No blockbuster for Bulldogs as AFL counts lockdown cost

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Victoria’s circuit-breaker lockdown that will see AFL games played in Melbourne without crowds this weekend is expected to cost the Western Bulldogs at least $300,000 in profit as clubs and the AFL begin to count a financial impact that is expected to run into the millions.

The league on Thursday night was sweating on the result of a COVID test for a rehabbing Melbourne player, who had visited a tier one exposure site on Sunday. Friday night’s much-anticipated match between the Dogs and Melbourne will go ahead in an empty Marvel Stadium pending a negative test.

The Bulldogs had sold out all corporate suites and functions for the top of the table clash a fortnight ago and were anticipating a sell-out crowd for their home game.

Friday’s sell-out clash between the Bulldogs and Melbourne will now be played in an empty stadium. Credit:Getty Images

Club sources said the cost to them would likely exceed the $300,000 figure once predicted revenue streams, other than ticket and corporate sales that arise out of such blockbusters, were included.

AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan acknowledged it was a bitter pill for the Bulldogs to swallow as round 11 was re-adjusted on the run due to government restrictions imposed to curb the COVID outbreak.

“It’s a huge disappointment to the Bulldogs, the home club,” McLachlan said.

“Disappointing but this is this virus, we’ve just got to deal with it.”

A Bulldogs source said the disappointment relating to no crowds was not restricted to the financial impact as they were anticipating their fans enjoying a huge clash with great atmosphere after spending 2020 without football, while the AFL was devastated about a Sir Doug Nicholls round being affected at the last minute.

The Bulldogs aren’t the only club directly impacted. Collingwood was expected to receive $1million in revenue as a result of their home game against Geelong on Saturday that was anticipated to attract 42,000 fans to the MCG.

Richmond were looking at earning $300,000 in ticket sales for their MCG clash against Adelaide, with the MCC predicting a crowd of 40,000. The Tigers’ match has been relocated to Giants Stadium on Sunday afternoon and although fans will be able to attend, mitigating the club’s loss to some extent, their recompense is expected to be minimal, with the commercial arrangements yet to be determined.

Richmond have not played at the MCG since round eight and face the prospect of being on the ride for round 12 with the Dreamtime at the ’G match a chance to be played at Optus Stadium in Perth. The AFL confirmed they are considering relocating the feature match, which is Essendon’s home game. The match was played in Darwin in 2020.

St Kilda were expecting to earn more than $100,000 in ticket sales for their clash against North Melbourne at Marvel Stadium but were yet to tally lost corporate sales. The game was not expected to attract a large crowd but was a chance for the Saints to win a match in front of a home crowd after an inconsistent season.

The lockdown not only affects revenue but also increases costs for the league, which has had to book charter flights to transport teams around the country and extend accommodation, pushing the total cost over the weekend into the millions. It remains hopeful hubs will be avoidable but predicts clubs may have to be on the road for weeks at a time.

AFL sources said the true cost to the league would not be known for several weeks at least as they rushed to enable all games to be played this round, aware that the impact of the lockdown on supporters would reach beyond that.

Even if the lockdown is eased after seven days, the AFL does not expect stadium capacity to return to 85 per cent for some time and acknowledge that the community’s confidence in attending matches will have reduced after the MCG and Marvel Stadium were both identified as exposure sites on Wednesday.

Only days ago, McLachlan predicted a $200 million drop in revenue when compared to 2019 but was hopeful the league would breakeven as it continued to cut costs and kept a tight rein on club expenditure.

The AFL is yet to determine the round 12 schedule but with state borders shutting to Victoria games are likely to be rescheduled, with the much anticipated match in Alice Springs between Melbourne and Brisbane in some doubt.

Although Gold Coast’s match against Hawthorn in Darwin was relocated to Sydney for this week the Suns are still hopeful of playing a match in Darwin later in the season if possible.

Geelong will also be hoping to have crowds returning for their match against the Western Bulldogs at GMHBA Stadium on June 18, with most of their revenue derived from home matches. That match is the only home game they are scheduled to play between now and July.

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