THE INAUGURAL Gather Round was an unbelievable success.
But, now that South Australia has been locked in to host the AFL's big event for the next three years, it's time to start considering how to make the entire weekend bigger and better going forward.
AFL.com.au has listed its nine best ideas for the 2024 iteration of Gather Round.
1) Get it to the Barossa
We saw just how quickly the picturesque Mount Barker Oval was able to be transformed to accommodate for the crowd of over 7,000 people last Saturday. With similar investments, footy in the Barossa Valley must be the AFL's next non-metropolitan priority for Gather Round. Renowned for its shiraz and its natural beauty, creating an AFL-standard venue in South Australia's wine capital looks set to be a feature for 2024.
2) Go bigger by going smaller
Games at Norwood Oval and Mount Barker provided unique highlights from the weekend. Next year, there has to be consideration given to lessening the Adelaide Oval's workload from six games to five and adding another suburban ground to the mix. There are plenty of SANFL stadiums across Adelaide capable of replicating the community vibe of Norwood, while still having AFL-standard facilities. The next evolution of Gather Round must incorporate new experiences and this would be the perfect way to do that.
3) Start and finish on a blockbuster
The fixture for Gather Round is important, and the AFL just about nailed it last weekend. As long as it's in South Australia, either Adelaide or Port Adelaide must host the Thursday night opener against a big-drawing opponent. The other local team should always take the primetime Saturday night slot against another powerhouse. But the finish is just as key. Whether intentional or not, Collingwood and St Kilda became the most anticipated match of the weekend and closed Gather Round this year. That should always be the case going forward, with the entire slate of games built around those three contests.
4) Party on The Parade
The Parade has the potential to put on a party. The festivities around Norwood Oval, in particular those based in the Norwood Memorial Gardens, were fantastic. But let's make it bigger. The main street heading towards Norwood's home ground was already closed off to accommodate for the foot traffic, so why not extend the food stalls, the bars and the kids activities further down the Parade and make the home of the Redlegs a second hub for the weekend?
5) Get it in even earlier
The town heaved, the hill rocked and the Parade got the punters feeling sentimental. Only the rain across Friday and Saturday night could eventually get fans indoors. To minimise this risk in the future, let's get Gather Round up and going inside the season's first month and take advantage of March and early April's better weather. An annual time for the round would also enable fans from interstate to plan better, and would give each team's campaign an early marker to set themselves for.
6) Fire up the Village Green
During the Test summer in cricket season, the Adelaide Oval's Village Green is used to house marquees and events where some punters opt to wine and dine in between catching some sporting action. While it doesn't necessarily have to carry the same vibe for the footy, a few extra standing bars and food stalls – and maybe some kids activities – might get the area thriving during Gather Round.
7) Make the Academy match standalone
For many, an AFL Academy match – featuring the draft's best talent, including local South Australian prospect and possible top-five pick Ashton Moir – passed by unnoticed this weekend. That's because it was played in Mount Barker, after Brisbane's win over North Melbourne and at the same time as Essendon's clash with Melbourne at the Adelaide Oval. Given every SANFL team will likely have a bye during Gather Round, why not play this fixture at a standalone time at a free ground or even as a curtain raiser to any games played at the Adelaide Oval?
8) Jumpers for all
Adelaide fans loved the vintage Gather Round guernsey their team wore on Thursday night, while Fremantle supporters frothed the stealth kits their side rocked on Friday afternoon. Let's get creative and make it an AFL-wide concept. Whether every team goes with a heritage theme, or something else whacky and exciting, how good would 18 unique jumpers look every season?
9) Open up the CBD
Shop owners who closed their doors over the weekend might rethink their plans when the AFL cavalry rolls back into town next year. Masses of players gathered at the few coffee shops that were open over the weekend, but on Sunday players from one club were turned away from a Hindley Street café as it was too busy. A player from another club had to leave a different establishment without their morning coffee as they'd waited 40 minutes already and had to get to a team meeting. Given the CBD's close proximity to the Adelaide Oval, those that were closed will surely consider opening up next year.