Dream Round 1 draw as MCG aims for capacity crowds
Clubs are hopeful the AFL will release the first two rounds of next year's fixture before Christmas as the MCG predicts crowds could return to at least 75 per cent capacity.
Melbourne Cricket Club chief executive Stuart Fox hinted on Thursday that a full house was still a possibility for the March 18 season opener between Carlton and Richmond.
Fox said modelling for a 50 per cent capacity at the MCG in 2021 had been completed, but "hopefully by (March), we are talking 75 per cent," he said on SEN.
"Who knows, even 100 per cent return to crowds.
"Let's have our fingers crossed that we can start the footy season in a really positive manner, because it's been pretty dormant in Victoria for some time in terms of the AFL landscape."
The league declared last month that it would not release its 2021 fixture until as late as February as it continued to navigate the ongoing effects of COVID-19.
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But clubs could be handed the first two rounds before Christmas - a scenario floated in a recent meeting as the league continues its planning - including contingencies - on the fixture.
The Carlton and Richmond clash is the only game scheduled so far, with options to program crowd-pleasing grudge matches between the clubs at the centre of the Adam Treloar trade, Collingwood and Western Bulldogs, or the prospect of Jeremy Cameron in Geelong hoops taking on his old side Greater Western Sydney.
Clubs are doing their best to plan for next year despite having no fixture, including reserved seating allowances for members and fan engagement, as the "COVID normal" sporting landscape becomes clearer.
The league is also optimistic that the AFL Women's fixture will be released in the next few weeks.
Women players have been told starting the season in hubs is still a possibility.
Clubs are hopeful that at least the first few rounds of the men's fixture can be revealed in the next three weeks, which Fox said would be "a wise choice".
"We might hear an early release before Christmas of the first few rounds. I think that's a wise choice, because if we do have restrictions, it gives them the flexibility to move things about," he said on SEN.
"I've had a few chats with Gill (McLachlan) on his thoughts. It's really complicated, the footy season, because the clubs actually pre-sell reserved seats.
"And when you do that in advance, it's going to be very difficult, because if you've sold 30 or 40,000 pre-reserved seats to games for members and we have to socially distance next year, that could present some challenges.
"Our focus is on cricket (right now), but I'm very, very confident that if we can keep progressing forward without too many more outbreaks of COVID, I think it sets us up for a stronger return come March and April."
Releasing the fixture in rolling blocks to maintain flexibility throughout 2021 is also considered likely.
The Boxing Day Test will be capped at around 25,000 and with a 25 per cent capacity in the members' pavilion, which Fox said he considered to be a safe starting point that will "set other sports up".
"We've modelled a 50 per cent return of crowds (for the AFL season) … but in my discussions with the AFL, I think we need to think more aggressively than that.
"Aim high, and we might need to pull that back a bit. But let's think boldly and think that we can return crowds and that we're in a very different situation in March next year.
"The game and sport has suffered across Australia and across the world and we need to get it back on track, and hopefully we can do that in a responsible way that doesn't put anyone in jeopardy in the stadium.
"I'm becoming more confident now that come the new year, things are going to be pretty positive."
BACK IN ACTION BLOCKBUSTERS - OUR DREAM ROUND 1
Carlton v Richmond* - Guaranteed blockbuster. Richmond's first match in Melbourne since winning a third flag in four years
Western Bulldogs v Collingwood* - Adam Treloar taking on his former side for the first time, potentially under Friday night lights. Huge.
Essendon v Brisbane* - Joe Daniher in a Lions jumper and lining up against the Bombers. 'Nuff said.
Adelaide v Sydney
GWS Giants v Geelong* - Jezza v the Giants for the first time after his move back south.
Gold Coast v Port Adelaide
North Melbourne v St Kilda
Hawthorn v Melbourne
West Coast v Fremantle* - Western derby in front of a full Optus Stadium.
Originally published as Dream Round 1 draw as MCG aims for capacity crowds