The Case for an AFL teamin Tasmania

The Case for Tasmania

Background

Some form of football was played in Tasmania in the 1850s, some people believe that this was actually a form of rugby rather than Australian football due to mentions of cross bards and offside rules.

Australian football was first documented in Tasmania in 1866. The Tasmanian Football league, centred on Hobart began in 1879 and the Northern Tasmanian Football Association began in 1886. A third league, the North West Football Union would not begin until 1910.

The First statewide premiership was awarded in 1909 with the Tasmanian State Premiership. These matches were discontinued in 1978. The State premiership would next be contested under a different format in 1980 – the WInfield State Cup, However Northern leagues refused to participate again after percieved favoritism towards the Hobart league.

In 1986 and 1987, A statewide league was proposed when 5 northern league clubs left tol join the TFL Statwide League. The NTFA and NWFU merger to form the NTFL.

The formation of the state league seems to have been the catalyst for teams to begin to lose money with increase travel costs being a large factor. Teams relegated themselves back to local competitions and other clubs folded entirely. The league collapsed after the 2000 Grand Final.

With the TFL disbanded, the Tasmanian Devils were formed in 2001 and bega playing in the VFL the next year. They were aligned with North Melbourne.The Devils played in both ends of the Apple Isle and had a reasonable following before they were disbanded in 2008 to make way for the re introduction of the TFL.

The game presently has the second highest participation rate of any Australian Football state in the country, behind only the Northern Terriotry.

The VFL/AFL in Tasmania

The VFLs Blue Report in 1985 declared “complete national football competition including teams from Victoria, Adelaide, Perth, Sydney, Brisbane, Tasmania and Canberra was not feasible”, but that a competition “evolving from the Victorian Football League and including teams from Adelaide and Perth would be viable provided that the number did not exceed twelve”. (The Phoenix Rises, pg 174)

Many exhibition matches were played in Tasmania over the years, and it became something of a panacea for the problems of several Victorian clubs including Fitzroy (91-92, 4 games), St Kilda (03-06, 3 games). Hawthorn have the longest lived presence in Tasmania begining in 2003 and now not expected to end before 2017, in a deal worth 17 million over 5 years. North melbourne began playing at Bellerive in 2012.

For many years Tasmanian football talent left the Apple Isle for the brighter lights of Melbourne. More than 300 Tasmanians have played VFL/AFL over the years including Darrel Baldock, Royce Hart, Laurie Nash, Peter Hudson and Ian Stewart.

Players of a more recent vintage include Garry Lyon, Brendon Gale, Alistair Lynch, Matthew Richardson, Grant Birchall, Brad Green, Jack Riewoldt and David Neitz.

The 1994-1997 Bid

Between 1996 and 1998 a bid was prepared that involved the construction of a 30,000-capacity stadium in the Hobart showgrounds in Glenorchy, at the cost of $34 million. The stadium would have been the team’s only home ground, but the appeal was unsuccessful and the stadium was not built. The bid ultimately failed when Port Adelaide and Fremantle were granted entry instead.

The 2008 Bid

With the announcement of teams for Gold Coast and Western Sydney, Tasmania again launched a bid for the AFL with the full backing of the Tasmanian Government. The Tasmanian Bid had reportedly secured 20,000 potential members and a $4 million major sponsorship from Mars before Gold COast and Western Sydney had even got off the ground. Andrew Demetriou, AFL CEO, is reported to have told the Tasmanian premier “not now, not ever”, and recently told Foxfooty  that it will not happen while he is CEO but may happen while he is alive. [See Video]

The bid had the support of then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.

“In terms of how we make all that possible, I’ve been talking to various folk in the AFL about that for some time.”

