Round 2, 2015 v Brisbane. North Melbourne are testing out something new. Instead of players running out through a traditional banner, for home games it’s being replaced with more of a curtain-type contraption.
Sitting on the social controls, I’m on high alert for feedback. Or to be more accurate when it comes to social media, “feedback”. Surprisingly, it’s pretty tame. A few comments here and there, but overall nothing worth raising an alarm about.
Round 3, 2015 v Port Adelaide. After the previous week’s experience, I’m not expecting anything drastic pre-match. Wasn’t I mistaken.
As North enter Marvel Stadium, social media lights up. People with no clue this is the second curtain use are loudly turning attention to it, like it had been conceptualised five minutes before North ran out.
They can’t believe North would try such a thing and are screaming from the rooftops, not realising they’re a week late to the party.
The key cause of those different reactions? Round 2 was on Foxtel. Round 3 was on Channel 7.
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The point of the story is to illustrate how important free-to-air games are for North Melbourne, especially in this embryonic stage of their list build.
Good Friday is North’s first free-to-air game in Victoria since, well, last Good Friday. We all know how that one unfolded.
Most people reading this know North’s list, they know the players, they know the points of potential strength and soft spots.
Most people watching on Channel 7 this Friday will know exactly zero of those things. It’s not meant as an insult or a cheap shot, rather a simple reality.
They’ll likely have one of two mindsets:
a) A blank canvas, open to anything put in front of them
b) A preconceived opinion based on the last time they saw North on Channel 7
These are people North don’t have the opportunity to reach often.
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For all teams which aren’t viewed as ‘big market’, free-to-air games are a reward for playing well. It’s not an AFL-exclusive phenomenon; for example the NBA saw Phoenix go from 13 nationally televised games in 2020-21, reach the Finals, and then be bumped all the way up to 34 in 2021-22.
With the floating fixture in place, who knows when North’s next free-to-air game after this will be? It’s not going to be until Round 13 at the very earliest, although realistically Round 17 or 18 seem like the next options.
To borrow a phrase from David King, Friday is a chance for North to show people their identity.
Who are individuals to catch the eye?
Jason Horne-Francis is the obvious one. Earning his inevitable Rising Star nomination in a game like this would do wonders for North’s general stature, not to mention his own rapidly rising profile.
Luke Davies-Uniacke is so, so close to ripping a game apart. What if he has a blistering first half against a star-studded midfield?
Assuming Eddie Ford is the one to come in for Cam Zurhaar, the quirky Ford-Mazda-North headlines write themselves if he’s able to announce himself.
Then you look at Bulldogs the public knows well. Aaron Naughton is, rightfully, a big name. What happens if Ben McKay shuts him down?
North fans know McKay is probably the team’s most important player (there’s no arguably about it for me, it’s clear cut).
Outside this bubble, most times casual fans hear the surname McKay it’s followed by a commentator (still!) annoyed at Harry snapping for goal instead of a traditional set shot. Ben is barely on their radar at all. For now.
Although Tristan Xerri is apparently a minor Twitter cult figure after this video I tweeted of him shoving Swans had 20,000 views, his battle with Tim English – not so much in the ruck, but around the ground – has the potential to be a major stepping stone.
There are so many opportunities for Roos to make a name for themselves on what is their biggest stage of 2022.
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Then, of course, we have the team style.
Individual performances are all well and good, but if they’re wrapped in an underwhelming team package it counts for little in the eyes of casual fans.
North’s output against Sydney has to be replicated against the Bulldogs. High pressure around the ball, sharp ball movement when possible, desperate defending.
Given the gap between the two sides in list build and status, whether North’s efforts result in a win is largely secondary to the impression they leave on viewers.
Those casual fans who tune in with one of two mindsets will likely also turn their TV off with one of two mindsets:
a) I like lots of North’s players, they’re fun to watch
b) Why should I watch another North game after that happened again?
The former translates to more eyeballs, positive attention and an increased profile which makes marketing the club much easier. The latter translates to free-to-air purgatory until 2023.
Which one will it be?