ADELAIDE will open next year’s AFL premiership season in prime time with a Friday Night Football contest against Essendon at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne on March 23.
And Port Adelaide will host Fremantle at Adelaide Oval in a Saturday twilight clash starting at 4.05pm, after the AFLW grand final.
The 18 AFL clubs on Thursday were handed the draft for next season’s home-and-away fixture to review before Tuesday’s formal release.
Both the Crows and Power are big winners in the fixture with the AFL handing the SA-based clubs more of the major timeslots and more blockbuster match-ups as the league expects them to be major contenders for top-four rankings next season.
AFL executive Travis Auld described the Crows and Port Adelaide as “two teams you can rely on” to deliver crowds at Adelaide Oval and significant television ratings.
“Both had a strong fixture (with high-profile match-ups and timeslots) in 2017 – and that will continue in 2018,” Auld said on Thursday.
“There is a lot of excitement around Port Adelaide after they traded so well. So we are looking to get the Power in some high-rating timeslots early in the year.”
Port Adelaide had just one appearance in the AFL’s premier timeslot – Friday Night Football – this year, in round five against Carlton at Adelaide Oval. And just two in 2016.
The Power was one of the major winners of the recent AFL trade period by scoring two free agents, Brisbane midfielder Tom Rockliff and Geelong midfielder-forward Steven Motlop, and 2008 No. 1 draftee Jack Watts from Melbourne.
Port Adelaide chief executive Keith Thomas also has revealed membership sales at Alberton have “gone through the roof since grand final day”.
The AFL home-and-away season will open with league premiers Richmond and Carlton at the MCG on Thursday, March 22.
West Coast will open the new 60,000-seat Perth Stadium by hosting Sydney.
The league on Friday will release the AFLW fixture for the competition’s second season. It will remain a round-robin series with seven games followed by a grand final for the top-two teams.
There will not be semi-finals for the top-four sides, as was hoped by many clubs. And the grand final will remain on the opening weekend of the AFL men’s premiership series – on Saturday, March 24.
Most significant in the AFLW draw will be the focus on Friday night games with national television coverage from Channel Seven – and an end to double-headers with AFLW and AFL teams as the women’s competition is left to stand on its own profile.
The AFL yesterday (Thursday) issued the program for the shortened JLT Community Series men’s pre-season competition. The two-game series will end with a summer Showdown with Port Adelaide hosting Adelaide at Alberton Oval on Saturday, March 10.
There is still uncertainty on the AFL’s intent to launch its short-form, seven-a-side AFLX series. Plans for the 18 clubs to be split in three six-team groups with a carnival launch in February remain on the drawing board.
“Decisions are still to be made in the next month,” Auld said last night (Thursday). “We’re still working on how to launch AFLX, who plays and what time of the year. But there is a significant amount of interest in the concept.”
2018 OPENING ROUND
Thursday, March 22
Richmond v Carlton, MCG, 6.55pm
Friday, March 23
Essendon v ADELAIDE (Etihad Stadium) 7.20pm
Saturday, March 24
St Kilda v Brisbane Lions (Etihad Stadium) 3.05pm
PORT ADELAIDE v Fremantle (Adelaide Oval) 4.05pm
Gold Coast v North Melbourne (Cairns) 6.55pm
Hawthorn v Collingwood (MCG) 6.55pm
Sunday, March 25
Greater Western Sydney v Western Bulldogs (Canberra) 12.40pm
Melbourne v Geelong (MCG) 2.50pm
West Coast v Sydney (Perth Stadium) 6.40pm
(All SA times)