Timeline of The 2021 Tasmanian AFL License Bid

The Lead up

In March 2018, The AFL announced a steering committee led by AFL CEO Gillon Mclachlan into the state and future of football in Tasmania. The committee included AFL Tasmania CEO Trisha Squires, Carlton coach Brendon Bolton, former St Kilda captain Nick Reiwoldt, AFL head of game development Rob Auld and AFL state league and international manager Simon Laughton. McLachlan said that the committee would make recommendations by April 14 on new talent pathways for young Tasmanian footballers and the future of the TSL by June 30.

On June 26, Nationals Senator Steve Martin will called for the AFL to commission new business plans for the inclusion of a Tasmanian team in the men’s and women’s national league.

On July 3 Mclachlan announced key initiatives, devised over three months, included a $1.4 million funding increase in 2019 to lift junior participation levels, the establishment of regional administration hubs and community football advisory commissions, a provisional Tasmanian VFL licence for 2021, expanded junior pathways from under-12 to under-18s and full-time boys’ and girls’ TAC Cup programs.

Mclachlan said that a Tasmanian AFL licence was someway off but could be revisited if the announced plans and unification were achieved.

On July 7, then Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said a Tasmanian AFL team would receive $25 million in funding if Labor wins the next federal election, but it might not be enough to convince the game’s powerbrokers to back a Tasmanian team.

On March 22, 2019 The Age reported that the Tasmanian government was rallying a powerful group of corporate and sporting heavyweights charged to transition Hawthorn and North Melbourne out of the island state and to establish its own AFL club by 2026. The AFL advice is that the state would require at least 50,000 members and an initial commitment of $40 million to enter the league. It was noted that Tasmania had 90,000 members for the existing mainland AFL clubs in 2018.

Peter Gutwein told The Age: “The time is right. It’s no longer a matter of if but when. In my view this should occur in the next five to seven years.”

On June 4, 2019 an Tasmanian AFL Taskforce was announced by the Tasmanian Government, led by Brett Godfrey and included former Woolworths chief executive Grant O’Brien, Lauderdale Football Club president Julie Kay, former GWS Giants chief financial officer Paul Eriksson, and executive chairman of Dynamic Sports and Entertainment group, James Henderson as well as Prominent Launceston businessman Errol Stewart. On June 26, it was announced that Nick Riewoldt and Brendon Bolton had joined the project team.

On July 27, The Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania told the Tasmanian Legislative Council enquiry that a prospective Tasmanian AFL team must split its home games as evenly as possible between the North and the South.

On August 23, The Age reported that Tasmania looked certain to bid for a provisional AFL licence by the end of the year as one of a raft of recommendations that have emerged from the Hodgman Government-appointed task force.

On October 17, GEMBA issued a report to the Tasmanian Government which was included in the later Taskforce report.

In December, The Tasmanian Taskforce issued its report with the following recommendations

