Here's how the AFL fixture used to work. The AFL would say "bugger the form guide" and give all the juicy high-rating slots to traditional Melbourne clubs like Carlton, Collingwood and Essendon.
Those days are over. In the current climate, the old Victorian powerhouses are pushovers for most rivals, so never mind their huge fan bases, the AFL is rewarding the teams who have strong form on the board from 2016.
The big news from the AFL fixture announcement is that a match will be played in Shanghai next year between Gold Cost and Port Adelaide on May 14. But that's a one-off. The real story is that we'll all be seeing a whole bunch more of the strong teams from 2016.
Friday nights are when eyeballs are on the telly watching footy. Thursday too, and the AFL is increasing the number of Thursday night matches from five to eight. Reigning premiers the Western Bulldogs and runners-up the Sydney Swans will each have eight of those marquee matches.
The Giants, too, will enjoy their first taste of Friday night footy, including a first-ever Friday night blockbuster against the Bulldogs at Canberra's Manuka Oval. Those two teams, of course, squared off in an unforgettable preliminary final this year, which the 'Dogs won by a goal. It was the second most watched AFL game on TV ever, grand finals excluded.
"People want to bank on known form, on teams that are going to turn up and provide a contest," AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said.
Chief fixture guy and AFL operations manger Travis Auld said "when you finish 12th, 13th or 14th like some of our big clubs, they understand what comes with that". And what comes with that, in two words, is: TV graveyard.
As you'd expect, the Swans were crowing, or honking, or doing whatever Swans do. "The Sydney Swans are set to light it up on the big stage next season following the release of the 2017 AFL fixture," club CEO Andrew Ireland said.
"With so many big matches at home and away, including eight Victorian matches, the 2017 fixture is a real win for Swans members, supporters and corporate partners."
The Dogs, meanwhile, were barking very loudly about the match which will be played in Ballarat, the first AFL game staged in regional Victoria (we'll count Geelong as a proper city) since 1952. The Dogs see Victoria's third largest city as a natural second home, and hope to build a huge fan base there.
"This is a momentous day for not only our Club, but for the region of Ballarat," Bulldogs CEO Gary Kent said.
"We are planning to create a great festival atmosphere in Ballarat, that offers more than just a football match, but also an opportunity for our Club to engage with the people of Ballarat through a number of key activities."
Here are some other interesting points of the fixture. And if you feel like planning your 2017 winter weekends now, you can see the whole thing on the AFL site.
- The opening round commences on March 23, with a Thursday night match between Carlton and Richmond. Reigning premiers the Western Bulldogs will play their first Friday night match of the season the following night when hosted by Collingwood;
- The Bulldogs will unveil their premiership flag in a Friday night re-match of the Grand Final against the Sydney Swans at Etihad Stadium in round two;
- Round three will see the first of seven matches to be played in Tasmania, with North Melbourne to playing the first of three home matches at Hobart's Blundstone Arena, this one against the GWS Giants;
- The Giants will host three matches in Canberra in Rounds four, six and 20, including a first-ever Canberra Friday night match against the Bulldogs in round six;
- The first-ever match for premiership points in Asia will happen between Port Adelaide and the Gold Coast Suns at Shanghai's Jiangwan Sports Centre in round eight.
- There will be two matches in the Northern Territory, one in Alice Springs and one in Darwin;
- Premiers the Western Bulldogs will travel to Cairns in Round 18 to play the Gold Coast Suns;
- There will be eight Thursday night matches with two at the MCG in the opening two rounds; The remaining six Thursday nighters will be played in round four, and then in five consecutive weeks from rounds 10-14. Each of the last six Thursday night games will be played outside of Victoria;
- There will again be a week's break before the finals, as there was for the first time in 2016;
- Essendon will host Collingwood as a stand-alone game on ANZAC Day at the MCG on the holiday Tuesday. There will also be an Anzac Eve match, the Monday nighter of the year;
- A mid-season break for all clubs will be spread across Rounds 11, 12 and 13, except for the Gold Coast Suns and Port Adelaide, who will have their break in round nine after playing in China;
- Melbourne and Collingwood will meet in the traditional Queen's Birthday Monday holiday match at the MCG in Round 12;
- With the exception of just two games, there will be a minimum six-day break for all clubs between matches;
- All Victorian-based clubs will travel interstate on a minimum of five occasions;
- All clubs will play at least one match both at the MCG and Etihad Stadium, as part of a minimum four in Victoria.