THE poor crowd turnout at the Ovens and Murray Football-Netball League grand final at Lavington Oval on Sunday cannot simply be dismissed as bad luck with the weather gods.
Timing of when rain fell was a factor in some people staying away and leading to the smallest crowd since official counts were introduced around a decade ago.
But for the crowd to plummet from just over 10,000 to 4175 people in the space of 12 months with the same two teams, Albury and Lavington, competing has to be a huge concern to O and M officials.
The Lavington Oval hill is traditionally crammed with people on grand final day, but not on Sunday.
Finals gate-takings are a major part of the league’s finances and in recent seasons the grand final monetary return has reached as much as $86,000.
Last Sunday’s gate was only $35,900 and the lowest return since the most recent rain affected grand final day 21 years ago.
Just three clubs have played in grand finals since 2009 with the all-conquering Albury Tigers playing in them all.
There is no disputing the Tigers have raised the bar on and off the field with the involvement of benefactors, the Joss family, the envy of the nine other O and M clubs.
Those same clubs are resisting the temptation to follow Yarrawonga’s lead and take the fight up to the Tigers to a level where the Pigeons beat them in two grand finals.
Rivals have pulled back and are hoping equalisation measures such as player points and salary caps start to have an impact sooner rather than later.
The O and M also has to take some steps of its own to reinvigorate a competition which was once the undisputed No.1 league in country Victoria.
It was the only country league in Australia to hold a grand final eve parade, but it has gone by the wayside.
The O and M has rejected other suggestions like playing the grand final in a Saturday twilight timeslot, night finals and playing the flag decider in Wangaratta.
The O and M has also rejected being part of the shared administration model being promoted by the AFL which has every other North-East league _ Tallangatta, Ovens and King, Upper Murray and Wangaratta and Albury-Wodonga junior competitions _ on board.
It has to rediscover an innovative edge to remain relevant to the fans.