The Arguments against a Tasmanian Team

Opponents of the Tasmanian Bid have assumed

  • a lack of corporate support would be a major stumbling block
  • the long running divide between the North and South of Tasmanian football is a key reason why any AFL team would fail.
  • Some cite a percieved lack of popular support and others believe there are forces at AFL House that will never allow a Tasmanian team.
  • its a captive market – already an Australian Football territory
  • its being held for victorian club relocation

The Corporate Argument

Saul Eslake, a Tasmanian born, respected Economist says the lack of corporate support argument is a just plain wrong

”First … the stadium deal that a Tasmanian club would have at Aurora Stadium  would be about the fourth best in the league. The second thing is we had  sponsors. Mars said they would be our major sponsor, and the Tasmanian  government would only need to pay $1 million less than they’re contributing to  the Hawthorn deal.

Eslake went on to query the isolation of the state in regard to its sponsors.

”People say, ‘where are the major corporations in Tasmania?,’ but look at  Collingwood, whose major sponsor Emirates is based in Dubai.”

When all was said and done, he came to the conclusion that

“”I think the exercise proved beyond any doubt that the commercial arguments  used as to why Tasmania couldn’t have a team – that there weren’t the big  companies there to sponsor it, that there wouldn’t be the support or the ground  couldn’t cope with it – all those arguments were demonstrated to be false.”

In addition Mars Snackfoods General Manager Peter West, who signed a deal to sponsor the proposed team worth $4 million, said

“Not only is there a traditional affiliation with the sport among the Tasmanian people, but the state’s burgeoning economy makes us confident that the club would be financially viable and would attract strong corporate support, so we wanted to be the first business on board.”

The Tasmania Divided argument

Scott Wade, head of AFL Tasmania says the football divide was a big reason an AFL team didnt go earlier.

“In the halcyon days of Tasmanian footy back in the ’60s and ’70s, if Tasmania could’ve found a way to work together, rather than be so parochial and so divided, we’d already have a team of our own by now”

Saul Eslake believes that a Tasmanian AFL side would prove to be a great unifier.

The Popular Support Argument

Generally based around the size of the population, and its decline or growth, it argues that there isnt enough people to sustain a team.

A survey conducted in 2008 by the State Government found that

  • 48% of Tasmanians support a Tasmanian bid
  • 23% of Tasmanians would consider becoming members
  • 41% of Tasmanians would consider attending games

This would have given the club a theoretical support base of 100,000 members.

In 2012, Hawthorn had 8,500 Tasmanian Members, and in 2012 North Melbourne were reportedly at 2,000 in January.

The Andrew Demetriou Roadblock Argument

Many believe that the AFL CEO, Andrew Demetriou was/is the major stumbling block to a Tasmanian team. The Age quoted Paula Wriedt (former Tasmanian Minister for Economics and Tourism) as saying that ”The AFL were blocking it, and when I say the AFL I mean Andrew Demetriou.”

The Captive Market argument

Australian football has been a major part of the Tasmanian sporting landscape sine the late 19th century and it seems unlikely that this will be challenged soon. There is however a lack of a national league side in any competition for Tasmania in any Australian major sport at the moment.

Rugby League have recently played a trial at North Hobart Oval, paid for by the Australian Football Club there, and there is apparently an Aleague bid by Tasmania United.

The Relocation Argument

Some believe Tasmania is being held to have somewhere for an established Victorian team to relocate. This was denied by Andrew Demetriou following the rejection of the Tasmanian bid who said that he planned on 10 clubs being in Victoria for the foreseeable future.

Bid Assessment

“The amount of work and research is comprehensive and first-class. We were incredibly impressed by the level of detail in the submission,” Demetriou said. The AFL however reaffirmed its commitment to establishing teams in Queensland and New South Wales.

Bartlett said Tasmania already had 60 per cent of corporate sponsorship required for an AFL club, would easily meet the required target of 25,000 members and projected stadium revenues would put them in the top four performing stadia in the league.
“The commitment Andrew’s given me today is he’ll take the business case we’ve provided very seriously,” Bartlett said.

Andrew Demetriou appeared to give Tasmania assurances it was the next cab off the rank for a license.

The Senate Inquiry

Unsatisfied with the AFL response, Tasmanian senator Kerry O’brien convinced the Senates Regional Affairs Committee to undertake an enquiry into the AFL, supported by Family First Senator Steven Fielding.

The inquiry’s draft terms of reference included an investigation into “whether the AFL commissioners’ obligations to current supporters of the game override their desire to promote larger television audiences for it”.

