The AFL has secretly been working on a new version of the sport, dubbed AFL X, and I don't see it succeeding. The game involves seven-a-side on a soccer pitch, played across four 10 minute quarters. While recreational AFL-9s doesn't allow tackles or bumping, AFL X does.
Why is this being developed? Two reasons, namely, to set up AFL as an all-year round sport and make it easier to expand overseas. Pretty ridiculous if you ask me.
AFL X was trialed behind closed doors at Etihad Stadium last weekend, using players from VFL teams the Northern Blues and the Coburg Lions. The AFL's marketing team reckons it's 'high-scoring' and 'free-flowing', but I just can't back a new format that rewards handballing at the expense of kicking the footy.
General manager of game development, Simon Lethlean, has stated "It's part of everyone's plan to be a 12-month a year sport". Lethlean also raised the idea of running an AFL X competition in the off-season with recently retired professional players.
Tell him he's dreaming.
While this will certainly interest all those footy diehards out there, I don't see it attracting non-football fans. A half-baked summer competition won't expand the game and will directly compete with a range of sports including tennis and, in particular, Australia's national pastime, cricket.
AFL X is also expected to one day form a part of the league's international expansion plans. I'm a bit skeptical that overseas audiences will enjoy seeing an obscure Australian sport being played on their sacred soccer pitches and rugby grounds.
If you cut to the chase, AFL X is purely a business decision. Having seen the success of other modified sports like Twenty20 cricket and Rugby Sevens, AFL chief executive, Gillon McLachlan, will be hoping to replicate their ability to rake in the profits. In this case, I think less is more.
You can also argue the AFL is getting their priorities wrong. After a highly successful women’s All-Stars exhibition, which pulled huge TV ratings last Saturday, the question is why don't they simply invest more in the women's game, essentially a ready-made alternative?
AFL X is not exactly off to the best start. The AFL is already facing legal action from a Melbourne entrepreneur who reportedly took the AFL X concept to the league last year. With Lethlean's team being awarded a $10,000 internal prize for the idea, you have to wonder what's gone on behind the scenes.
Does anyone remember the NFL's disastrous XFL concept in 2001 involving WWE owner, Vince McMahon? Didn't think so. AFL X is up against it to find a niche in the market and could well turn out to be an embarrassing failure.