It’s the biggest day in Australian sport.
That one day in September when fans across the country turn their eyes to the mighty MCG for the AFL Grand Final. It’s arguably Australia’s Super Bowl, a unique media moment when a massive captive audience is fully immersed in a this live major event.
So where were our moments of great sports marketing set against this iconic backdrop?
This year’s grand final broadcast seemed to lack any ambitious leverage from sponsors or non-sponsors alike. Nothing new. Nothing bold. Just more of the same 30 second ads, with little or no relevance to the occasion or even acknowledgment of the day.
It was the same or worse in the stadium.
Despite this being the biggest game of the year for AFL football, with two powerhouse teams locked in an epic battle, the fans were forced to sit through mostly irrelevant, clunky activations unfolding on the stadium surface.
Case in point: During the three quarter time break, while this enthralling match hung in the balance with scores dead level, the AFL trundled out yet another sponsor activation.
On the hallowed turf where moments earlier the best footballers in the country were risking life and limb, we had a random herd of promo staff waving limp sponsor flags while some ‘lucky fan’ (read poor sap) tried to boot an impossible goal to ‘win a million dollars’.
Yep. While 100,000 tense and nervous fans steeled themselves for the last epic stanza of the Premiership Season, a spruiker was yelling inanities over the stadium loudspeaker, trying to drum up excitement for a lemon of a stunt courtesy of a retail chemist chain.
The obviously hopeless punter couldn’t kick a footy over a jam tin, let alone kick a goal from fifty metres into the breeze. While the two best teams in the country gathered in their respective huddles to listen to their coaches’ final address, they had to strain to hear over the garbled gibberish of a cheap marketing stunt.
It looked messy. It sounded lame. It felt obnoxious and opportunistic. Not just because the poor sap could hardly kick… because it was irrelevant, distracting and dare I say it… disrespectful of the audience that had paid hundreds/thousands of dollars to witness a world class event.
Is this what the AFL want their Grand Final showpiece event to look like? Is the playing surface little more than an oversized canvas for cheap stunts/revenue generating opportunities?
Or is this a moment to cherish instead of commercialise, a moment to allow the game to stay front and centre, a moment to stop and appreciate the spectacle that’s unfolding in a once a year celebration of elite talent? How about we let the consequences sink in for the fans and the tension to build to even greater heights?
Grand Final Day is my favourite day of the year. For footy fans, it’s like Christmas Day, Easter and New Year’s all rolled into one. The League and it’s sponsor need to show it the respect it deserves. Either make the game experience better, or get out of the way.
(My apologies to Virgin Australia, whose pre-game stadium activation was actually quite ambitious and bold… giving away literally hundreds of international flights to lucky fans seated in the the heaving stands. Sadly, the execution was marred by some technical challenges for the live audience, but it was a big idea with genuine scale, commensurate with the occasion. Respect.)