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We need to talk about Tassie

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Roar Guru
27th February, 2021
43

The subject of Tasmania’s AFL expansion bid goes back 30 years to when the league was founded and it’s popped up in the news yet again.

This time, the Tasmanian government have given the AFL an ultimatum.

The AFL must give Tasmania a date for entry to the league, or the state government will end its lucrative multimillion-dollar funding deals to Hawthorn and North Melbourne. The risk, however, is that the AFL could look at their spreadsheets and reply, “computer says no.” In fact, the AFL have already told Tasmania in response that they need another year to establish the feasibility of a team because of the financial impact of COVID-19.

Gold Coast Suns chairman Tony Cochrane has also shot down the idea saying, “We need to spend at least the next ten to 15 years bedding down the 18 teams we’ve got.”

He went on to make the point that, “it’s impossible to add one team because one team doesn’t do anything for your media rights – I’ve been in media all my life and I don’t know a media company alive that wants to purchase a bye. A bye round is worthless to a media organisation.”

In addition to this, Tasmania is now becoming a much more contested sports market. There are now other players involved like the Hurricanes in the BBL, the JackJumpers in the NBL who will be joining next season and there’s now a bid for a Super Netball team that looks like a shoo-in to fill the gap during winter.

Then there’s the new A-League bid that has surprised many. While there was already a high-profile bid led by Harry Stamoulis and Robert Belteky, this bid has now been displaced by a new separate bid led by a new consortium of so far anonymous backers. Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein also made the point to the media that an A-League side, “won’t be as expensive as an AFL team”.

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He wasn’t wrong. Apart from the much lower annual cost of running the team itself, the infrastructure costs would come in at just a fraction of the price of an AFL side.

The cost of a rectangular stadium in Hobart has been estimated to cost around $110-140 million to build. Whereas the proposed AFL stadium at Macquarie Point and the associated district known as Tas Park has a price tag of half a billion, and the York Park upgrade proposal comes in at over $200 million. That’s before you even get to the elite training and performance facilities needed in both cities.

Perhaps the biggest distinction of the A-League bid though is ownership, as the bid has a consortium of private owners putting up the money. The Hurricanes, by contrast, are propped up by Cricket Australia and the JackJumpers will be bankrolled by NBL owner Larry Kestelman. But an AFL team will have to draw on the coffers of the AFL, who have already burned large amounts of money in Western Sydney and on the Gold Coast.

This is especially relevant when the situation in Tasmania has now changed.

Going back 30 years ago, the case for a Tasmanian AFL team was much simpler. It was an AFL heartland with a rich history in the sport that had produced players such as Royce Hart, Ian Stewart, Peter Hudson and Darrel Baldock back in the VFL days. It was the only game in town and without opposition from other codes, the participation rate was still healthy.

Today, however, things are very different.

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According to the Australian government’s latest AusPlay survey, football participation in Tasmania is now at 30.8 per cent of kids in the 9-11 age group 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. In the 9-11 age bracket, this now makes Tasmania equal first in Australia alongside Canberra in terms of football’s popularity with kids.

Going back 30 years ago, the pitch was that Tasmania should have a team because it was a heartland with a long history of involvement in the sport. Now the pitch to the AFL is basically, “give us a team or the sport will die in our state”. That’s a very different prospect for the AFL, who will now see this as essentially a recovery effort in a congested regional market which was already small.

The chances of Tasmania becoming the 19th team seem rather low.

If Tasmania is going to get a team, then it’s probably more likely to either be through either a relocation or through a merger of two other teams. Jeff Kennett seems happy for the Hawks to make the move and North Melbourne are already called the North Melbourne Tasmania Kangaroos in the AFLW, while St Kilda are now showing their own interest in the state. There’s plenty of suitors.

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Or perhaps the AFL will just copy the NRL and give Tasmania a “magic round” where all the Victorian teams will play there over the same weekend. That’ll do.