Sport Analysis

Forced fan engagement at the footy falls flat

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AFL footy fans are being bombarded with noise and lights to "enhance" their match-day experience (Image via flickr)

AFL ground announcers screaming at fans between quarters, stage-managing their enthusiasm by telling them when to cheer? It's just not footy. Ronny Lerner reports.

THERE IS something occurring at AFL games that is deeply concerning.

It’s not the crackdown on umpire dissent; it’s not the softening up of the sport through stricter rule interpretations and it’s not even the price of food and drink. The “fan engagement” situation at grounds all around the country has reached crisis levels.

For whatever reason, the league decided a few years ago that fans needed to be bombarded with a never-ending stream of noise and lights in order for their matchday experience to be enhanced.

It was quite a curious decision because if the AFL deemed it needed so much added stimuli at its games, was it conceding that the actual sport itself isn’t entertaining enough to keep people, especially children, engaged?

And exactly what proportion of fans wanted this additional barrage on their senses?

Ground announcers are fair dinkum out of control these days. All they do is scream non-stop at fans at full blast through the PA system before the game, between quarters and after the game.

It’s become so bad that you can’t even understand what they’re saying — it’s just one big cacophony of sound. You can’t hear yourself think and good luck attempting to have a conversation with the person next to you.

The people in attendance have eyes, they can see exactly what has gone on in each quarter. Do they really need an eardrum-bursting recap every 30 minutes from a bunch of people whose names they don’t even know? 

Even the half-time report delivered by radio broadcasters on the big screen – although, relayed in a much calmer and considered fashion – is hard to understand.

You can actually hear fans being yelled at by ground announcers when watching a game on TV. It's just so unnecessary. 

It reached comic levels recently at Kardinia Park when Geelong played Fremantle.

The ground announcer there kept reminding Cats fans to “make some noise” even though their team was getting well beaten for most of the day. The funniest example of this occurred immediately after Dockers forward Lachie Schultz kicked a goal to put Fremantle 23 points up before they clinched a memorable upset win.

It’s patronising beyond belief. Footy fans needing to be told when to cheer? The disconnect is mind-blowing. And why on Earth would Geelong fans choose to “make some noise” right after the opposition kicked a goal and as their team were on track for a stunning defeat? 

Is that what we’ve come to? Fans being choreographed and stage-managed into manufacturing fake enthusiasm? The tone-deafness to the true feelings and behaviours of rusted-on footy fans is staggering.

And I haven’t even touched on the disorientating light show that accompanies every goal kicked by the home team at the MCG and Marvel Stadium.

Perth’s Optus Stadium kicked off the trend a few years and for some reason only known to the management teams of Melbourne’s two AFL grounds, the ‘G and Marvel decided to follow suit.

If you suffer from epilepsy or seizures, attending AFL games is probably not advisable these days.

In fact, the floodlights at Marvel Stadium that are permanently on during each game are so bright now, that you actually need sunglasses to attend games there, whether they’re being held during the day or at night — and despite the fact that the roof is permanently closed.

And that unwanted relic of the pandemic seasons – music in between goals – is for some reason still used at games in Queensland, Sydney and Geelong. Yes, that’s much better than hearing the natural, excited noise of the crowd. It wasn’t a blight on the 2020 AFL Grand Final at all...

How did fans ever cope at the footy for over 100 years without these annoying and at times infuriating, additions to their game-day experience?

And if the AFL is going to employ “fan engagement” at the footy, the least they could have done was reprise staples of the '90s such as 'Voice Of The G' (handled so well by Stig Wemyss) and the time-honoured PlayStation Gran Turismo challenge between opposing supporters which was almost always a good indicator of which team would win later in the day.

The AFL’s obsession with American sports is getting worse and worse. The league now seems hell-bent on duplicating National Basketball Association (NBA) games at footy grounds around the country.

Haven’t they realised that NBA games are held at much smaller venues, therefore making it much easier to control in-house atmospherics, as opposed to massive open-air stadia like the MCG where loud sound just reverberates around the arena, turning it into incredibly annoying and inaudible noise?

Besides, music and overzealous court announcers are an ingrained part of the culture in basketball. It couldn’t be further from the truth for footy culture; attempting to shoehorn it into the culture is not only cringe-worthy but grating. It just doesn’t work.

Ticketing issues and over-umpiring might be key contributors to the AFL experiencing its lowest crowd numbers in 26 years (excluding pandemic years). But if the AFL are really fair dinkum about bringing back more people through the turnstiles, then they should seriously consider revisiting the “fan engagement” push and, hopefully, abandoning it altogether.

Ronny Lerner has been a sports and music journalist/editor since 2006. Follow Ronny on Twitter @RonnyLerner.

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