Why twilight preliminary finals in the AFL are here to stay

While the AFL has avoided the temptation to make this year's grand final a twilight fixture, the timeslot looks set to become an annual occurrence on preliminary final weekend.

A twilight preliminary final on the Saturday has traditionally been used as a tool to allow the travelling team to return home, with the possibility of preparing for a match the next week.

But Fairfax Media understands the twilight fixture has become such a success among fans and a television ratings bonanza, that the AFL will consider it even if the two competing sides are from the same state.

If Geelong beat Greater Western Sydney at Simonds Stadium on Saturday night, and Richmond defeat St Kilda the following day, then the top four will finish with Adelaide on top, likely to be followed by Geelong, Richmond and the Giants - in that order.

It means that the middle two weeks of September - semi-final and preliminary-final weekends - will be played over three states - South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales - with each guaranteed at least one home final.

In the past five seasons, the AFL has fixtured the Saturday preliminary final between 4.45-5.50pm local time, with each of the five games involving a side playing in another state.

Last year's finals series is a prime example, with the league giving the Western Bulldogs the opportunity to fly home from Sydney the same night that they famously defeated GWS.

The match saw a combined metro and regional peak audience of almost 2.9 million viewers with host broadcaster Channel Seven, with an average of 1.82 million.

The last time a preliminary final was played in the afternoon was 2011 when Geelong thrashed West Coast by eight goals in a 2.20pm game in front of almost 60,000 people at the MCG.

Since then, the use of the twilight timeslot on the Saturday of preliminary final weekend has been a raging success.

The impact of the twilight atmosphere on the crowd and the strong television numbers will only help the cause for a twilight grand final in the near future, despite the decision of league chief Gillon McLachlan to stay with the traditional timeslot for this season.

Although Geelong have pushed for any home final to be played at Simonds Stadium, a final against Richmond will be played at the MCG, with a potential crowd between the two clubs likely to exceed 80,000.

The AFL is still keeping the option of a return to ANZ Stadium open, despite having no contractual arrangement.

The venue is likely to be used for an all-Sydney final, or if the Giants were to play Richmond, who are one of the highest-ranking teams when it comes to crowd numbers.

This story Why twilight preliminary finals in the AFL are here to stay first appeared on Brisbane Times.