AFL 2016: Fixturing, sentiment, quality of games lead to record round 2 crowds

The AFL has celebrated its highest total second round in the game’s history and singled out good fixturing, club sentiment and the quality of the games for a 2016 season opening expected to exceed more than one million spectators by the end of round three.
Nanjing Night Net

The league’s commercial operations and branding boss, Darren Birch, singled out Essendon and Carlton supporters for showing up in numbers that far exceeded the AFL’s expectations during their home games over the weekend, a round punctuated again by high scoring and emotional upsets.

More than 352,000 fans attended the nine round-two games, exceeding the previous best for the round (350,000) in 2013. A total 713,000 supporters have attended AFL games over the first two weeks of the 2016 season.

Birch said that the 50,000 Essendon-Melbourne attendance figure at the MCG on Saturday, which followed the rallying Bombers’ fans march into the stadium, “was a testimony to the loyalty of their supporters”. According to Bombers CEO Xavier Campbell, more than 10,000 fans joined the walk.

Carlton’s disappointing performance against Sydney was buoyed by the better-than-predicted 33,146 supporters who attended the twilight fixture at Etihad Stadium on Sunday, a timeslot that has been largely rejected in the past by Blues’ fans.

And football operations chief Mark Evans said the attacking football to date was a trend the AFL had predicted more than a year ago. “Last summer, before the 2015 season, we had a theory that the clubs were looking at a more attacking style,” he said.

“This might mean that now they’ve found ways to break through those defensive structures and move the ball fast through the middle. But we saw signs of it during the 2015 NAB series and it’s just taken some time to evolve.

“We’ve had some cracking football and some unbelievably thrilling matches and I give the credit to the coaches,” Evans said.

The biggest attendance of round two came on Friday night with more than 72,000 witnessing Collingwood’s one-point victory over Richmond.

The AFL and the MCC had anticipated a 65,000 crowd off the back of the Magpies’ thrashing by Sydney the previous week.

“I think people are feeling good about football,” Birch said. “There’s a good sentiment, the fixturing has been great and the footy’s been great.”

AFL chief Gillon McLachlan said on Sunday the scoring average this season had lifted by three goals a club, a lift he attributed to the rule changes – including the reduced interchange rotation numbers – and the attacking mindset of coaches who have been repeatedly urged by the competition bosses to stage more entertaining football.

Evans said he had no issue with doom-laden predictions that coaches would revert to type to win matches as the season evolved. “So long as attacking football wins the and teams realise that … long may it live,” he said.

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