The exodus of clubs out of Victoria this week is unprecedented for the AFL.
But let’s be honest, so too is the entire 2020 season.
With all 10 Victorian clubs now setting up camp in Perth, Sydney and South East Queensland for at least the next five weeks, those in the game’s heartland will be forced to watch from afar and simply envy those able to go along to stadiums and cheer to their heart’s content.
For the AFL though, from the adversity experienced as a result of COVID-19 must come opportunity and nowhere is there a greater potential for opportunity than South East Queensland.
From Coolangatta to Noosa, the league right now has a one-off chance to increase the prominence of Australian Rules football in a part of the country traditionally dominated by rugby league.
The unique situation the AFL finds itself in could transform the game in South East Queensland and guarantee a growth in both participation and attendances for years to come.
And for the NRL, it could deliver a killer blow.
In sport, we all like winners and at the moment, the Brisbane Broncos and Gold Coast Titans are anything but.
The Titans sit second last, while the Broncos – once the NRL’s powerhouse – are a basketcase on and off the field and on the brink of their worst season on record.
Comparatively, the Lions and Suns are surging.
The Lions are well and truly within their premiership window and with stars like Charlie Cameron, Harris Andrews and Cam Rayner, you can’t look away.
And the youthful and energetic Suns have brought a renewed excitement to the Gold Coast.
The wave is there, now it’s time for the AFL to paddle hard. Really hard.
Capitalise on the momentum.
Sure, that’s easy to say from afar. After all, the Lions and Suns have been trying to grow the game for years and in fairness, that growth has been promising.
Gold Coast residents I’ve spoken to over the years applaud the way the Suns and Lions get involved in the community, as opposed to their NRL counterparts.
But there’s still a lot more work to do. And NOW is the time strike.
For the first time ever, South East Queensland, for the next five weeks, has eight teams. Players from St Kilda, North Melbourne, Essendon, the Western Bulldogs, Richmond and Carlton join the Lions and Suns for what is the region’s greatest opportunity to promote the AFL and Aussie Rules.
After serving a 14-day quarantine period, it’s imperative players from the six Victorian teams get out and meet the community they’re living amongst.
Every week, each player should be doing at least one appearance at a school, a footy clinic or community centre.
Signing autographs, conducting handballing drills and teaching the correct kicking technique.
The greater the involvement with the community, the greater the potential for the game’s growth.
Yes, the players are in Queensland to play football and win games for their respective sides. But it’s a branding exercise, too.
Richmond, which already has a strong following in the region, should be getting Dustin Martin, Jack Riewoldt, and Tom Lynch to local schools for kick-to-kick at lunch time.
There should be St Kilda guernseys down Hastings Street, after Jack Billings, Seb Ross and Max King stage an Auskick clinic.
And the Blues should be the stars of Broadbeach, with the likes of Patrick Cripps and Sam Walsh signing autographs for young fans.
The clubs win by building a new fan base. The game wins via greater exposure. The ultimate win-win.
AFL Queensland has an important role to play too.
This weekend, there will be six games across both the Gabba and Metricon Stadium – SIX! Given the Victorian lock-out, club members able to attend these matches will be few and far between.
So, get school kids in. Offer free tickets to local businesses. Open up the gates, or charge a nominal $10 fee to cover costs.
These aren’t glorified practice games, but bonafide premiership season matches featuring the best of the best.
Rugby league’s grip on South East Queensland is loosening and the AFL must seize the day.
If it does, the benefits will flow for years to come and the future of the game will be very bright for the Sunshine State.
Shane McInnes is an AFL commentator and sports broadcaster with 3AW, 6PR and Nine Radio. You can follow him on Twitter: @shanemcinnes.