Players seem to like it but the fans aren't sold: AFLX is in limbo

The Gatorade game changer, four new franchises, NBA-style entrances, and a game of scissor-paper-rock instead of the coin toss. In the lead-up to AFLX for 2019, many were wondering if the AFL had finally jumped the shark, but the overwhelming takeaway from the second iteration of the tournament is that it's still neither here nor there.

In the lead-up to the competition, the AFL pulled out all the stops in holding a draft which was streamed live and featured the four new teams' captains engaging in witty banter. Excitement and innovation was promised, but in the days following, a number of big names started to pull out.

It was then made clear from a number of players, including by Flyers captain Nat Fyfe, that AFLX was more about players having fun and being allowed to express themselves than the quality of play.

Admittedly, Fyfe also said he hoped the concept would prove entertaining for fans, but when the stands started to empty just after 9pm and with three games still to play, it became clear the public was far from sold on the concept.

More entertaining than the play was, as predicted, just how much fun the players were having. Their NBA-style arrivals, the pregame warm-ups (which consisted of practicing celebrations and kicking ridiculous drop kicks), the scissors-paper-rock and subsequent gloating was engrossing if a little contrived.

Eddie Betts' Deadlys came dressed sharply and as a unit, some came in streetwear, while others showed a more colourful side; Alex Rance cruised in on an electric skateboard; Tim Membrey looked like he'd just jumped off the header on a farm; and Nat Fyfe rocked an interesting kimono-style get-up complete with a bizarre parody of a "Make America Great Again" hat.

It was only once the action kicked off that things actually died down. In fairness, the footy on the field was fine, but the atmosphere lacked. That's the risk the AFL ran when it decided to introduce four franchises. Who do you support? Can you buy in for such a short amount of time? Will the same teams even be back next year?

There was an attempt to spice it up midway through the second match when some live commentary was intermittently introduced, but it was patchy and seemed like an afterthought. Considering the AFL clearly looked to the NBA for influence, it could have introduced low, bass-heavy tunes to pump during play - anything to cover up the noise of the crowd chatting about anything but AFLX.

Despite being in the AFL's target age group, River, 15, and his mates weren't fussed with the format or the new rules, and told ESPN he was enjoying the company of his mates more than the footy itself.

"It's worse than last year. Last year it was new and fresh, but this year they've overcomplicated it," River told ESPN. "Last year I got see a few of Collingwood's young players, but there are only three or four in action tonight."

His mate described it as "a footy drill" and "a little boring", saying the quality of play won't have him rushing back next year.

Oscar and Jackson, both 17, said it was an "okay" atmosphere, but admitted they couldn't quite buy into the product on the field - partially due to the risk of injuries.

"We've been talking about this and we'd be pretty upset [if a player got injured], but they did put themselves up for it," Oscar said.

Fish, 25, enjoyed a couple of beers with mates and said he "hadn't really watched" any of the action, while mother-of-two Kylie was a first-time AFLX attendee who thought her boss was giving her free tickets to a movie made by Marvel.

But despite the mix-up, she said it was a nice night out for the family, if a little late for her youngest who fell well within the AFL's target audience.

"We've enjoyed it. I've got my 16-year-old son and his mate down there as well, it's been okay," she said.

But there was a constant theme among those in the crowd, and that is that none of those polled purchased their tickets for the evening's action. Whether they were given freebies from work or were 12 years of age and under, AFLX remains a tough sell, literally.

"I prefer normal footy," River says. "If I'd paid for this, I'd be mad."

Truthfully, the concept remains in a bit of limbo. It isn't the Big Bash -- which quickly developed fan bases due to each team's location -- and hasn't won over the fans after two years of innovation. Not one of the fans who spoke with ESPN said they were supporting one team more than another, and not one could say they would have paid money to attend.