Fan-friendly NAB Challenge fixture
The AFL has unveiled the NAB Challenge fixture with a focus on the fans.
AFL FOOTBALL will return to Whitten Oval next year, with games to be played in every state across Australia during the 2015 NAB Challenge.
The Western Bulldogs will do battle with Richmond at the historic venue in Footscray on February 28, while Hawthorn and Collingwood are will open the pre-season competition at Aurora Stadium in Launceston on February 26.
A number of suburban and regional venues will host games during the month-long festival of football.
Blacktown (NSW), Mandurah (WA), Burpengary (Qld), Townsville (QLD), Fremantle Oval (WA), Coffs Harbour (NSW), Morwell, (Vic), Shepparton (Vic), North Ballarat (Vic), Albury (NSW) will again host pre-season clashes while Drummoyne (NSW), Norwood (SA) and Port Lincoln (SA) get their first taste of AFL football.
AFL General Manager – Broadcasting, Scheduling and Major Projects Simon Lethlean said the League had every intention of bringing the game back to the fans in 2015, starting with pre-season games.
"Fans in regional and suburban communities across Australia are unashamedly our focus throughout next year's NAB Challenge," Lethlean said.
"We're pleased to be able to take top-flight football to some of the game's most important venues."
The Bulldogs VFL team had a crowd of 8,000 for one of the club's finals at the Whitten Oval in September and Lethlean said the League was hoping for a figure above 10,000 for the Bulldogs-Tigers clash at the venue.
"We've worked closely with the Bulldogs who have really requested heavily that they want a game here," Lethlean said on Tuesday.
"They had great success with their VFL team (at the venue) this year and unbelievable government funding support to rebuild parts of the venue."
In addition, the League also announced club members with game access would be entitled to attend NAB Challenge matches free of charge. Fans are being urged to sign up ahead of the start of the competition to ensure this feature applies to them.
Lethlean said the policy would come at some cost to the AFL, but reiterated the League saw great benefits associated with allowing fans to come to the NAB Challenge at no extra charge.
"There's an impact, no doubt," Lethlean said.
"But we think that impact is worth it for a number of reasons. It will be great for our attendances, it will be great to get fans to all our games as we lead into the season.
"We want to get our fans to as many games as we can."
Each team will play three NAB Challenge games across four weeks in 2015. Every club will play two matches in the opening three weeks and a final game in the fourth week.
The fourth and final week of the competition will see matches staged at metropolitan AFL venues to maximise team preparations ahead of the premiership season.
The 18 games in 18 days that marked the 2014 NAB Challenge has been scrapped to accommodate a more logistically-friendly fixture after feedback from clubs, fans and other stakeholders.
The last week of matches will feature derbies in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and the ACT, along with traditional match-ups between Victorian clubs at Etihad Stadium, including a double-header at that venue on March 21.
"This structure accommodates the needs of our clubs in terms of managing player workloads and planning their preparations during a very important month," Lethlean said.
Fox Footy will broadcast the majority of the games live, with every televised match also available to supporters through the official AFL Live app.
The fixture for the 2015 Toyota AFL Premiership season will be released this Thursday.
North Ballarat will again host NAB Challenge football after the Roos and Blues clashed there this year