- THE 21 NOT-TO-BE-MISSED GAMES
THE RETURN of the Saturday afternoon blockbuster is a key feature of the 2015 AFL fixture, unveiled by the League on Thursday morning.
In Victoria there will be 47 weekend day games – a jump from the 34 in 2014 – as the AFL delivered on its pledge for a more 'fan friendly' fixture.
Large Victorian clubs Carlton, Essendon, Collingwood, Richmond, Geelong and reigning premier Hawthorn will feature prominently in the Saturday afternoon clashes.
Timeslots have also received a tweak in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, with Saturday night matches to come forward by 20 minutes and start at 7.20pm.
Start times will remain at 7.10pm for Saturday games in South Australia and 5.40pm in Western Australia.
"Across the country, we have sought to work with the respective clubs in each state for the best timeslots for fans in those parts of the country," AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said.
"While we cannot meet all requests, we believe there are significant moves as part of today's fixture release that will be well received, depending on the different needs and requests of fans in different parts of Australia."
In other developments from the fixture, it was confirmed that:
- Carlton and Richmond will open the season at the MCG on Easter Thursday
- The League has scrapped Sunday night matches and removed the Monday night match during the Mother's Day round
- There will be five Thursday night games across the season and four in consecutive weeks between rounds 12-15
- The first Grand Final rematch between Hawthorn and the Sydney Swans will be in round eight at the MCG
- There is a focus on more Saturday twilight football for Gold Coast
- There will be five games on ANZAC Day, including St Kilda playing Carlton at Wellington as the opening game
- All Victorian-based clubs will travel interstate at least five times
Clubs will have a mid-season bye in either rounds 11, 12 and 13, with six matches to be played in each of those rounds.
No teams play each other for the second time until after round ten, and all clubs will play each other once by round 22.
The season will open immediately after the cricket World Cup, allowing football to have access to all major venues around the country.
The "weighted rule" will be in effect again, with each club to play every other club once and five clubs twice.
This is done in accordance with last year's ladder, with the clubs grouped into top six, middle and bottom teams to manage the equality of the double match-ups.
"We're happy with the way it works. I think if you look at it, all the right teams are playing each other in our view," said Simon Lethlean, the AFL's general manager of broadcasting and scheduling.
"The best performed teams from last year might have the hardest draws.
"I think Hawthorn has been saying they've had the hardest draws the last two years and they've won [the premiership]. We're comfortable with how it looks and I think it's the right way to go."
McLachlan denied it was a "handicap" format.
"In an imperfect world, which our fixture is and we've acknowledged that for many years, you're playing at the margins and all we've done is actually get some slight weighting going into who plays who twice," McLachlan said.
"If you look at last year, it was the same formula and the best teams made the eight and the best teams were in the Grand Final."
McLachlan said there had been talks with venue partners recently about allowing clubs to replicate the type of "fan experience" Port Adelaide introduced at home games this year.
The Power had scoreboard, audio and signage control at their games at Adelaide Oval, which created a unique experience for fans.
McLachlan said the League's intention was to work with the venues to allow all clubs to become involved in "defining their own experience" at home games.
He said announcements on 'match-day experience' - and a new model to purchase tickets - would be made in the coming weeks.
Good Friday missed out on football this year but will again come into consideration for a game in 2016.
"I think you assess it on its merits," McLachlan said.
"We'll look at it again next year and make a decision then."