first time.

• Victorian clubs face a minimum of five trips interstate in 2012, compared to three or four times in previous years. For Collingwood its five interstate trips will mark the first time the Magpies have travelled so much since 2008. They will play games at the Gabba, AAMI Stadium, Skoda Stadium, ANZ Stadium and Patersons Stadium with three of those trips (against GWS, Sydney Swans and West Coast) coming in the final six rounds of the season.

• All Top Eight teams from 2011 play at least two other Top Eight teams twice, and all bottom 10 teams (with new club the Giants included in that group) play at least two other bottom 10 teams twice.

• The Anzac Day clash between Collingwood and Essendon will be played on a Wednesday, meaning both clubs have only four days to prepare for the game after playing on the previous Saturday.

• Adelaide will have only one Friday night game (against St Kilda) while Port Adelaide will have none, alongside Brisbane, GWS and Gold Coast.

• Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sydney and GWS will play Sunday twilight games for the first time.

• Carlton will enjoy huge exposure on free-to-air TV, including two Thursday nights, seven Friday nights and one Monday night game.

• GWS will play Richmond, Essendon and Collingwood at Skoda Stadium. Overall, the Giants will play matches at 12 venues in its debut season.

• Melbourne will play 13 games at the MCG including nine of the first 12 games. They also play eight games on Saturday afternoons but only four on Sunday afternoons.

• St Kilda's first three games are against the Gold Coast, Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs. The Saints host Fremantle (and former coach Ross Lyon) in Round 4. The Saints also have the highest number of six-day breaks (nine).

• Richmond faces Geelong, Collingwood, Carlton and West Coast in the first five weeks of the season.

• Hawthorn faces its fellow Top Four sides of 2011 within the first four rounds of the 2012 season: Collingwood in Round 1, Geelong in Round 2 and West Coast in Round 4. The Hawks will also host five MCG games against interstate teams, four of which are on Sundays. They will have seven six-day breaks, three of them back-to-back (the most of any club).

• North Melbourne will play two games in Hobart against GWS in Round 2 and West Coast in Round 15. The Kangaroos have the least number of games shown on free-to-air TV in Victoria (eight). They again have only one Friday night clash, against Carlton in Round 16.

• None of last season's top five clubs will play the GWS Giants or Gold Coast twice.

• Of Port Adelaide's 11 home games, six are in the timeslots that are least popular with Power fans - four on Saturday afternoons and two on Sunday twilights. Only two (against Carlton and Adelaide) are scheduled in the most popular Saturday night timeslot.

• Adelaide also has four Saturday afternoon games and two Sunday twilight matches. The Crows have just two Saturday night games at home.

• Port Adelaide will only play one game in Darwin mid-season, against Melbourne.

McLachlan said the most challenging aspect about doing the schedule - and those for the next few years - was establishing the GWS Giants as a draw card side and balancing their opposition as they stepped to the higher level of competition. "We've been open and realistic about the size of that challenge, the balance of the teams we're putting up there," McLachlan said. "You could put Collingwood, Carlton, all the big teams up there but at the moment they're the toughest teams to play against in a football sense.  So trying to have big ticket teams up there, but not having (GWS) play the best teams twice is obviously a challenge."  McLachlan said the schedule also rewarded better performing teams by allocating them more Friday night games. "Those four clubs with no Friday Night Football  (Power, Giants, Lions, Suns) don't like it but they understand it," he said.

Sources: afl.com.au, Melbourne Age, Herald Sun, The Advertiser, AAP

Article last changed on Monday, October 31, 2011 - 12:42 PM EDT


Comments

Posted by Rob Hoffmann (not verified) on October 31, 2011

Afternoon footy is not in nearly as dire of a condition as the writer seems to think. There are 39 games set to start between 1:40pm and 2:10pm AET Saturdays. The writer missed the fact that there is a new 1:45pm Saturday timeslot for 17 of the 22 scheduled rounds (this timeslot is sacrificed for the Round 1 week-early Sydney derby, the Round 5 ANZAC Day midweek game, and the byes in Rounds 10-12). Of those 17 games, two are in Adelaide, one in Hobart, 11 in Melbourne (either Etihad or MCB), and 3 at Geelong. There is a game every Saturday at either 1:40pm or 2:10pm AET. Of those 22, six are in Adelaide, seven in Melbourne, four in Canberra, three in Sydney, and two in Launceston. That spread looks to me like the AFL is trying to grow the game with matinees in just about every state. Twenty of the scheduled rounds include a Sunday 1:10pm match. Ten different grounds host the 20 matches. Keep in mind that all of the above 59 games would fit the "midnight" USEDT timeslot late Friday/early Saturday or late Saturday/early Sunday (with bouncedowns between 11:40pm and 12:15am Eastern). Throw in the ANZAC Day game (if you don't mind staying up late on a weeknight) and a bonus 12:40am USEDT game on March 31 due to the fact Melbourne will still be on Daylight time, and you get 61 games that start between 10:40pm USEDT and 12:40am USEDT. An additional 17 games bounce down on Sundays at 1:15am USEDT (the Sunday 3:15pm AET games). If the North American broadcasters are so motivated, they can air a Friday night/early Saturday and Saturday night/early Sunday midnight or 1am game just about every round.
Posted by johnson on November 02, 2011

