• Ian Hyde-Lay

Home Comfort

July 23.


My son takes his place on the sideline at an electric Melbourne Cricket Ground. The iconic “MCG” is one of the most famous sporting stadiums in the world.



As a physiotherapist, tasked with supporting the match day referees, he awaits the start of a much-anticipated Australian Rules (AFL) contest between long-time rivals. Collingwood takes on Essendon.


The game does not disappoint. A wild, rollercoaster of an afternoon sees massive swings of fortune. Collingwood, affectionately known as the Magpies, explode out of the blocks, roaring ahead by as many as 37 points. Essendon then stages a miraculous fightback to lead going into the final quarter. Still, in a final twist, the winning goal, booted as the siren sounds, secures Collingwood a thrilling 80-76 victory. Sends its fans into rapture.


Even better, despite each forking over a pretty penny for admission, a whopping 76,000 supporters enjoy a wonderfully compelling sporting experience.


Still, more and more, the above storyline is the exception, not the rule. Indeed, AFL crowds, on average, are the lowest they have been in 25 years. This despite the fact the quality of play is arguably far superior to that of days gone by. The causes of stuttering attendances are many and varied, with other professional sport codes all across the world similarly affected.


A simple and plausible explanation is Covid. At the height of the pandemic, around the globe, in addition to the millions who lose their lives, hundreds of thousands of others become sick or are forced to isolate. And though Covid now no longer dominates the news, life patterns, the ways in which people connect, work, learn, travel, plan, spend time and money, continue to shift.


As a result, major sports suffer. In North America, among other pastimes, football, basketball, ice hockey, and baseball feel the impact. The big events, such as World Cups, or pennant and playoff races, those that culminate in a Super Bowl, a Stanley Cup, or a World Series, still command packed houses. Nonetheless, overall attendance figures, from as early as 2007, are in concerning decline. Down by as much as 14%, depending on which statistics one might peruse. Faced with too many mediocre teams mired in the quicksand of never-ending seasons, fans find other things to do, become far less inclined to attend games in person. In addition, too many franchises exhibit seeming indifference to this trend, seek increased revenue instead via TV, cable, and streaming contracts.


Moreover, though plenty forgive and forget, for many others a general sense of resentment lingers. Lockouts, the result of failed collective bargaining agreements between players and team owners, irritate the average fan, many of whom live from paycheck to paycheck. These contractual pissing contests, held every few years and pitting billionaires vs millionaires, rankle. As do outrageously high salaries, not to mention the petulance, entitlement and player power displayed by certain league superstars.


I further ponder additional reasons why fan attendance is down.


Go back to the money. The costs to attend top-level professional sporting events are exorbitant and continue to spiral upwards. Ironically, ticketing issues, even for those teams struggling for paying customers, are rife. Navigating various websites, especially when seeking multiple tickets, drives me to distraction. Not to mention the poorhouse when finally required to pay.


Certainly, on eventually securing tickets, a bruising of the pocketbook is only just beginning. Travel costs, accommodation, meals, parking and more, ensure a hefty overall outlay. And heaven forbid if favourite players are not even on display, subject to enforced rest or dreaded “load management” by their teams.


And then comes the actual game day experience itself. I cannot be the only attendee who just wishes to savour and enjoy a game’s key moments, analyze momentum shifts and the causes for them. In a way, I want quiet. Relative silence, while I watch elite level athletes perform and patterns of play develop.


Alas, for three plus hours, the music blares at every possible stoppage. Literally assaults the senses with incessant, ear splitting, headache inducing blather. While I am further at the mercy of the PA announcer. With big screens dotted about the stadium or ballpark providing flashy visuals, he implores me to make noise, kiss my partner, secure “50-50” tickets, blow wads of cash at the concession stand. Yet, coughing up $10 for a hot dog and $12 for a watered-down beer soon loses its appeal.


Perhaps I am getting crabby and old. A bit cynical and tetchy. Once upon a time, for me a trip to a professional game was an event to look forward to. An occasion to cherish. Now however, things are different. Though watching test cricket in person remains on my bucket list, I have otherwise seen more than enough NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB.

Time marches on, and I find grounds not to go.


Happily, there is an alternative, sport still something of a salve given all the world's problems. Every fixture I still fancy viewing I can see in real time and in high definition. For better or worse, I now simply plunk myself down in an easy chair. Loll in front of a television or computer screen. An ice-cold lager and a packet of crisps ever ready on the side table. If necessary, depending on the time of year and the temperature, I may either turn up the heater or turn on the fan.


And I can always turn down the sound.


While this won’t mirror a raucous MCG, at least it is from the comfort of home. Where everything is just cheaper and easier.