The FFA v The AFL – The 2015 Etihad Grand Final

In October 2014, it was reported by Fairfax media that the FFA was unhappy with the AFL response to its request to stage the 2015 Aleague Grand Final at Etihad Stadium on May 17th should either of the Melbourne Aleague sides make it. The AFL claims that it was originally approached about the stadium for may 10th, and wasnt notified about the change until midway through October.

On October 29th, the AFL released a formal statement on the MCG/Etihad arrangements.

The AFL wishes to detail its position for the public record today after media reports regarding the possible venue for the 2015 A League Grand Final, should Melbourne Victory qualify to host the final in Victoria.

AFL General Manager Broadcasting, Scheduling and Major Projects Simon Lethlean – the AFL Executive responsible for the production of the AFL fixture – said the AFL had been contacted by both Etihad Stadium and the Melbourne Victory at the start of its fixture production process in July and August respectively this year to request the AFL consider the availability of Etihad Stadium for Sunday May 10, 2015.

The AFL accommodated the possibility of that request for the weekend of May 8-10 by scheduling only two matches at Etihad Stadium across that round, while separately also delivering on a request from the Victorian Government for the MCG to be kept free on a consecutive Friday, Saturday and Friday in mid-July for a visit by leading European soccer teams.

In the following two months, while the AFL dealt with its annual fixture requests and contractual requirements across its 18 clubs, broadcast agreements, various state governments, venues across Australia, other sports and its own preferred outcomes for the 2015 Toyota AFL Premiership Season fixture, there was no further communication received from Etihad Stadium or the Melbourne Victory, and no communication received at any time from the FFA through this period in July / August / September.

On October 16, the Victorian state government advised the AFL the A League Grand Final could be played on May 17, 2015, and the AFL was formally contacted by the FFA on October 21 to enquire whether it could keep this May 17 date free at Etihad Stadium.

Mr Lethlean said the AFL had advised the FFA last week it could not restructure its fixture at that late stage, as five matches had been confirmed in Victoria for that weekend and the AFL was now in the process only of confirming match timeslots for each game with its broadcast partners and clubs. The AFL advised it could not alter the number of matches per round in Victoria at that late stage because the AFL had less flexibility around its 2015 fixture due to a later start to the season, caused by the Cricket World Cup, as well as the fact that all clubs now have only one bye through the season, compared to two byes through 2014.

Etihad Stadium Management today confirmed to the AFL that no updated request for a date change had been put forward to the AFL from their offices.

The FFA responded in kind, as reported in News Limited papers.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) has today reaffirmed that all stakeholders in Victoria were advised in May this year that the Hyundai A-League 2015 Grand Final would be played on either 10 May or 17 May, subject to confirmation of the Asian Football Confederation calendar.

Further, FFA reaffirms that Etihad Stadium, the MCG and the Victorian Government were regularly updated until the confirmation of the 17 May Grand Final date.

The public confirmation of the 17 May date occurred more than five weeks ago on 19 September and was reported in the national media.

FFA notes the statement by the AFL today blaming a communication breakdown between Etihad Stadium and the AFL for its lack of knowledge of the 17 May date, in preparation of its yet-to-be-released 2015 fixture.

FFA rejects as irrelevant the reference to direct communications between FFA and the AFL. As standard practice venue hirers such as FFA deal directly with venue managers and government agencies in booking venues, not with other sporting bodies.

Notwithstanding the AFL statement, FFA continues to talk to the Victorian Government, Etihad Stadium and the MCG to ensure Melbourne is in a position to host the Hyundai A-League 2015 Grand Final on 17 May, plans that were first shared with stakeholders five months ago.”

Head of A-League Damien de Bohun released the following statement to the Herald Sun.

“The Hyundai A-League Grand Final is a major event on the Australian sports calendar and FFA places bookings at all the big venues in all the markets where we have clubs.

“In May this year we informed all the major venues that the Grand Final would be either 10 or 17 May. Five weeks ago we confirmed the change to 17 May, based on advice from the Asian Football Confederation about next year’s Asian Champions League.

“In Melbourne, FFA has been in constant contact with Etihad Stadium and the MCG about the Grand Final booking, and in turn the venues have been liaising with their other hirers and tenants.

“Victorian fans would rightly be bitterly disappointed if other fixtures blocked the opportunity to play an A-League Grand Final in Melbourne at a major venue. We will continue to talk to all parties, including the Victorian Government, to make sure the interests of the Victorian sporting public are safeguarded.”

News Limited reported on November 12th that Etihad management had been happy to take a booking for Sunday, May 4th when it was first approached in May of 2014. The AFL has exercised contractual rights and fixtured matches on the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in that weekend.  The MCG is available on May 2nd, but apparently couldnt be considered due to broadcast rights and inter state travel.

“FFA made a formal request to book Etihad Stadium six months ago, but we’ve been told recently that pre-existing rights have been exercised by other venue hirers, after the A-League fixture was published,” an FFA spokesman said. “This is a matter for the venue managers, but it’s something FFA will discuss with the Victorian Government in due course. “

The AFL denied that the scheduling of matches was malicious.

“The AFL booked Etihad Stadium on that weekend because May – along with April, June, July and August – is the peak point of our home and away season with nine matches every weekend,” an AFL spokesman said.  “Etihad Stadium is hosting a greater number of games in 2014 because there was no final played at the venue in 2013, which further requires our call on the venue in 2014 as the primary tenant.”

