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Has the AFL lost the code war for Tasmania?

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Roar Guru
14th May, 2019
28
1792 Reads

Tasmania has a rich heritage and a long history as an Aussie rules state, but other codes are moving in as the AFL dithers – and they may lose the code war as they do.

When it comes to Tasmania’s AFL ambitions, the lack of competition from other codes has been a big selling point up until now.

But other codes are now taking advantage of the untapped market.

The BBL have the Hobart Hurricanes, who were crowned minor premiers last season. Their performances on the field and their ability to draw good crowds on a regular basis are frequently cited by other codes to demonstrate that teams in their own respective sports would also be viable in Tasmania.

The next code to move in will be hockey as part of Hockey Australia’s new Hockey One league, which will include the Tassie Tigers. While hockey might not be the biggest sport in Tasmania, it isn’t completely unknown either.

In the previous Australian Hockey League, Tasmania were crowned champions in 2014 and they have the Tasmanian Hockey Centre in Hobart as an existing venue to play at.

Baseball also looks set to reach out to Tasmania. As the Australian Baseball League expands, CEO Cam Vale has indicated his support for a Tasmanian franchise to be linked to Taiwan, an island half the size of Tasmania but with a population just under that of Australia.

“The purpose of the branding and strong link with one country like Taiwan does build the business model for Tasmania,” Vale told The Examiner.

“What comes off the back of that is a broadcasting deal to ensure all those games are shown not only to Taiwan, but Asia, Australia and, also really, the rest of the world. That would really give us the commercial model to make it successful to introduce baseball into the state.”

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While hockey and baseball may be smaller sports, there are a few more mainstream ones that may get better support from locals.

George Bailey

The Hobart Hurricanes aren’t the only team in Tassie. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

The most likely at the moment is basketball. A bid by a locally backed consortium to enter the Southern Huskies into the NBL looks very strong indeed.

The main strength of the bid comes from their plan to buy and renovate the Derwent Entertainment Centre, which they would then own and operate themselves without having to pay stadium fees. This would give them a unique advantage over their rivals on the mainland.

They also plan to invest $90 million in a sports, entertainment and hotel complex around the site so that the team becomes financially self-sustaining.

As well as an NBL team, the consortium has also indicated that they would be open to owning teams in other leagues, specifically mentioning Super Netball and the Australian Ice Hockey League, as it may be possible to turn the court into an ice rink in the NBL off-season to accommodate ice hockey.

Ice hockey clearly isn’t a mainstream sport in Tasmania, but netball is.

Crowds at Super Netball matches have been solid and TV viewership is increasing, with the grand final attracting a TV audience of over a million viewers last season. Netball appeals to sponsors wanting to target a different demographic than other codes and looks like it has a strong future.

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But perhaps the highest profile bid other than the AFL one is that for an A-League side.

The FC Tasmania consortium are backed by Harry Stamoulis and Robert Belteky who are very wealthy and who both have a real passion for the sport. The original bid outlined plans to renovate North Hobart Oval into a rectangular configuration for $15 million but these plans have now shifted towards building a permanent ground instead at greater cost.

The stadium deal they had negotiated with the Tasmanian Government had a break-even point of 5000 spectators, which would match the crowds for previous A-League matches held in the state. For context, those numbers are similar to crowds for Canberra and Wollongong.

But even if FC Tasmania aren’t admitted to the A-League, a team in a national second division is practically a certainty. So Tasmania will have a professional team one way or another.

Hawthorn walk off the field after a tough loss.

Hawthorn shift several games a season to Tasmania, but the AFL now faces some stiff competition on the Apple Isle. (Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

There is a great deal of interest from other codes who clearly see something worthwhile in the island state that the AFL don’t.

The Hurricanes are already a proven success while the Tassie Tigers are confirmed for Hockey One next season. The baseball bid linked to Taiwan also looks like a lock.

The Southern Huskies NBL bid looks rock solid if they can buy the Derwent Entertainment Centre and they clearly want Super Netball and AIHL teams to provide extra content under the same banner.

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When it comes to the A-League bid, things are a bit more up in the air, but the business case and financial backing behind it looks pretty good and if they don’t get an A-League licence there’s always the second division as a back-up.

It seems that the other codes have beaten the AFL to Tasmania and now it’s too late for them to do anything about it.

Back when the AFL expanded into the Gold Coast and Western Sydney there was a window when Tasmania was an untapped market and could have been a one-team state.

But by the time the AFL eventually decides to put a team in Tasmania, it might be too late and it is conceivable that Tasmania would have teams in as many as seven different codes by then, plus women’s sides.

The AFL now risks being crowded out.

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