“We’ll explore every opportunity; it is what we did last year. Start the season and where we encounter speed bumps find a way around those.”
Currently, people entering WA from Victoria must self-quarantine for two weeks, as Victoria is categorised as a “low risk” state – having fewer than five community cases per day on a 14-day rolling average. All other states and territories are categorised by WA as “very low risk” – no community cases in at least 28 days – and travellers are not required to quarantine.
Auld said that the league had lodged capacity proposals for GMHBA Stadium in Geelong and Mars Stadium in Ballarat with the state government and were waiting to hear back.
No games were held in front of fans in Victoria in 2020, with the 50 per cent capacity announcement a relief for fans in the game’s heartland.
At the MCG 11,517 tickets of the 50,000 would go to MCC members, with the rest going to clubs. Some 28,961 patrons can get into Marvel Stadium.
The state government decision means that the traditional season-opener featuring reigning premiers Richmond and Carlton on March 18 will be able to host a maximum of 50,000 fans. From March 4, Marvel Stadium will be allowed to host 28,961 people, which coincides with the opening game of the pre-season community series, featuring Carlton and St Kilda.
Auld could not give concrete details about pandemic-safe protocols for Marvel Stadium and the MCG but said fans being restricted to certain zones and gaps between patrons – like at the Boxing Day Test – could feature.
“The clubs will own that process [of allocating tickets] but I have a commitment from them that they will unsurprisingly prioritise their members,” Auld said.
“Hopefully that [starting at 50 per cent capacity] will build some confidence and in the public that over time that can be increased.”
On ticketing, an AFL statement said more detail would be released in coming days. “Home clubs will have three priority groups that will receive priority on-sales and it is up to each club how they segment their membership categories into those three groups (including reserved seat members and general admission members).
“Away club members will also receive priority access following home club members and should capacity still remain a general public on-sale will be conducted.”
In Perth, crowd capacity at the 60,000-seat Optus Stadium would be capped at 35,500. “That figure is in line with guidelines set by the government,” a venue spokesperson said.
Richmond chief executive Brendon Gale confirmed the Tigers would now get the chance to unfurl their two premiership flags given the return of crowds.
Richmond did not last year unveil their 2019 flag, waiting instead until they could do so at home in front of a crowd.
The Tigers will use a ballot system to decide which of their roughly 100,000 members gets the chance to attend a game in the reduced capacity venues.
“It is a really difficult thing, we have a ballot system in place so 50 per cent capacity does not mean 50,000 members. You take out MCC members, AFL members, we think we have half. We have about 100,000 members and a lot of those are reserved seat holders.
“We have a ballot system to spread as equitably as possible access to the games.”
Gale said there was now hope that if rules and protocols are observed that crowds could return in full at some stage during the season.
“There is every likelihood things might be revised upwards. That is up to the AFL they have done a power of work with the government so we will be guided by them but that is our hope,” he said.
In a statement on Friday morning, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan welcomed the return of greater crowds.
“We haven’t had footy crowds this big in Victoria since the match to support Bushfire Relief in February last year, so today’s announcement provides a big boost for our players and fans in the lead-up to the season,” he said.
“Our team has been working extensively behind the scenes planning for multiple scenarios and all our venues will be ready to welcome fans back into the stands come next month.″
Tickets for the AFL’s pre-season series will go on sale from Monday (March 1), with club and AFL members to get free entry. They will require a $0 cost ticket to enter grounds to comply with COVID-19 safety protocols. General public tickets for pre-season matches will cost $20 for adults, $15 for concession, with children under 15 free (but needing a ticket to enter).
Anthony is a sports reporter at The Age.
Michael Gleeson is an award-winning senior sports writer specialising in AFL and athletics.