The AFL will be under pressure to turn its back on the traditional afternoon Grand Final after the ratings dropped by nearly a million meter viewers for the 2022 decider.
Saturday afternoon’s decider between the Cats and Swans drew 2.18 million metro viewers in capital cities and 2.96 million viewers nationally, with 95,000 viewers on streaming platforms.
This is the lowest grand final rating on record.
Watch every match of the AFLW Season LIVE on Kayo. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
The last two AFL grand finals were held in prime time slots on the east coast with the 2020 final between Richmond and Geelong in Brisbane raking in 2,979 million meter (3,812m national) as a night-time decider.
Last year’s twilight decider from Perth between the Melbourne Demons and Western Bulldogs pulled in 3.006 million meter viewers (4.11m national).
Both were affected by Covid-19 lockdowns in Victoria, which saw the matches taken away from the MCG.
The 2019 AFL grand final between the Richmond Tigers and GWS Giants, which was held in the traditional afternoon timeslot had 2.197 million meter viewers tuning in with 2.90 million nationally.
Although the AFL Grand Final was still the highest rated program of the year in 2019, it’s bound to be intriguing for the game’s administrators and broadcasters.
Although 100,024 fans packed into the MCG — the biggest crowd in the AFL era and since 101,861 turned out for the 1986 decider — the drop off in numbers will be worrying.
Co-editor of TV Blackbox Kevin Perry told 3AW the ratings drop off was “a bit of a disaster”.
“It was the second lowest in history,” he told Breakfast with Ross and Russell.
“They would have had an expectation of an extra million viewers for this game. They would have been looking for a figure close to 4 million, they’ve ended up with a figure of around 2.96.
“You’d have to say it was a combination of a long weekend, a really poor performance from Sydney and I think probably just a little bit of fatigue with the game.”
Speaking on SEN Breakfast, Demons great Garry Lyon said the 2020 and 2021 numbers were “easily explained”.
“Covid,” he said. “People were locked in their house this time last year. You couldn’t go anywhere.
“In terms of a million person drop off, there would have been a million more stuck in their homes with nothing else to do.”
Magpies legend Nathan Buckley said the blowout nature of the 81-point drubbing for the Cats was probably another factor.
But broadcaster Gerard Whateley told his SEN show the 2022 decider should be the last played in the afternoon.
“That will be the last afternoon Grand Final,” he said on SEN’s Whateley.
“I’m amazed by the surprise around the ratings drop, as if no one understands how television works. More people watch in prime time – that’s why it is called prime time.
“We had two night Grand Finals where more people watched. The obligation of the code is to have the maximum number of people watch the biggest game of the year.
“This finals series was played entirely with the yellow Sherrin in twilight and night slots. We had all agreed that (this) was absolutely awesome and it was the highest rating September on record and then we bowed to outdated convention and returned to the afternoon with the red Sherrin and the viewership collapsed.
“The Grand Final should never again start before 4:30pm and the cup should never be presented in anything other than under lights.
“We already knew this and the reason is simple – more people with be watching and surely that is the whole purpose.
“No more silly surveys and opposition from those who think they speak for the so-called fans, the evidence is empirical, unequivocal and undeniable.
“The later the Grand Final starts, the more people watch and surely that’s the purpose of the showpiece game. I expect a 4:30pm (start) next year and I expect it gets later as the years go by.”
After the 2020 Grand Final, fans and journalists were quick to bite back about the night-time decider, saying it would be “a real shame” if the traditional timeslot was abandoned.
Then again, it’s hard to argue with the numbers.
Originally published as ‘Never again’: AFL Grand Final tradition has to change