AFL chief Andrew Demetriou has suggested that it is "no-shows" rather than the league's controversial new variable pricing ticket structure that is causing the downturn in Victorian crowds.
Demetriou emphasised that a substantial number of people were purchasing tickets or memberships that gave them the right to attend games, but were then choosing not to show up. "We've got large no-shows - at the Hawthorn-Essendon game last week we had 44,000, [but] only 400 tickets out of the 53,000 weren't sold," he said. "There are lots of people who have bought tickets or who are members, for example, who don't go, who are no-shows.
"I mean at the Richmond-Carlton game, if you add up the AFL members, the MCC members and the tickets purchased, there was 122,000 tickets that were already paid for, but 62,000 people showed up to the game, MCC members half-full, AFL members half-full."
The 11-year chief executive, who last month announced that this year would be his last at the helm, indicated the league was looking at ways to rectify the situation.
"There's always been a large incidence of no-shows; I mean people who buy a reserved seat for the whole year might go on average to six games a year, and that's an issue. What we are looking at [is] some way of putting the tickets back on the system. If they're not going to go and they say earlier in the week that they're not going, that they can be used, there's nothing worse than seeing empty seats."
But Demetriou was firm in his stance that the new ticketing system, in which the price of seats at games are no longer uniform but rather dependent on the appeal of the individual fixture, was not a major factor causing the drop.
"People have been grasping on the fact that it could be to do with variable pricing. There's nothing to indicate that, because we know that there are more people paying less for seats than they were before. The actual sell-through of the tickets at the higher price are the first ones getting sold, and there's nobody forcing people to buy those tickets.
"If people want to get a better seat at some games, they pay a little bit extra, and there are people who can tell you that at games where there is large capacity and there are not big crowds, they are getting better seats for less money."
"We are trying as best as possible and I think we've been very successful in keeping football affordable."
Demetriou did, however, admit that the high prices of food, beverages and car parking were deterring families from attending the football: "They're certainly controlled by third parties. [It] is an imposition on families. Absolutely, the price of food and beverage, the price of car parking on game day, absolutely, things like ticketing charges. And that's all the more reason why we want to own our own stadium, to control those prices. They are a severe imposition on families when you add those things."
Demetriou stated though that while there is "ongoing dialogue" with Etihad Stadium about an early purchase of the venue by the league, no significant progress had yet been made.
The AFL is contracted to take over ownership of the Docklands ground in 2025.
Etihad Stadium spokesman Bill Lane defended the ground's prices.
"Food and beverage prices at Etihad Stadium are comparable with prices at all other AFL venues around Australia," Lane said.
"We are one of a small number of stadia in the world with a fully secured underground car park enabling fans to take a lift to their seat, but you pay for that privilege. By far the bulk of patrons who come to Etihad Stadium do so through public transport."
The AFL later confirmed that it would meet next week with the AFL Fans Associations to discuss the issues.