The Western Bulldogs’ breakthrough AFL success hasn’t changed Gillon McLachlan’s approach to the pre-finals bye round, which will be back next season.
The controversial weekend off will be retained in the 2017 draw, despite every senior coach wanting a reversion to the regular fixture.
The Bulldogs were undoubtedly helped by the break, using it to regroup and leap from seventh to the premiership.
In contrast, the extra week’s break hurt the two qualifying final winners – GWS Giants and Geelong – who played just two matches in four weeks leading up to their preliminary finals, which both sides lost.
In making the unpopular call, AFL House leaned heavily on two figures; television audiences and crowds.
Record viewing figures for round one of the finals delighted broadcasters Seven Network and Fox Sports and convinced McLachlan to retain the measure.
The four matches had 6.4 million Australians watching, beating the record figure of 6.04 million in 2006.
In total, the nine finals matches drew a consolidated audience of 18.4 million people, also a new record.
Total crowds also grew on last year, with 558,342 attending the finals despite Spotless Stadium hosting just 21,790 people for the most poorly-attended preliminary final of the modern era.
McLachlan said the break built in a integrity measure, and he was keen to add other events alongside the women’s all-star match and a charity match between the final round of fixtures and the opening week of the finals.
“It is the AFL’s view that the greater build-up for fans of all sides competing in the finals strongly contributed to a brilliant month for the game across September, with the best players being able to be as fit and well-prepared as possible for the most important games of the season,” he said.
“The AFL was able to give a greater focus to both the women’s all-star game and our retired legends through the EJ Whitten match.
“Our key awards – such as All Australian selection and the Ron Evans Medal for the Rising Star – also received greater prominence.
“The decision to retain this week off for the elite players to prepare for the finals can also be used by all other levels of the game below the AFL to raise the profile of all state league competitions across that weekend, along with metropolitan, regional and community football.”
The 2017 AFL draw is expected to be released in the next fortnight. The pre-finals bye weekend will fall on the first weekend of September, with the grand final set for September 30.