The inquiry was opposed by the Liberal Party, with Pat Farmer saying it was a waste of time since the Senate had no power to make the AFL do anything with its expansion policy.

AFL CEO, Andrew Demetriou and Chairman Mike Fitzpatrick both declined to appear before the enquiry, but Chief Operations Manager Gillon Mclachlan did, confirming the league saw Sydney and Gold Coast as greater priorities for expansion, and wasnt sure a Tasmanian team could ever happen. He added information such as future population growth, size and scope of the local business community, current and future, community participation in the game and other code and the significance of the regions as media markets, determined that priority.

Further issues and notes from the inquiry can be found here.

In 2012

It should be noted that the Tasmanian Government is directly sponsoring Hawthorn to the tune of $17.6 million over 5 years (following on from a $16 million deal in the previous 5 years), and the Government owned TTlines is sponsoring North Melbourne for another 1.5 million over 3 years. The AFL Bid team was able to secure another $4 million sponsorship from Mars pending AFL entry. (That sponsorship later went to Carlton). Thrown in the 10,000 Tassie Hawks and 8,000 targetted North Tassie memberships, and you’ve got an excellent begining that would dwarf both of the AFL’s new sides on the Gold Coast and New South Wales.

In addition, the Tasmanian Government would own and operate Aurora Stadium, which with upgrades would make it one of the best in the league and guarantee a decent return for the club based there. The Federal Government has also committed 15 million to the upgrade of Bellerive Oval, giving the state two reasonable stadiums to play footy at.

Recent Updates

Tasmania again came onto the agenda when the AFL signed its massive 2.508 billion dollar media deal in August 2015, just weeks after Tasmania resigned a deal with Hawthorn for anotrher 5 years, for 19 million + CPI (about 3.8 million a year)

AFL CEO Gillon Mclachlan told the National Press Club on August 19, 2015, that while Tasmania deserved a club, it probably couldnt afford it, predicting it would need 45 million in revenue.

“Tasmania deserves its own team. It just does. Their participation rates, their ratings, their attendance, they are as passionate as any state. Their numbers stack up with Victoria and in my view they deserve their own team. The brutal reality right now, the economy and scale of growth mean they financially can’t support their own team playing 11 games, you need $45 million.”

This seems odd given the number of teams in the league that as of their 2014 Annual Reports fail to make that grade.

2014 Revenue
  • Collingwood – $76,256,915, down from $79,266,546
  • Hawthorn – $67,663,161, up from $64,772,874
  • Essendon – $61,258,047, down from $63,690,189
  • West Coast – $57,616,027, up from $55,937,525
  • Carlton – $56,641,156, down from $57,144,954
  • Geelong – $51,356,479, down from $55,041,492
  • Fremantle – $49,161,997, up from $46,631,972
  • Port Adelaide – $48,219,475, up from $41,528,282
  • Brisbane – $46,538,187, up from $43,500,672
  • Sydney – $46,519,605, up from $42,746,942

_______________________________________________

  • Richmond – $44,408,127, down from $44,848,083
  • Melbourne – $42,093,064, up from $39,341,340
  • Adelaide – $39,366,673, up from $34,296,792
  • Bulldogs – $37,538,814, up from $34,052,817
  • North – $34,390,355, up from $32,110,000
  • Gold Coast –  $33,798,619, up from $31,926,726
  • GWS – $32,448,830, up from $31,959,745
  • St Kilda – $30,235,195, down from $31,881,495

 

On Friday, Augst 28th, 2015,  the Commission met with the Government in Hobart. A working party is to be set up to look at the state of football in Tasmania, and that is likely to include an examination of the stand alone Tasmanian side.

Mike Fitpatrick said

“The AFL commission looked at this seven or eight years ago, and the conclusion then was that the economics of a stand alone club were difficult. The working party has to have a look.

 

References

1 Comment on "The Case for an AFL teamin Tasmania"

  1. I reckon we deserve one, just look at the support. And while we’re at it, think about an NT team, global corporations seems happy to support so why not?

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