Footy needs pre-match entertainment to hype up the crowds

COLLINGWOOD’S leaked plans to jazz up the game is genius.

Jazz hands and some spirit fingers – hopefully – but it seems likely that a hip-hop dance troupe will rev up the powerful Magpie Army.

The idea has the potential to take the AFL more worldwide than Pitbull.

An Australian cheerleader, heading to the United States, let the news slip on Magpie president Eddie McGuire’s own radio show this week (he was quick to try and brush it off).

All clubs need to start thinking like the Magpies.

In Victoria, it is often hard to understand how those in rugby territory up north fail to appreciate the game as much as we do.

In a Victorian town like Geelong, your average kid in the mall might be failing math but can reel off Cats’ players’ statistics without blinking. 

It is certain public humiliation if you can recite the succession of Australian prime ministers but struggle with the timeline and playing statistics of all Cats captains.

AFL can be all-consuming for fans.

Like the guy at the gym who hits the treadmill in a full Richmond kit, official shorts and socks too, in the belief it will made him run as fast as Trent Cotchin.

Not everyone understands or appreciates AFL moves, like the fact that an “effective tackle” involves wrapping up and bringing a player with possession of the ball to the ground, rather than the term being related to fishing or, um, appendages.

Sport is more than a game.

If the AFL wants to entice big crowds through the gate, it needs to offer more than just a game.

Broaden you audience. Make the entire day appealing.

Cool beats and a bit of a Harlem Shake is an awesome start.

It is way more exciting than blaring ads, flashing highlights of past games or getting a media presenter to give corny jokes on the boundary line – these have their place, but do little to hype up pre-game viewers.

What Collingwood is proposing is different to cheerleaders.

Carlton and Sydney tried that in the 1980s with the Bluebirds and Swanettes.

That did not work and would definitely not fit the fast, free-flowing modern AFL game.

The Magpies are exploring ideas to suck the crowd in before play starts so when the players hit the field, the crowd is already hyped up.

Collingwood has confirmed the club has held auditions for a mixed gender troupe and, while the concept was yet to be approved, was all about adding to the pre-game experience.

Add to the pre-game experience? That is not hard when the most memorable benchmarks for pre-game entertainment come from AFL grand final day and are a miserable Meatloaf and a plastic batmobile (Batman would so not approve).

As a kid growing up in Geelong, the football memories from Kardinia Park are fantastic but the best stories mostly involve Half Cat trying to mow down the Beaumont’s Pie.

It was a fun rivalry you had to tune into each home game before the big battle.

A little showmanship goes a long way to drawing in the masses.

The Americans are a class above everyone else when it comes to sporting entertainment.

Basketball team Chicago Bulls’ mascot Benny the Bull has a blimp in his likeness that flies around inside the United Center.

Dallas Cowboys have the most famous football cheerleaders in the world, complete with their own television reality show on just how hard it is to make the elite squad cut.

Colleges like Ohio State have marching bands whose spectacular formations and music go viral on You-Tube.

Seattle Sounders pull the biggest soccer crowds in the United States – a big feat for a team whose co-tenant won the Superbowl – and it does so with a brass band in the stands and fireworks and streamers that shoot out of the roof before the game and every time the Sounders boot a goal.

You may have no idea who the star players are or what some rule technicality was that got members throwing their buckets of chips on the ground.

But you can appreciate good entertainment.

Australian football is blessed with the match day banner for players to break once they leave the players’ rooms to enter the ground.

The club song is playing.

A smoke machine on the side would make this even more exciting.

If it takes a Collingwood hip hop group to get the ball rolling on simple marketing ploys for our game, we should all embrace it.

Bigger crowds make for a better, more electric atmosphere.

If anyone knows about adding more sparkle than Joffa’s golden jacket to AFL games, it’s Collingwood.

melanie.whelan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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