Tasmania has had bids to join the A-League before and the last round of expansion had the Robert Stamoulis and Robert Belteky group.
They were still said to be interested late as last year, but out of the blue has emerged a competing bid from a new consortium of anonymous backers.
Stamoulis and Belteky are well heeled, so it makes you wonder, how big could the new consortium be?
The state government seem to have thrown their support behind the new group, with premier Peter Gutwein also making the point to the media that an A-League side “won’t be as expensive as an AFL team”.
Gutweinalso said that a rectangular stadium was a must, telling the media pack: “That is something we will definitely need and it’s part of our thinking.”
Football Tasmania president Bob Gordon stated in a radio interview with journalist Brent Costelloe that a stadium would cost around $110-140 million to build. In the same interview, Gordon also said that the premier’s attitude was informed by his new understanding and appreciation of the international reach of the sport and its appeal to migrants from all backgrounds.
Tasmanian Acting Minister for Sport and Recreation Sarah Courtney was also enthusiastic about the bid, citing figures from the federal government’s AusPlay Survey, which found that there were now 40,000 players in Tasmania – however, the survey doesn’t give a breakdown of casual players versus registered. In any case, this makes up 7.4 per cent of all Tasmanians.
Participation is even stronger at younger ages, with 30.8 per cent of kids in the 9-11 age group playing association football compared to just 11.1 per cent for Aussie rules. By comparison, figures for kids in the same age range in Victoria were 19.3 per cent for Aussie rules and just 11.8 per cent for association football.
On top of that, there are many players in Tasmania being turned away from clubs due to capacity constraints at the limited number of grounds.
These figures compare well to those of the player base of Canberra, which has 31,000 registered players and where 30.8 per cent of kids who play sport in the 9-11 range choose association football – the same proportion as in Tasmania.
In the 9-11 age bracket, Tasmania is equal first in Australia alongside Canberra in terms of popularity with kids. In New South Wales, the figure was 28.2 per cent and the other states were all well behind.
Figures for Aussie rules below the 9-11 age bracket weren’t given, so this was the bracket that I used for comparison to gauge popularity between the codes at youth level. It certainly seems consistent with what some have said about Aussie rules being in decline while support for the round-ball code in Tasmania is growing. I just didn’t realise by how much.
This might also explain in part why crowds at AFL matches in the state are down, if there are fewer kids nagging their parents to take them along.
If the trend continues and those kids stick with it, then Tasmania could become a regional heartland of the sport similar to Canberra, Newcastle or Wollongong. Its former status and reputation as a footballing backwater may be coming to an end.
When the Tasmanian bid was the first to be announced in the last round of the expansion process, the strength of the bid caught many by surprise. But to now have two bids interested in the state is stunning.
Either way, the latest bid bodes well when that kind of interest from investors in the A-League is still out there, especially in a post-COVID economy. The economic turbulence caused by the virus is still unfolding, but it’s good to know that there are still people who want to invest in the A-League.
As for the Tasmanian bid, it’s a different situation facing the decision makers of both codes, who will have to decide on whether or not to give Tasmania access to their respective leagues.
For the A-League it will be a matter of admitting a bid from what seems to be a future heartland of the sport with booming interest at youth level, equal first nationally with Canberra.
But for the AFL things have now changed. The Tasmanian AFL bid was once based on the state’s heritage and history, but now the people behind the bid are arguing that the AFL needs to give Tasmania a team to arrest the sport’s decline and to help it recover. That’s a different prospect in a state that was already seen as a poor location in terms of its economic value compared to the Gold Coast and Western Sydney, which have cost the AFL a great deal in subsidies.
It’s hard to tell if either code will actually expand into Tasmania, but with this new bid for an A-League side and the massive growth in the sport at youth level, not to mention the lower cost to government to support it, the A-League bid might in the better position.
But one thing is for certain: if the Western United versus Macarthur FC match in Launceston next month goes ahead as planned, there will be plenty of demands for Tasmania to have its own team.