No longer is a game of Australian Rules football sufficient entertainment for 3 hours on a weekend, fans must now be treated to a complete ‘match day experience.’
In the endeavour to win over a new generation of supporters, football clubs are now encouraged to provide something extra for their fans. In the haste with which the AFL has embraced the concept of the ‘match day experience’ clubs are creating a unique atmosphere, however it is one which renders the game itself as the compliment to the entertainment and not the reverse.
Traditional supporters of the indigenous game, who have long feared its Americanisation, can now lay down their guns, for the battle is over and we have lost. Pre-game entertainment, which was once watching kids and fringe players in the reserves, is now an endless troupe of inane dancing mascots, canons shooting club sponsored merchandise and talentless MCs attempting to manufacture excitement in the crowd, all right up until the bounce of ball, which of course cannot be done without a thumping count down from 60.
At every break, advertising is blasted from the big screens, making conversations about the progress of the game impossible. The cannons return, shooting gimmicks and garbage into a crowd that resemble a pack of starving refugees, as their collective hands desperately reach and then struggle for whatever useless giveaway comes their way next.
At half-time it was once to be safe to pour coffee from a thermos and relax from the emotional involvement of the game, however one is now on edge, bombarded by high decibel advertising, the latest odds, James Sherry’s sideline blather, squealing, revved up children and beach balls. Yes, beach balls. Six months earlier at the same stadiums they would be confiscated and deflated, though in the spirit of the ‘match day experience’ they are offered to the fans, in a tacky attempt to maintain heightened levels of stimulation and attention, lest they disengage for a second.
The game itself, which is allegedly the intention of those in attendance, is no longer immune either, especially at Etihad Stadium where it is becoming unwatchable. Work in the off season has seen the rings of advertising signage enlarge and brighten, with the effect being the opposite, diminishing the experience and darkening ones enjoyment of a live sporting contest. A dash down the wing, snap goal from the pocket, or a pack on the back flank is now harder to see, because of the glare of bright colours and flashing neon. Buy, buy, buy and of course, bet. The punter is no longer, we are all now consumers.
Post-game offers the sole highlight, when, after being subjected to a stream of clichés in supposed interviews with players, the fans are allowed a kick to kick on the field.
The concept of the match day experience is in its infancy and will evolve, though it already requires a drastic rethink and injection of creativity. Pointless and unimaginative relentless stimulation cannot and should not be passed off as entertainment and unless somebody comes up with an idea soon, the ‘match day experience’ will inevitably descend into yet another opportunity for advertisers and sponsors, who are fast hijacking every available space they can penetrate.