The Grand Final is the climax of the annual Australian Rules Football season. In September 1983 Garrie Hutchinson wrote in the National Times newspaper: 'More than 100,000 people will watch, their hearts in their mouths and on their sleeves as well. Heroes will be recollected, comparisons made and analogies drawn between life and art and politics. It's Melbourne on show. There's nothing quite like it in the world.' The Victorian Football League (VFL) has had some form of final series since its foundation in 1896 although the modern form of Grand Final did not emerge until the VFL adopted the Page system of finals in 1931. At the end of the 'home and away' round the top four teams competed in semi-finals and a preliminary final to establish the two top teams which then competed in the Grand Final. From 1972 the VFL added a fifth team so that it could play two extra finals matches at Waverley Park.
The Grand Final is normally played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). During World War II when the MCG was taken over by the military, the finals were played at Princes Park and St Kilda Cricket Ground. In 1991 the Grand Final was played at Waverley Park during the reconstruction of the MCG's Southern Stand.
The most memorable Grand Finals have included the 1945 'bloodbath' between Carlton and South Melbourne at which 10 players were reported after an all-in brawl; the tied Grand Finals which resulted in replays in 1948 (Essendon versus Melbourne) and 1977 (Collingwood versus North Melbourne); the 1967 Grand Final between Richmond and Geelong, claimed by many critics to be the best spectacle of any Grand Final; the 1970 Grand Final attended by a record 121 696 people which Carlton won after trailing by 44 points at half time; and the 1989 Grand Final at which Gary Ablett kicked nine goals in a losing score.
In 1990 the VFL became the Australian Football League (AFL) after admitting teams from interstate during the 1980s. The first Grand Final victory by an interstate team, West Coast Eagles in 1992, marked the end of the Grand Final as a Melbourne suburban festival. In 2004 the match was contested for the first time by two interstate teams (Brisbane Lions and Port Adelaide). The Grand Final had been developing as a spectacle from the 1970s with many innovations, such as celebrities singing prior to the match, copied directly from the American Super Bowl. The AFL Grand Final is now a national event comparable with the Melbourne Cup with pre-match breakfasts and choreographed displays televised nationally.
Research by the Co-operative Research Centre for Sustainable Tourism at Victoria University found that the 1998 Grand Final generated $31.3 million benefits for Victoria. Researchers found that the Grand Final, in which Adelaide defeated North Melbourne, led to 75 677 additional visitor nights in Victoria and generated the equivalent of 840 full-time jobs.