The Australian Football League (AFL) has announced that its 2021 Grand Final will return to the traditional format of an afternoon kick-off at Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), with officials targeting a full house for the game.

The AFL staged its Grand Final outside the state of Victoria for the first time last year, with Brisbane’s Gabba stadium awarded the hosting rights to reward Queensland’s assistance to the League during COVID-19.

The 2020 Grand Final had been scheduled for October 24 at the MCG, its traditional home, but the COVID-19 situation in the state of Victoria necessitated a different venue. In July, an agreement was reached for Queensland to become the temporary home of the AFL with the state targeting hosting rights to the Grand Final in return, as the Aussie rules competition exited its heartland of Victoria amid the escalating COVID-19 situation.

The 2020 Grand Final, which saw Richmond defeat Geelong in front of a capacity crowd of 29,707, also featured the novelty of a 7:30pm kick-off, local time. This was the first time the Grand Final was played in the evening. However, the AFL Commission today (Wednesday) told the clubs that the event will return to the MCG on September 25, pending any delays caused to the season by COVID-19, with a start time of 2:30pm.

The Age newspaper said the decision didn’t receive universal backing, with Gold Coast Suns chairman, Tony Cochrane, reported to have pointed to the TV ratings and gameday entertainment benefits presented by an evening start. The AFL is said to have decided that the need for fans in Victoria to experience the normality of a day Grand Final outweighed those benefits.

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said in a statement: “We know that Season 2020 was a unique season, and by necessity, we had to make some exceptional decisions surrounding the competition including moving most teams to Queensland and moving the Grand Final and the start time for the first time in its history. The build-up and event in Queensland was a huge success.

“Our members and supporters were incredible in continuing to support their teams last year and they are wanting a season where they can return to some of the traditions and rituals around footy. Ultimately, the AFL Commission decided that while we will keep some of the unique components of the 2020 season, the prestige, nostalgia and atmosphere of the day Grand Final is something that people can look forward to.

“Wherever they are located around Australia, we want to give footy fans that familiar feeling back on Grand Final Day – a Saturday afternoon start-time, the build-up, the anticipation, friends, family and the BBQ in the backyard, all combining to make it the best event on the Australian sporting calendar.

“We still have a lot of work as a league and a community to get the finish line, but I would love nothing more to see 100,000 back at the MCG on the last Saturday in September.”

It was announced last month that some 50,000 fans will be able to attend sports events at the MCG after state authorities eased capacity restrictions at venues. The Victorian State Government endorsed 50% capacity at the 100,000-seat MCG and Marvel Stadium, where 29,000 fans were permitted to attend from March 4.

The MCG will stage Richmond’s 2021 AFL Premiership season opener against Carlton on March 18 with 50,000 fans able to attend. This will be the biggest attendance at an event in the state of Victoria since last February.

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