Thank you Rob for your comments. Yes I neglected to mention there would be Saturday afternoon games starting at the earlier time of 1.45pm AEST. They will be produced by Seven but shown live across Australia on Foxtel. Seven will show them live outside Victoria only if one of the interstate teams are playing. What we don't know is if ESPN will take Foxtel's live broadcast, or Seven's delayed broadcast.

Thanks to Rob and Johnson for their comments.   Yes, it is correct that approximately 59 games will start before 1:00 AM US /CAN EDT over the course of the season.  However, an earlier start might be better (or perhaps not) for North American viewers.  To clarify, ESPN (and by extension TSN) will be free, should they continue as broadcasters, to take any game from any source broadcaster and they will take (and record or delay if necessary on their end) the live feed.  It is unlikely they will take a delayed feed.  The primary live broadcaster is the one typically available to foreign rebroadcasts. 

However, there are several possible issues.  First, ESPN prefers HD feeds.  Both broadcasters are hinting that more HD is forthcoming, we'll have to see.  Australia lags most of North America and Europe in adopting HD as the principle production choice for live sports.  Last season, the lack of HD hurt the possibility of coverage of certain matches.  Another issue is that the 1:45 PM start in Melbourne means coverage begins at 1:30 PM AEST and that in turn means 11:30 PM on the east coast of North America.  Depending on how the schedule at ESPN falls out that might be better than 12:00 MN or worse.  We don't know yet.  There is little doubt it is potentially better for viewers and possibly ratings.  Finally there is the math of the situation.  59 ÷ 198 = 30% (rounded).  If the network (in a perfect world) carefully choose the matches to air based on interest, desire to cover every club a couple of times a season, blockbusters, standings, etc. you would not get more than 1 match a weekend in the preferred slot for North America.  Additionally, it isn't clear that Sunday (Australian time) matches are better or worse for ESPN.  Why?  In summary, ESPN doesn't choose matches based primarily on the range of criteria I just mentioned.  They choose based on what fits their schedule, recommendations from the AFL, etc. AFANA does not believe US and Canadian fans will be better off under this draw as compared to prior years, and likely worse off.  We understand though, we are not the primary audience and our concerns are not likely important to the AFL, Seven, or Foxtel, nor should they be at present. 

AFANA and  the USAFL will be sharing with the AFL and ESPN our feelings on how the matches selected for airing are chosen in the hopes that we can, to at least some degree, steer it toward more of those "59" but fans should not be over-optimistic about the prospective outcome.   Our primary goal in the near term though is assuring the best decision possible on which networks have coverage in 2012 and beyond.  ESPN and TSN's contracts are up and until they are renewed or new networks sign, we're walking on hot coals here.

-Rob
AFANA Chairman Emeritus and Site Admin

As a North American (USA, Maryland) I would be happy to watch Footy games that have already been played.  The newscasters here don't comment on them, so the game would be unspoiled for  me.  I think a live broadcast is only important to gamblers, not true fans.  I find it so hard to find a game at all that I would be willing to purchase prior seasons on DVD... well maybe not as that would probably be prohibitivly expensive.  But yes, I will go to bed early and set my clock to get up in the middle of the night to watch a Footy game, if I can only find one. 

Betty

Hi BettyAnne,

Thanks for your comment!  I wish all fans had your attitude. 

The live coverage is important to more than gamblers though.  For many fans who follow the sport on the Internet, read the footy web sites including this one, etc. they will be "spoiled" if the match is not live.  Live is the ticket for TV coverage - it is the only thing that sells advertising in any big way.  There is considerable research that shows live sports fans watch commercials whereas taped or delayed sport does not have the same impact.

-Rob
AFANA Chairman Emeritus and Site Admin

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