Negotiations to move AFL Grand Final set to begin
The AFL Grand Final appears all-but-certain to be moved outside of Victoria for the first time in its 122-year history, while the Australian Open and Melbourne Cup will remain.
With Victoria’s coronavirus situation showing no signs of easing any time soon, it’s believed the Victorian Government has just about conceded a Grand Final in Melbourne would not be able to be played in front of a crowd, and is therefore set to start talks with the AFL on moving the game elsewhere.
While AFL CEO Gill McLaughlan or the Government is yet to formally announce a move away from its traditional home, it now seems inevitable. An interstate bidding war has well and truly begun to host one of the biggest events on the Australian sporting calendar, with four states wanting a piece of the action. It also remains to be seen where the Brownlow Medal will be hosted.
Traditionally held on the final Saturday of September, this year’s Grand Final is expected to be played on either October 17 or 24 and is likely to be played as a twilight or night match to avoid a clash with marquee horse racing in Melbourne (Caulfield Cup on Oct 17 and Cox Plate on Oct 24).
The AFL Grand Final is contracted to be held at the MCG until 2057 and for that agreement to be broken, the Melbourne Cricket Club will want to negotiate something in return. The Victorian Government secured the extended GF rights in 2018 as part of a cash splash on several venues including Marvel Stadium and the MCG.
Negotiations to relocate the Grand Final may include extending the MCG’s current contract, scheduling more blockbuster matches at the venue, or Melbourne hosting more AFL events such as the AFL Draft.
Given Queensland has been the centre of the AFL universe in 2020, the Gabba appears to be the frontrunner to host the marquee game, with the Queensland Government supporting the league during this period and already expressing interest in hosting the game. With covid restrictions, it's now likely the Gabba's maximum capacity will be at 75% (30,000).
The South Australian Government officially entered the race on Sunday, declaring they wanted to host the game at the Adelaide Oval, with the SA Sports Minister Corey Wingard saying “We’re the best placed state in the country to host not just the big dance but also other finals clashes.”
While Western Australia has expressed interest and fans in the West been vocal about the matter, no submission has been received on behalf of Optus Stadium as yet. NSW also remains in the race with ANZ Stadium boasting the largest capacity of any stadium, other than the MCG.
2020 AFL GRAND FINAL CONTENDERS
1. THE GABBA (BRISBANE, QLD)
While its capacity (42,000) is the smallest of the four contenders (expected to be 30,000 for the GF) and it isn’t exactly regarded as a ‘world-class’ stadium, the Gabba is currently receiving a $35 million facelift with some of its facilities being brought up to scratch. The show of support by the Queensland Government during this time has Brisbane as the frontrunner.
2. OPTUS STADIUM (PERTH, WA)
The award-winning Optus Stadium is widely regarded as Australia’s best stadium at the moment. Boasting a 60,000-capacity, it’s certainly a venue capable of hosting Australia’s biggest domestic game of footy to add to its already impressive list of major events. However, the WA Government didn’t exactly come to the party when the AFL needed support and Premier Mark McGowan has even said the Grand Final is “way down the list” of priorities. He has since extended phase 5 restrictions until October 24, meaning the maximum capacity of Optus Stadium will be 30,000.
3. ADELAIDE OVAL (ADELAIDE, SA)
The South Australian Government is officially on record as wanting the Grand Final and the iconic 53,500-capacity Adelaide Oval would be another fantastic host for the event. It has hosted countless SANFL Grand Final’s and other major events… and how good would a Grand Final at a ground with a grass hill be! It's likely the maximum capacity would be 50% or less for the GF.
4. ANZ STADIUM (SYDNEY, NSW)
Last but not least, is ANZ Stadium at Homebush in the west of Sydney. The Olympic Stadium boasts a capacity of 83,500 and is therefore able to accommodate almost twice as many fans as the Gabba. In a year where the AFL has bled money and could do with the extra revenue, this makes ANZ an attractive option. The stadium was meant to be being largely demolished at the moment, but the NSW Government recently abandoned the project. It isn’t an official AFL venue currently but has hosted matches in the past, and while it isn’t the ‘perfect’ venue for Australian Rules Football, it still has the ability to host it. It's likely the maximum capacity would be less than 50% for the GF.
Talk has been ongoing about the potential move of the AFL Grand Final for months now, and it’s certain to only intensify over the coming weeks. Where do you think it should be held? VOTE BELOW..
Meanwhile, the Australian Open will remain at Melbourne Park, regardless if crowds can attend or not.
While Sydney had expressed interest in snatching the first Grand Slam of the year, Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley told AAP Melbourne is the only city in Australia equipped to host the competition. He said for Sydney to host it, there would need to be an upgrade to facilities (at the Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre).
Tiley has revealed there are five contingency plans in place should the virus situation worsen, with the most extreme being to cancel and an option to delay the tournament until either May or in another window after September.
The Melbourne Cup is also certain to remain in Victoria, with the VRC holding out hope that a crowd of up to 50,000 fans could be on course at Flemington for what will be branded “the race that restarts the nation”.
Flemington Racecourse sits on 127 hectares with three grandstands and a lot of permanent infrastructure in place to cater for crowds. Various plans are being drawn up to accommodate fans depending on how the COVID-19 situation will be, come the first Tuesday of November.