WAFL Head of Football Operations Luke Sanders says games held in non-traditional timeslots and new fixture formatting provides more opportunity for clubs and fans following the release of the 2024 WAFL fixtures.
Round one will occur over the Easter long weekend, with the season launching on Thursday, March 28 at Pentanet Stadium in Joondalup with West Perth hosting Claremont.
West Perth and Pentanet Stadium will host its inaugural night game, following the addition of lights to the venue.
Sanders told SportFM night games may be a necessity going forward to accommodate competition demands and boost attendance.
“There’s more and more footy going on in WAFL venues and it gives the opportunity for clubs to potentially play all five games in the one day if they’ve got the lighting available,” he said.
“They can play their Womens’ and Colts and lead into Reserves and League and change around those match day propositions to have a full day of football.
“There’s a lot of requests from other stakeholders and users to use WAFL venues. It provides a different opportunity for WAFL clubs to market at fans and get away from that traditional 2.30 timeslot where amateur footy plays every weekend and no doubt it affects the attendance of WAFL footy.”
According to Sanders, about 35% of the WAFL matches fall on a Sunday, until round 15 of the AFL to enable flexibility in fixturing.
Sanders believes that Sundays provide more opportunities for clubs to have more fan activation, and was linked to an increase in attendance last year.
“Sunday provides an opportunity for some clubs which has juniors that play on a Saturday morning in their zone and they can then activate on a Sunday,” said Sanders.
“There’s obviously a necessity to play Sunday matches when clubs are coming out of the Monday long weekend games.
“We’ve shown by modifying our game times last year and playing Sundays and the alternate times later in the afternoon and into the twilight that we did have an increase in attendance and that was 9% up overall for the season. Nearly 30% of kids attended more WAFL games than any other year.”
An increase of WAFL rounds from 20 to 21 was noticeable, enabling the competition to commence finals around its usual time slot, but also still have an easter round.
Having the additional bye round enables not only the traditional Western Australia vs South Australia match to take place in May, but also allows venues to be used by country competitions.
Regional matches are absent from this year’s fixture, despite interest from clubs.
Sanders says he isn’t sure many country matches will get off the ground in 2024 but it is on the radar for 2025.
“We’re looking to play some games in the regional areas, we do have some funding available from clubs and there are a couple of clubs that are interested,” he said.
“I know Perth are interested to get to their zone and a couple of other clubs, but they take a long time to plan those games and I’m not sure we’ll be able to get too many off the ground for 2024, but we’ll look to reinvent those in 2025.
“In the fixture, we have tried to schedule a split round towards the back end of the year in July so those country Nutrien Ag Champs can come down to Perth and play on WAFL venues.
The WA Day Derbies will continue to be a feature of Perth’s WA Day celebrations in 2024.
West Perth will play East Perth in Joondalup, while South Fremantle will host reigning premiers East Fremantle and Fremantle Oval.
Sanders says those matches are “a staple” of the long weekend celebrations, and is hoping for better weather than last season.
“Those two games on Monday are critical for our attendance data to profile WAFL footy,” he said.
“WAFL footy has always been the staple for the community on that long weekend on the Monday.
“They can stand on the field and we’ll activate those kids' activities through our win-win WAFL campaign this year and make it as attractive as possible for families to attend our matches.”