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What will the 2020 AFL fixture offer?


Trade period? Tick. AFLW Draft? Tick.

Next up as the AFL continues to rule October is the release of the draw for next season. Over the course of next few days, the League will drop the pre-season schedule, the AFLW fixture and then the schedule for the premiership season itself. Naturally, there will be selective leaks all through next week to get the interest going.

But the draw is a big deal. It can have a say in how a team’s on-field fortunes will go next season, while the commercial departments of every club anxiously await its release as well. Members tend to sign up no matter who and when their team plays, but corporates can be picky. The earlier in the round, the better when it comes to selling out functions and filling corporate boxes.

As the League finalises the draw, the broadcasters make their picks and the clubs get a sneak peek over the weekend, here is some of what we will be anticipating next week.

1. Will we get more Thursday night football?

Sadly no. The main parameters of the draw, as in the number of games on each day and the time slots is more or less dictated by the terms of the AFL’s TV rights deal with Seven and Foxtel and calls for a handful of Thursday night games, weekly Friday night games, then five on Saturday and three on Sunday, with tweaks for public holidays, bye weekends and the like.

Not until 2023, when the new TV deal kicks into gear, is there likely to be any significant change to that.

Which is a shame, because Thursday night footy rates particularly well and depending on the match-ups and starting times, the fans will go.

And while not to be seen as currying favour with the boss, Craig Hutchison’s suggestion for Thursday night footy going forward is the right way to go. Play one every week, but between combatants who have had the bye the week before. Coming off a break, the two teams will be up for the game. It will become the showpiece game of the week.

2. Do Richmond and Carlton deserve to open the season every year?

It says here that they do. The Tigers are a big club now, probably the biggest of the lot, and the Blues are showing real signs of getting there. In 2020, it will be Richmond’s home game so there will the flag unfurling and the pageantry that goes with that. But the Blues will have Eddie Betts, Jack Martin (probably) and will carry all sorts of hopes and expectations. That makes it a worthy season-opener and will again draw about 90,000 to the MCG. You want to open the season with a splash and this guarantees it.

Trent Cotchin Marc Murphy Richmond Carlton

3. Is it time for a Friday night Showdown?

Absolutely. The Friday night schedule is heavily skewed in favour of the Victorian clubs, because a big TV audience in Melbourne is what brings in the revenue to the broadcasters. Understandable.

But while Victorian footy fans are parochial, they are also sophisticated enough to understand that the Showdowns are special games, and while the 2019 games weren’t competitive, they were also the exception. These games usually go down to the wire and are fantastic to watch. Adelaide versus Port Adelaide is the best rivalry game we have and it deserves the most prestigious time slot. Let’s hope we get it.

4. Who will be the AFL’s love child in 2020?

Every year the League takes a punt on a club it believes will bolt up the ladder and make for great prime-time viewing. In 2019 that club was Essendon. The year before it was Carlton.

We’re not sure the Blues are quite back in the AFL’s good books just yet, although they will certainly be awarded more than just the season opener against the Tigers as a blockbuster, prime-time game.

No. The team we’re expecting the League to punt on in 2020 is St Kilda. There is all sorts of hype about the Saints with Bradley Hill and Paddy Ryder headlining an impressive list of players who have arrived at the club.

The Saints are the perfect team to plug into Thursday and Friday night footy because they play their home games at the weather-proof Marvel Stadium and if they’re winning their fans turn up in their droves and they’re loud. And with Dylan Roberton and Jarryn Geary set to return from debilitating injuries and Max King shaping as a star, they have great stories to tell, which the broadcasters love.

5. Did the trade period throw up any marquee games?

Joe Daniher versus Essendon would have been a huge prime-time attraction, but that fell through and there weren’t too many head turners otherwise. Certainly nothing that would match the hype of Patrick Dangerfield returning to Adelaide for the first time or Lance Franklin’s first time up against the Hawks.

Perhaps Tim Kelly’s first game for West Coast against Geelong will pique interest of the neutral fans on a Friday night, while Betts returning to Adelaide to play against the Crows would also make for good viewing. But we can’t see Jon Patton against the Giants, Brad Hill against the Dockers or Josh Bruce against the Saints moving the TV viewing needle all that much.

6. Who will break out?

In theory it would be a team from the bottom six. The 6-6-6 scheduling formula should mean that one of Gold Coast, Melbourne, Carlton, Sydney, St Kilda or Fremantle should use a favourable draw to quickly escape from the AFL cellar.

Brisbane did last year, although the Lions only went 4-3 against their fellow bottom six clubs from the year before. The Saints, Swans, Demons and Blues would think themselves a chance of replicating what the Lions did.

Of course for the Lions, the converse applies in 2020. They’re now a top six team and will have the draw to match, with plenty of games against the other top six teams from last season, They ended the season with consecutive losses to the Tigers and then GWS, but next season will offer them plenty of opportunities to trade punches with the big boys and show they belong in premiership discussions.

charlie cameron, brisbane

7. How will the draw be spun?

We’re entering the season of hope. Membership renewal season is well underway and every club, as well as the AFL, will paint the rosiest picture of the draw possible, no matter how many interstate games and six-day breaks they face. The exception might be the Hawks; their draw stunk last year, certainly from a ‘bums on seats’ perspective, and they didn’t gloss over that. Jeff Kennett will call it as he sees it and members expect nothing less.

8. Will we get an update on the Grand Final starting time?

Probably not next week, but here’s something to consider. In an interview for the Grand Final edition of the AFL Record, MCC president Michael Happell spoke of the LED lights that are being installed this summer as a game changer in terms of what it means for the pictures the broadcasters present and the tenant clubs for their match-day entertainment and fan engagement. Is this the final piece of the puzzle for the League to push the start time back a couple of hours? Quite possibly so.

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