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Tasmania: Build a business case, and they will come

(AAP Image/Rob Blakers)Hawthorn after the Round 8 AFL match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Fremantle Dockers at Aurora Stadium, Tasmania Saturday, May 14, 2016 (AAP Image/Rob Blakers)
Roar Guru
19th September, 2017
11

Tasmanian media has, at various times, been saturated with calls for an AFL team. There is plenty of passion, but not much objective thought.

So how could the state ever get a side? Could a person looking in provide some better insight?

Australian rules football has always been a bit of an enigma to me. Despite the fact that I grew up in Tasmania, playing footy almost every day at lunch, it was always a game that I appreciated from a distance.

My father played footy all through his childhood for Sandy Bay. He would attend SFL grand finals every year at North Hobart Oval with his father and his brother, catching the trolley buses to and from their small cottage in Battery Point.

They were the days where North Hobart Oval would be standing room only and they would race each other out the gate at the final sirens to make it out of the ground before the inevitable rush for the gate.

My grandmother is over 90 and still manages to watch the Carlton Football Club whenever they are on TV. She might be near blind and near deaf but she never fails to watch their games, often my uncle and aunty by her side the entire game.

But I was one of those 90s Tasmanian kids that never fully embraced Aussie Rules. I as a kid played soccer, I followed Leeds United, not Carlton, Hawthorn or Essendon.

I could name their entire team, but had no interest in who Wayne Carey was, or what years the Adelaide Crows won back-to-back premierships – I had to Google it.

My family watched the English Premier League highlights show every Monday night on SBS. We went to soccer on Friday night and Saturday morning and watched Hey, Hey it’s Saturday but never an AFL game, did they even broadcast the footy on Saturday night?

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I was told at school that I had to have a team. But I had a team, it was just the wrong code.

I never did fully commit to a team, I think I toyed with the idea of supporting the Eagles but Leeds United had Mark Viduka and Harry Kewell and the Eagles had…I don’t even remember.

Before I reached high school my family made a move to the Canberra. Like everyone else it was for work, but it gave me my first contact with the game of rugby union.

I was instantly hooked. This was a golden age of Australian rugby as the likes of John Eales and George Greagan, Toutai Kefu and Mark Latham were plying their trade for the Wallabies.

I found a sport that I could instantly and inexplicably connect with instantaneously. Following this code was so easy while I lived in Canberra. But a longing for home soon called my parents to pack up and move back to the Apple Isle once again. Following the Wallabies and anything rugby became nigh impossible.

I was lucky though, rugby in Tasmania had a short renaissance of sorts with numbers swelling three-fold following the 2003 Rugby World Cup, yet AFL would always reign supreme. The sports section was always dominated by the Victorian winter code.

There was no other sport reports.

Australian rules football is the only competitor in the market. Kids in Tasmania might play football more than footy now but that means little in the cultural context of the state. Aussie Rules is the code that bonds the people together.

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In 2008, the AFL announced that there would be new football teams in the national competition.

Was this the flagship moment for Tasmania that they so desperately needed? Alas, it would be Greater Western Sydney and the Gold Coast that would receive a licence. Pardon?

Two areas that had no discernible Australian rules footprints, one with a reputation of killing professional sports teams and busting billionaire’s bank accounts.

But why would a state with around 150 years of footballing history be snubbed in favour of these two heathens? Because history does not pay the bills.

A desire to have a team does not replace the need for a sound coherent business case pointing to how a club could be a success.

I love Tasmania, but I have since moved back to Canberra as an adult. But the parochialism of Tasmania can often times be painful. There is too much feeling places into having an AFL team, with very little substance presented for this desire.

In 2009 there was a Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport inquiry into the fairness of Tasmania missing out on an AFL team.

There were submissions by only three people and the Launceston City Council. Further one of the submissions made was by a Victorian public servant. In essence, very little interest was shown by the people of Tasmania.

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Furthermore, having read the submissions, very little evidence is actually presented. The majority of the submissions deals with an emotive response by a few members of the public willing to offer a submission.

As far as I know about winning the rights to a sports team, apathy does not sit high up on the desirable attributes a bid should include.

What should be included is a strong business case, with political support from the state government, preferably with bi-partisan support.

The business case needs to include a list of likely sponsors and other revenue streams. Exact numbers are difficult to locate, but all clubs have revenues of over $30 million, with the majority having revenues in excess of $45 million.

This would have to be a concern for any Tasmanian AFL bid as they will have to ensure sponsorship of somewhere in the vicinity of $20 million, ticket sales of $15 – $20 million.

Big numbers, numbers that I know the AFL would be very nervous about. Since the downfall of Gunns there is essentially no major sponsor in the state of Tasmania that could hope to bring in millions of dollars to an AFL team bid.

A business case has to go further and offer an upgrade to a stadium – I’m sorry but both Bellerive Oval and York Park are not up to grade. There needs to be corporate facilities for a dozen games a year, reasonable access and a high performance centre for the team.

I could write indefinitely on what the business case needs, it needs to be thorough, succinct and most importantly compelling. But a strong case is the only way a team will ever be considered. History and apathy is not nearly enough.

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