THERE are various key performance indicators that grab the attention of the AFL, but none more so than crowd attendances. 

TV audiences are vitally important and participation numbers fuel its growth, but if people are going to the games in large numbers then fundamentally, the game is in good health. 

And after a few years of tinkering with the format of opening round, the AFL of late has come up with a simple but effective strategy – big drawing games at the MCG and crowd-pleasing fixtures elsewhere. 

It worked in spectacular fashion last year, with a record 400,401 attending the nine games. It wasn't just the largest crowd for an opening round on record – it was the largest crowd to attend any round ever. 

The AFL is bullish that it can smash that figure again, starting on Thursday night. But can they really?


Richmond v Carlton (MCG), 7.25pm AEDT
Since these clubs took the opening game of the season for themselves in 2008 it has been afforded blockbuster status without ever really living up to the hype. The exception was 2009 when Ben Cousins made his debut for the Tigers in front 87,043. That figure will be exceeded on Thursday night as Richmond unfurls a premiership flag for the first time in 37 years. How many Melbourne Cricket Club members choose to attend the game will determine the final crowd, but it has enough elements to think plenty of walk-ups and neutrals will choose to go.

We think: 91,500


Essendon v Adelaide (Etihad Stadium), 7.50pm AEDT
These clubs attracted 40,322 when they played at Etihad Stadium in 2002, but that figure will be comfortably surpassed on Friday night. The Essendon hype factor will ensure a large home crowd, Adelaide fans always travel well, especially when the team is competitive and what also helps this game is the Grand Prix factor. A bit like Hawks-Pies the following night, expect a few people visiting Melbourne for the Formula One event to check out a game and see what all the fuss is about.

We think: 45,000 


St Kilda v Brisbane (Etihad Stadium), 3.35pm AEDT
In 2004, when the Saints were flying and the Lions were the defending three-peat premiers, they squeezed 52,539 into the Docklands on a Saturday night. This is likely a never-to-be-repeated figure, but fans of both sides are optimistic ahead of the new season and the starting point for any St Kilda home game at Etihad is the low 20,000s. The Lions still have a few thousand loyalists in Victoria and there is the intrigue of seeing Luke Hodge run around in maroon and blue for the first time. Perhaps a few Hawks fans will watch for a half before heading to the MCG.

We think: 26,500

Port Adelaide v Fremantle (Adelaide Oval) 4.05pm ACDT
The Power and the Dockers have never attracted more than 38,000 to Adelaide Oval, but nor have they ever met in the opening round of the season when expectations among the Port faithful are sky-high with boom recruits Steven Motlop, Tom Rockliff and Jack Watts all set to play. Port can attract crowds in the mid to high 40,000s when going well and the teal, black and white army will be out in anticipation of a big year.

We think: 44,500


Hawthorn v Collingwood, MCG, 7.25pm AEDT
They’d probably attract a few more if it was a Collingwood home game, but then again, the Hawks only get six home games at the MCG and there is no reason why the large Hawthorn membership base should not turn up, if only to welcome Cyril Rioli back. Instructive here is that more than 78,000 attended a round one game between the clubs in 2012 when the Hawks were the home team. Neither club is dominating at the moment, but the crowd for this one will be loud and large.

We think: 68,000

The Magpie army will be out in force for their club's season opener against Hawthorn. Picture: AFL Photos

Gold Coast v North Melbourne (Cazalys Stadium) 6.25pm AEST
Eight home and away games so far in North Queensland and the average crowd is around 10,000. What’s different this time is that the game is played at the start of the season, instead of the middle, which means the tropical weather could come into play. Still, this annual AFL game is a big-ticket item on the Cairns sporting calendar and provided the rain stays away, a healthy crowd will be there.

We think: 9,500 


Greater Western Sydney v Western Bulldogs (UNSW Canberra Oval) 1.10 AEDT
They love their Giants up in the national capital and the better the team plays, the larger the crowds. The Giants and the Dogs have a great rivalry going and played in front of 14,048 on a frigid Friday night in Canberra last year, so a sunny Sunday afternoon on the opening round of the season should attract around the same number, particularly with the Brumbies and the Raiders not playing at the same time.

We think: 14,000 


Melbourne v Geelong (MCG), 3.20pm AEDT
This is the game that will determine whether this is the most watched round of footy of all time. The largest home and away crowd for the Demons and Cats at the MCG in 75,000 in 2000 and it is 11 years since they pulled more than 40,000. But the excitement surrounding both teams is enormous with the Dees poised to break their finals drought and Gary Ablett back in the blue and white hoops. The AFL is forecasting between 50,000 and 55,000 but that’s a touch conservative.

We think: 61,000


West Coast v Sydney, Optus Stadium 4.20pm AEDT
No historical data to go on here, but it is a landmark occasion in Western Australia and everyone will want to be there. Yes, there has been cricket, rugby league and Ed Sheeran at the new venue but footy was ultimately the reason it was built and which will bring the people. The Eagles deserve the opening game of footy and while it wouldn't have mattered who the opponent was, the Swans are certainly a drawcard.

We think: 58,000 

Total: 418,000

Optus Stadium stands will be full when West Coast plays its first game against Sydney. Picture: AFL Photos

So, there it is. If the weather gods play their part, then the AFL’s all-time attendance record for a round of footy will not just be broken but smashed.  

And even if that all-time record doesn't break, here is one that might. Last year, 217,685 attended the three round one games at the MCG, made up of 73,137 for Carlton-Richmond, 66,254 for Collingwood-Western Bulldogs and 78,294 for Essendon-Hawthorn. It was a record for an MCG weekend with three games played there.  

By our calculations, 220,500 will watch this weekend's three MCG games.

And then there’s round three 

The AFL hopes that the third weekend of the season might also break records.

It includes Carlton-Collingwood and Richmond-Hawthorn blockbusters at the MCG, two games at Optus Stadium, a Sydney derby and a potential Bulldogs-Bombers sell out at Etihad Stadium. 

It might not crack the 400,000 figure, but the thirst for footy early in the season is hard to quench and, in that respect, the AFL has listened to the people.