As the AFL home & away season reaches its conclusion, 2019 can be seen as a year the sport became more inclusive, with sensory rooms launched at some stadiums.
The St Kilda Football Club hosted a successful trial of specialist calming rooms for fans with autism this season at its home ground, Marvel Stadium. It follows Geelong’s home ground, GMHBA Stadium, become Australia’s first sensory inclusive stadium.
Following its success at AFL matches, the sensory room was championed by Australian NBA player Joe Ingles and was in use for the two-game Australian Boomers v USA Basketball matches at Marvel Stadium. The Docklands venue partnered with KultureCity to make the stadium and all of the programs and events hosted there sensory inclusive.
The dedicated stadium sensory room was designed by medical professionals and allows fans and their families to sit in a quiet, dimly lit space and continue follow the match on a big screen. There are also sensory bags, equipped with noise canceling headphones, fidget tools, verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads available to guests who may feel overwhelmed by the environment.
Formed in the bayside suburbs of Melbourne in 1873, St Kilda remains one of the AFL’s great underdogs, winning their one and only premiership in 1966. The club might not have enjoyed a lot of success on the field, but off it they have been one of the most community-minded clubs in the league, running a number of different initiatives aimed at reaching their diverse fan base.
On the field however, 2019 saw the Saints miss out on the finals for an eighth straight season. While the rest of Australia is waiting for Richmond to go and win the Grand Final, currently as short as 6/5 in the latest Aussie Rules betting, St Kilda are about as far away from appearing in a grand final as they ever have been. And it's been a similar story for the other co-tenants at Marvel Stadium.
While Western Bulldogs and Essendon both secured a place in the 2019 Finals, both teams fell at the first hurdle, with both losing their elimination finals. It remains to be seen whether Marvel Stadium will be hosting a premiership-contending team next season.
Docklands Stadium rebranded from Etihad Stadium to Marvel Stadium in September 2018 after the entertainment brand, owned by Walt Disney Company, agreed an eight-year sponsorship deal. The deal, which included a comprehensive re-branding of the stadium as well as the arrival of a Marvel store, came shortly after the Victorian Government promised a $225 million investment in the stadium and surrounding area, which is being managed by the AFL.