The curtain has reportedly closed on the AFL’s audacious AFLX concept with the planned eight-team tournament for 2020 being sidelined. This means that the Whitten Legends Game’s “EJX” adaptation, forced by the unavailability of the AFL’s Docklands Stadium, will act as the de-facto farewell for the largely unpopular experiment.
Footy fans, on the whole, will not mourn the end of the AFL’s thought-bubble that failed to bridge the gap between a hypothetical dream for the future to a spectacle for the now. An entertaining trial was the only thing that could springboard AFLX into a legitimate concept worth pursuing. It had to focus on the present, before eying the future. Ironically it is now trapped in the past.
So, who killed AFLX?
It was not the players who appeared from afar to enjoy participating in the original two tournaments, particularly, this year’s version. However, the players were certainly paid handsomely to be involved, with their active enjoyment and enthusiasm presumably a requirement.
The coaches undoubtedly did not embrace it. If their understandable conservative approach to potentially injury-causing extra competitions could not be deterred for State of Origin fixtures, AFLX did not stand a chance. If the Big V couldn’t have saved AFLX, to hell with Fyfe’s Flyers. The “de-cluttering” of the AFL’s once exciting, now confusingly convoluted pre-season format has been urged by the coaches. AFLX has been the first item shelved.
You would not find many AFLX supporters in AFLW circles with many in clubland believing the media attention attracted to AFLX detracted from the women’s league. However, surely a one-night event could not be considered too detrimental to the more successful of the AFL’s increasingly expanded alphabet. AFLW’s future was always far more secure than AFLX’s, despite, its final position in the AFL calendar still being thrashed out.
But there is another group who have the most of poor old AFLX’s blood on their hands, and it’s not even the bewildered broader AFL supporter base who were more concerned in asking AFL-Y? It was the powerful AFL presidents who could not fathom the AFL’s exploration of private ownership for AFLX licenses. Long-serving Collingwood President Eddie McGuire was particularly incensed and responded to media reports of the AFL’s plans on Triple M.
“Let there be no mistake: private ownership nearly killed the Swans, Brisbane, it did kill the Brisbane Bears… this is ridiculous. Private ownership nearly killed Australian Rules Football.”
Journalist Michael Warner even quoted McGuire as saying, “if things like this get up it might be time, we need to roll this mob” on 3AW. Clearly, the under-fire AFL administration have bowed to the pressure from clubland and has ditched its beloved experiment accordingly.
The AFL was preparing an eight-team tournament for next year’s pre-season with clubs being offered the opportunity to purchase an AFLX license to take their place in the series. If less than eight clubs were interested, the AFL was set to offer licenses to private owners. Yet, none of the eighteen clubs signalled their intention to bid for a license causing the AFL to abandon the tournament altogether.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment in the end of the AFLX is that the hybrid version of the game was never showcased to an international market, the purpose of the AFL’s creation. Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States were considered by the AFL for possible hosts of a tournament, although, the final official series was played next door from AFL House at Docklands.
Perhaps that is the greatest lesson from the AFL’s latest failure at international expansion. If the AFL’s own choir was not buying its AFLX preaching, what hope would they have had in Hong Kong? Expansion starts at home. However, if the AFL is going to retreat without even leaving their own shores, will we ever get anywhere? February’s AFLX one-night tournament worked much better than the original three-day affair last season, so why scrap something that was improving? If you are going to bite the bullet and trial the concept to begin with, you need to be brave enough to stick without beyond two years, surely? You cannot be beholden to powerful figures on every decision.
While, AFLX has been condemned to the history books, it should not stop the powers at be from continuing to aspire for a crazy future. Otherwise you will merely be stuck in the past… like that forgettable February format.