The AFL grand final will stick to its usual afternoon time slot at the MCG as the 2022 premiership flag decider returns to Melbourne for the first time in two years, in a win for traditionalists who were resistant to the idea of shifting the start time by two hours.
In an acknowledgment of broad fan sentiment, this year’s showpiece event on 24 September will begin at 2:30pm AEST, after the last two grand finals were forced interstate by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and played later in the day.
Last year’s decider – a twilight start at Perth’s Optus Stadium – was considered a roaring success, while the 2020 game was a night fixture played at the Gabba in Brisbane.
But recent polling of fans had indicated a prevailing preference for an afternoon start – an AFL Fans Association survey revealed 79.9% wanted an afternoon start, while 17.3% preferred a twilight game and just 2.8% a night clash.
The AFL’s chief executive Gillon McLachlan said the league appreciated the success of last year’s match in Perth, but a return to normality post-Covid restrictions was the deciding factor.
“Prior to the start of this season, we emphasised that after two really challenging years, we all yearned to return to the footy rituals and routines that set the rhythms of our lives, to continue to focus on getting back to football and going to football as we know it,” McLachlan said in a statement.
“That return-to-rituals principle underpinned our decision making in ratifying a traditional start time – the prestige, nostalgia and atmosphere of the day grand final is something we all know and love.
“Our role is to deliver fans the best possible game experience, whether that be at the match or the millions watching the broadcast, and together with our broadcast partner the Seven Network, we remain committed to creating an amazing event, and seeing 100,000 fans return to the MCG on that last Saturday in September.”
AFL Fans Association president Cheryl Critchley said the 2:30pm start was part of the game’s unique tradition and thanked the AFL for respecting “the preference of most fans” by returning the game to its usual time slot.
“Polls have long shown that most supporters prefer a day game, and this sentiment has strengthened since we had a night grand final in 2020,” Critchley said.
“Most fans have made sacrifices throughout the pandemic, including paying good money for memberships they could not use for extended periods. It’s great to see that loyalty rewarded.
“Let’s hope this tradition continues.”