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Where should the AFL expand to next?

Sam Mitchell of the Eagles and Dylan Shiel of the Giants exchange words during the 2017 AFL First Semi Final match between the GWS Giants and the West Coast Eagles at Spotless Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
17th January, 2018
134
3294 Reads

At what point will the AFL expand again? Will the AFL ever reward Tasmania with a team?

Will Perth get a third team, will the AFL roll the dice again and punt a third team into Sydney and what about Canberra?, will the Northern Territory or North Queensland ever see an AFL team? Will New Zealand ever have a realistic chance of joining the competition?

The previous two AFL expansion teams, Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney, are both in areas not considered football heartland, although the Gold Coast would be considered a Wagga Wagga or Canberra-type area where footy has a very good presence but is not the market leader.

My preference would be for a third Perth team and a third Sydney team.

My reasoning for a third Perth team is to utilise the new stadium, reduce the highest membership fees in Australia, increase footy tourism and all that flows from it for the state and deflate or decrease current membership waiting lists.

By way of comparison Melbourne has 85 seat available each week per 100 residents. Adelaide has 55 seats per 100 residents. Perth has just 35, and that includes the capacity of the new stadium, which is yet to see a game.

That figure alone sees Perth as the second biggest AFL market in Australia, yet it is severely underserviced, and even with a third team Perth would still be behind Adelaide according to the seats-available metric.

Moreover, the new stadium will not make much of a dent in the West Coast Eagles and Fremantle waiting lists. Over the course of a year only 120,000 to 150,000 people attend footy in Perth due to member preference selling out games, which is in sharp contrast with Melbourne, where $20 walk-up ticketing is the norm.

If adult attendance is founded on childhood and teenage attendance, the future member bases of these clubs may hang in the balance, with the Eagles in particular seeing a distinct lack of kids holding onto club membership.

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(Michael Willson/AFL Media/Getty Images)

My second preference is a third team in Sydney. Yes I can hear the groans and feel the eye rolls from my chair, but I am obviously not talking about next year; rather in five to ten years.

Sydney is the biggest market in Australia by a fair way, particularly if we include Newcastle, the Central Coast and Wollongong. It has a huge population – around 40 per cent of Australia’s population.

In ten years GWS should be fully established. Grassroots football in Sydney and surrounds has really grown significantly recently, and girls and women’s football has given it another bounce.

AFL in Sydney really is on the up – it has growing competitions across both GWS and Swans zones as well as private schools – and you need to strike while the iron is hot. What’s more, it’s pretty clear that Australian Rules football has a stronger base in New South Wales than at any time in its 160-year history.

There has been some talk of a new sporting complex out at Badgerys Creek. If the AFL was serious, it could turn it into a third AFL ground in Sydney. Unlike Melbourne, in Sydney you need to build a ground near the fans, so a third team in Sydney must play in the south-west to service that region of Sydney.

Another option is perhaps a revamped number one sports ground in Newcastle. However, my money is on the south-west of Sydney. That area is a hell of a long way from Spotless Stadium, which really services inner western Sydney and its fans. Any new stadium in Sydney will of course need to have Spotless-level capacity – there is no need for anything over 20,000 initially.

The south-west of Sydney is the fastest growing part of Sydney, and within the next ten years it will home an extra 350,000 people. GWS doesn’t service that area. The AFL can’t afford to miss the opportunity.

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(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Of course Tasmania deserves a team, but logically the north-south divide makes Tassie a very difficult proposition, with probably two stadiums needed.

Canberra probably deserves a team as well and could probably get better crowds than GWS, but it lacks in the sponsorship department. Canberra is a government town with little private industry. The game would have to survive on poker machine money, but is that viable in the long run?

Northern Territory just doesn’t have the population base, North Queensland is a low-density population and Cairns, although it has a strong footy presence like Canberra, Wagga Wagga and the Gold Coast, is not big enough on its own to fund an AFL team and does not have a projected population big enough to make one viable in the long term.

New Zealand is pie in the sky, but there is talk about Western Springs in Auckland as a potential ground in conjunction with cricket. Liz Dawson, who is on the St Kilda board, is also on the Cricket New Zealand board.

So, Roarers, where would you like to see the 19th and 20th AFL clubs?

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