We couldn’t say though we didn’t see this coming.
It was only Wednesday of last week we were on tenterhooks awaiting the Commission’s decision to play Richmond-Carlton or not.
Far less than a week later and the game is months from another match. It’s bizarre and then some.
So much we don’t know. Let’s be honest, we don’t know what will happen tomorrow in the real world, let alone the impacts to the co-ordinated scheduling of grown men playing what is otherwise glorified recreation.
But optimistically or otherwise, with another 40 Saturdays to come in this calendar year, with the Federal and State Governments coming down as hard as anyone really in the Western world to get on top of this virus, let’s presume something can be salvaged by the year’s end.
So what happens in the short-term, can clubs survive? First and foremost there’ll be a lot of staff ‘stood down’. Like the vast majority who aren’t essential to keeping the business going.
Whether they are forced into paid leave, I’m not so sure – I have to imagine they won’t all be left in the lurch staring down the lengthy Centrelink queues dreaming of how they can spend their first Newstart cheque.
But whatever way they go about it there’s a big cost-save immediately.
Then there’s the players. 20%? 25%? Talk tonight of 50% even.
Whatever it will be it will be seismic. Don’t worry about the trash of last week with the “we want 22 rounds” all tied up into a ‘money grab’ narrative. The AFLPA had a bad PR week, but they’re on board here no question. We’re not going into union trouble here, it’s just a messy time where communication becomes paramount yet is always complex.
Clubs will be fine. All the pre-expansion clubs are set up really well, shit, those who have been weaning off gaming revenue suggest their businesses are in good order. Sure, this is a massive hit they wouldn’t have prepared for, but to get out of pokies and the like indicates pretty sound management.
Those still on it though, they’re all set up pretty well, and whilst not getting any revenue out of those assets from this week hurts their current state is pretty strong.
No-one will go bust in this. There’ll be some hurt, some debt accrued and the line of credit taken advantage of, and there’ll be years of repair to get back to how it was before this started, but they’ll all survive.
And its not the time to scrap GWS and/or Gold Coast in this. In a crisis you don’t’ want to lose anyone; you don’t want to change the model to something that will generate less revenue. Remember, you drop any clubs and that’s less games to invoice Seven and Fox Footy for.
A boat doesn’t turn on a wave. The AFL needs the Gold Coast for stability over anything they actually provide, even if they are a plod of a business. And then with Tassie, on the same logic, you don’t go bold with your operating model now. Sadly their potential has taken a ten-year hit. They’ll be back, and they’ll come in eventually, but this could not have been crueller timing for them.
So the clubs will still be here. It’s just a case of when they can play footy next.
Let’s look at a few scenarios. The league as of Sunday is eyeing off maybe the start of June. Let’s say they’re right (they’re not), they would need to play 144 games in 13 weeks if they want the first week of finals to start on time. That means clubs having three weeks with two opponents, the other ten just the one. Most weeks would see 11 or 12 games each.
Doable. The League has talked about a supplementary draft to boost clubs player stocks by five or more, and that would happen in the weeks leading up to a return, and with that kind of extra support clubs could churn through games quite easily.
Conversely, if you kept the schedule at nine games a round, you’d be looking at finals kicking off the last weekend in September, culminating in a Granny on 17 October. That’s totally fine as well.
But what if we’re delayed in getting back out on the park? What if we look at start of July?
Cram 144 games into 13 weeks again, you playing finals from the start of October, ending on 24 October. Doable.
Start of August return instead? Your finals start 31 October, your Granny is 21 November.
I suspect that’s probably the last remaining viable scenario. If you’re not able to make it back by mid-Spring at the very, very latest, the year is gone. The idea of 144 games in anything less than 13 weeks is chaotic.
Sure, maybe you could make every club play two games every second week, but that’s 11 weeks you’d need. I don’t think 144 into ten or less weeks would be feasible.
Therefore our worst case scenario is that we’d need to cop no more than an 18-week sojourn from now before players are allowed back out on the green stuff. For all we know that’s laughable and this virus has only just begun, it will tear us to shreds throughout all of winter.
Or, glass half full, 18 weeks, that’s an eternity and more than enough time. 18 weeks ago was a week after the Melbourne Cup, and can you remember who won? Exactly, nor can I.
But I’d vow and declare that if Australians are any good at anything, 1500m freestyle, inventing rotary clothes lines, or winning seemingly equally important and meaningless yacht races in 1983, than we might be able to in the fullness of time let AFL games resume, behind closed doors again if need be, sometime during the winter.
Then we can push through to finishing off one of the stranger seasons of all time, but you know what, it’ll be another finished season just like the other 123 seasons before this one.
It’ll be like having cereal for dinner one night this week. It’ll be weird, clearly showing signs of interruption in the planning of whatever was supposed to be dinner, or during the cooking thereof.
But it’ll be special and delicious in its own right and your tummy will be nourished nonetheless.
So in summary, if we can get back before Spring, this season can happen… but it will be the AFL’s brinner. More or less.