Etihad Stadium communications manager Bill Lane said the AFL “always has first right” to booking the ground. “We’d like to be able to host an A-League grand final, but sometimes the stars don’t quite align,” he said.

On December 11, Foxsports reported that Kardinia Park could be the answer to the problem, suggesting that the Western Bulldogs home game could be fixtured there instead. Geelong’s Brian Cook said it could be done, but they would need a couple of months notice.

“It could, with the approval of pretty much the AFL, who would no doubt want the nod from particularly the home team, the Bulldogs,” Cook said. “There would also have to be a deal with Etihad because of the minimum number of games that are contracted to them. It becomes a governance issue, but if you can get through the governance issue then it becomes an issue of whether you really want to give your opposition a free kick. And Melbourne Victory are in opposition to Australian Rules. That’s another issue.”

On March 3rd, News Limited reported that the FFA had enlisted the Victorian Government to try to convince the AFL to “play ball“. It was also revealed that the MCG had been booked for Friday, May 15th in the case of an all Melbourne grand final – stadiums elsewhere had been booked for the Sunday. The article quoted Western Bulldogs President Peter Gordon

“It’s a hypothetical question in a way because we don’t control the fixture and there are bigger forces at play,” he said. “It’s easier said than done. There are somewhere between 6000-8000 people who have bought reserved seats for our home games at Etihad Stadium. Our home ground for quite some time has been Etihad Stadium; we think we have got the right to priority. Never say never, but I think the Kardinia Park option has got some formidable problems.”

The head of the aleague, Damien de Bohun, said that the obstacles were well known.

“The obstacles are well known, but FFA does not want Victorian sports fans to miss out on the opportunity to see this great spectacle in their home state,” A-League boss Damien de Bohun said. “If we can’t proceed with playing a grand final at Etihad Stadium, there’s serious consideration being given to relocating the match interstate to play at a venue that has the capacity to host the pinnacle event for the A-League. The Victorian Labor government understands our position and is doing all they can, but it’s now time to find a solution.”

On April 4th, the ABC reported that the Grand Final could be on a Friday night for the first time in Aleague history. However, if the final isnt between two Melbourne sides, then there is a very real possibility that the game will be shifted interstate if no deal is reached.

“We’ve had the unfortunate scenario of both Etihad and the MCG being booked on top of our bookings. So we’re still working on it,” De Bohun said. “In the event that Melbourne Victory meet Melbourne City, we have the MCG booked for Friday the 15th. We have a strong tradition of playing a Sunday twilight grand final because, for travelling fans, for broadcast and everything else, that is clearly the optimal slot. But if it comes down to a Melbourne v Melbourne grand final, we will have to look at the Friday.”

On April 16th it emerged that the Bulldogs, who are scheduled for a home game at Etihad on the date in question, are a big obstacle.

“We’re not moving aside for soccer,” Gordon told Melbourne radio station SEN. “What’s prime in our mind is four premiership points. It’s a home game for us and it’s already been fixtured, it’s a done deal, that’s where we want to play it and that’s where it will be played.”

 

On May 11th, News Limited reported that Gallop refused to admit any FFA responsibility for the mix up.

“We obviously reject any suggestion that there was any mistake at our end,” the FFA boss said. “None of the parties involved have accepted responsibility. Clearly there was a date change and we believe we communicated it, others involved say we didn’t and that’s why we’ve ended up in the situation we’re in. We will publish our date earlier for the upcoming season and don’t expect to face this issue again.”

Sydney FC were reportedly angry with the AFL, calling it a disgrae and citing possible fear as a motive. Its anger at least in part due to the number of tickets available to the FFA Grand Final being reduced to just 3500 for Sydney FC members due to the event being held at the 30.000 seat Aami park.

“I’m disappointed that agreement couldn’t be reached between FFA and the AFL to use Etihad Stadium,” Pignata said. “I’m from Melbourne, I follow AFL and enjoy the footy — just as a lot of the fans who go to the game will be AFL followers. But I just don’t know what the AFL are scared of, really it’s a disgrace that they wouldn’t agree to move the Bulldogs game. AAMI Park is a great venue from a footballing purists’ point of view, it’ll be packed to the rafters and a great atmosphere. But we have 12,000 members, and only a quarter of them will be able to get tickets — they’re really angry and understandably so. I’ve had loads of messages via social media and it’s very unfair that almost three-quarters of our members can’t get a ticket.”

Fairfax media reported on May 11th that no deal had been struck even though it had previously been reported otherwise. The report indicated that the AFL was holding out because the FFA could not give a definitive date for its final, and further wanted guaranteed acess not just to Etihad, but Adelaide Oval and the new Perth stadium when complete.

The Fairfax report also states that the AFL had been willing to move the Bulldogs game if suitably compensated.

The AFL’s view is that it proposed transferring Sunday’s round-seven clash to Geelong’s Simonds Stadium or the Whitten Oval but neither the FFA nor the Victorian government were prepared to cover the cost. Simon Lethlean wrote to FFA bosses in March outlining the financial commitment of relocating the match, which in the case of the Bulldogs’ home base — Whitten Oval — was estimated at $1 million. That included $300,000 to cover temporary seating. The relocation to Simonds Stadium was costed at $500,000, which would have included a charter flight for the Dockers to Avalon Airport.

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