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As a basketball state is born, will the AFL ever join the party in Tasmania?

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Roar Rookie
12th May, 2022
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As the AFL ums and ahs about a professional team in Tasmania for the umpteenth time, all they have to do is look down the road at their counterparts at the NBL, who’ve hit an immediate winner with their Tasmania JackJumpers franchise, to help make its decision.

The ‘Jackies’ miraculously made the playoffs in their first season in the competition – with a bunch of loveable underdogs, genuine community connection, surprisingly good results and unquestioned effort on the floor.

Perhaps more importantly for the AFL business case and its proponents, they’ve sold out nearly every home game this season at MyState Bank arena, and every finals game sold out immediately on members pre-sale.

This is all for a league in the NBL that has minimal national profile, and had a low base awareness in Tassie. But the JackJumpers have now come to the fore as the number one team in the state and are genuinely converting people into diehard NBL fans.

While the NBL grand finals ended 3-0 and in some disappointment that they didn’t win a game in the series, the fact the Tassie JackJumpers even got there and were competitive against a Sydney team with a deep history and perhaps the greatest array of former (or future) fringe NBA players in the league is an achievement in and of itself.

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The ragtag group battled undermanned all the way to end in a spot no one would have predicted.

JackJumpers

(Photo by Steve Bell/Getty Images)

Seeing this success, it’s hard not to question the decision of the AFL to hold off for this long in basing a team in Tasmania.

And even if they have questions about the economics and infrastructure of Tassie to host a football side (which in my opinion will easily be answered if they ever do take the plunge), the AFL still continue to underestimate the community effects of sport, the tight-knit sporting culture in Tassie, and the power of word of mouth in Tasmania.

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This is what the JackJumpers are built off – hard work and passion to get the community onside, which has returned with bells on, and currently that’s paying off for the JackJumpers’ brass and sponsors.

Interest is high, attendance and merchandise is in demand and memberships are set to grow potentially exponentially next season.

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Seeing the JackJumpers take the floor in an NBL playoffs series might not have been the lifelong dream for many Tasmanian sports fans, but it hit every spot that you’d want it to as a fan.

For a state that has had such an important heritage with the AFL, produced many of its great players, and had long-term cultural and historical association with the code, this should be damming of its recent administration.

Basketball has had a re-emergence and could quickly become the number one sport of choice for youngsters.

Classrooms across Tasmania were turned green the day before the first home final game at MyState Bank arena. Fantastic images of hordes of kids decked out in green, dribbling basketballs and sending supportive messages to the ‘Jackies’, have adorned social media and local news media as the finals came along.

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The love for AFL will never die in Tassie, but without at team of its own, the code might be doomed to exist in this middle space, where it’s there and you love it, but it can never really fulfil that space in your heart.

Tom Mitchell of the Hawks speaks with AFL Field Umpire, Hayden Gavine after a 50 metre penalty was awarded to Geelong during the 2022 AFL Round 05 match between the Hawthorn Hawks and the Geelong Cats at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on April 18, 2022 In Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

There is that desire to be able to go week in, week out to games, and enjoy it with the people around you working to a collective goal and enjoying the atmosphere. The JackJumpers have slipped straight into that void – if you can get a ticket.

And granted, there is some understandable hesitancy on the AFL’s behalf given the state’s population, but there’s also misunderstanding of the identity tied up in footy and genuinely how massive this would be in the state.

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It wouldn’t just be another raindrop in the lake of stuff that is in Western Sydney, it would be the central point of focus for most of the year, and it would take up almost the entire issue of that day’s local paper.

Some people have also made the argument that people already have teams and many people won’t change overnight, and it’s a captive audience to AFL.

And yes, there will definitely be some who won’t change or even have a potential Tassie team as a 1A or second team.

After all, they’ve spent years putting a lot of effort in their current clubs, but the JackJumpers have already shown it’s those classrooms where the kids are excited about the games that will solve that problem, and the rest will follow in short order.

Others might also cite somewhat low attendances at the current offering of AFL games. They already almost play a full home schedule of games across the current tenants Hawthorn and North Melbourne.

When this happens, it’s often played between two teams that don’t have the type of buy-in that the JackJumpers have worked hard to create, just teams that aren’t really supported across the state.

You’ll see that lack of buy-in at a dreadful Port-North Melbourne match-up this coming weekend.

But there is evidence of when teams play that have a collective base of supporters, attendance is good and atmosphere is great.

An example of this is when Essendon played Hawthorn at York Park last year. The game sold out quickly and had a genuinely great atmosphere with two teams that do have large supporter bases in the state.

Dyson Heppell of the Bombers in action

(Photo by Michael Willson/AFL Photos via Getty Images)

It might have been surprising to some of the players, especially a lot of the Bombers players who commented how enjoyable it was that much of the crowd was behind them at what was essentially an away game.

But for anyone with any knowledge of the teams Tasmanians actually support, it was completely unsurprising.

Sport sadly is increasingly more and more about being able to commodify interest and entertainment into dollars than it often is for the sporting spectacle and the community cohesion that it can provide.

And somewhat cynically, the current iteration of the bid may hinge on whether an eventual 20th team is feasible in WA, Canberra or SA, as the AFL can sell an extra game per week to its broadcasters.

TV is where the money is now, as much as people like to look at attendance figures and memberships. If the AFL can get that tenth game a week and sell it to the networks, a Tassie team will happen.

But that’s always the difficulty with Tassie’s fight for an AFL team, it keeps getting overlooked and misunderstood or waiting for other things to happen.

For now, we have a terrific basketball team to hang our hats on, along with some fine cricketers. But to truly feel like we are a part of the nation’s sporting landscape, the AFL has to join the party.

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