  • 1. The Government should seek an opportunity to present to the AFL Commissioners the case for Tasmania’s inclusion in the AFL and AFLW.
  • 2. The Government seeks to retain members of the Taskforce as consulting advisors and pursues engagement with the AFL Commission, Club Presidents and senior AFL executives to submit a bid for a Provisional Licence
  • 3. On condition of the granting of a Provisional AFL licence, establishment funding required will be approximately $45M, as follows:
    • 3.1 Pre-operational Club administrative staff and organisational facilities: $12-15M, and
    • 3.2 Provision of the necessary high-performance player facilities: $25-30M.
    • The State and Federal Governments will need to consider and cooperate with the AFL to fund the estimated $45M required prior to the team’s first season.
  • 4. The Taskforce model supposes a ‘negotiation’ that sees Tasmania enter the AFL with an equitable ‘club average’ distribution of $17.1M per annum. The State would need to accept funding the estimated shortfall of $7.3M per annum. We note that the AFL may not be able to afford nor want to take the risk of another expansion club. Our report suggests that, based on these sensitivities, the State may need to fund up to a maximum of $11M, consistent with the AFL content cost per ‘home’ game incurred today.
  • 5. Launceston would host and benefit from ‘blockbuster’ matches being played at an enhanced 27,500 seat UTAS Stadium. Due to its apparent limitations, Blundstone Arena would host smaller drawing AFL Clubs or games. Upon ‘proof of concept’, a longer-term aspiration should be a roofed, CBD-based ‘Adelaide Oval’ multi-purpose facility developed for Hobart to share all AFL content and opportunities with Launceston.
  • 6. Irrespective of a new stadium, a State stadia strategy and review should be undertaken to both validate our assessment of stadium demand and to consider the wider State value in attracting or retaining existing events, conferences and other national sporting franchises or leagues to Tasmania, and their subsequent contribution to GSP and returns to the Football Club.
  • 7. Based on the advice provided to the Taskforce by the AFL, Australian Football League Players Association (AFLPA), community consultation and the fact that most of the playing roster, presently, would be from the mainland states, Hobart would be the likely team base.
  • 8. Given the relative declining ‘interest’ in Hawthorn and North Melbourne’s Tasmanian content, coupled with Hawthorn publicly advising they have other options, the State should reconsider or at least revalue both ‘sponsorships’ upon their contract maturities in 2021.
  • 9. The State needs to press awareness and seek change in the AFL Commission. As guardian of the game it is somewhat reflective or informative that there are no – and never have been – Tasmanian Commissioners in the AFL.
  • 10. The model presented herein includes the costs associated with a VFL team – essentially an AFL reserves competition – however it is predicated on the long-term success and well-defined pathway provided by an AFL Licence. Should no commitment be forthcoming for a Tasmanian AFL club, our recommendation is that the State declines to fund the VFL program.
  • 11. The State has the opportunity now to change the AFL’s misperceptions. In March 2019, the AFL CEO questioned the economic ability of Tasmania to hold a licence but offered: “One brand and hopefully getting unity and putting a bid together. It’s not going to be in the next couple of years, but at least there is a pathway and a plan there.”

On May 7th, 2020 the Tasmanian Legislative Council issued its report on an AFL license for Tasmania and made the following findings

  • 1. The decision to establish an AFL team in Tasmania resides with the AFL Commission
  • 2. A Tasmanian AFL team would provide substantial social and economic benefits to Tasmania, as demonstrated by the inclusion of Hawthorn and North Melbourne rostered games in Tasmania.
  • 3. It is estimated that the economic benefit of a Tasmanian AFL team would be approximately $110m per annum and create more than 300 jobs.
  • 4. Tasmanian attendance figures indicate interest in both the Hawthorn and North Melbourne AFL games in Tasmania has decreased in recent years.
  • 5. A Tasmanian AFL team would cost approximately $45m to establish. Ongoing annual support of approximately $15-17m from an AFL dividend and $7-8m from the
    Tasmanian Government would be required. The estimated Tasmanian Government contribution may not exceed the current annual funding to host Hawthorn and North Melbourne matches.
  • 6. A survey conducted by the AFL Licence Taskforce indicated that the potential membership of a Tasmanian AFL team could be in excess of 64,000 members.
  • 7. A Tasmanian AFL team has the potential to attract high-value local, national and international sponsors. Potential exists for synergies with the Tasmanian Brand.
  • 8. It is not necessary to develop a new, large capacity stadium at Macquarie Point.
  • 9. Upgrading UTAS and Blundstone stadiums, and establishing a new club, would be more valuable investments in the future of Tasmanian football than developing a new venue.
  • 10. A Tasmanian AFL team would create common interest between all Tasmanians and facilitate unity across Tasmanian regions.
  • 11. Games should be shared equally between northern and southern Tasmania, for example,
  • 11 games per season split 6/5 between the regions in alternate years.
  • 12. Evidence supports that, for logistical reasons, the ideal base for a Tasmanian AFL team is in Hobart.
  • 13. A Tasmanian AFL team would be inspirational to young people in Tasmania and provide a pathway to the elite level of AFL football.
  • 14. Game attendance and player interest in AFL in Tasmania is likely to continue to decline if a Tasmanian AFL team is not established.
  • 15. The suggested optimal time for Tasmania to establish an AFL team is 2025 in line with negotiations for new television broadcasting rights.

The Legislative Council Committees final recommendation was that the Government recognise the potential social and economic benefits of a Tasmanian AFL team
and pursue all opportunities to present Tasmania’s case for its own team to the AFL Commission.

2021: The Bid starts in earnest 

On Feburary 12, it was reported that Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein had sent a formal letter to the AFL demanding a timetable for the admission of a Tasmanian team into the AFL and threatening to end multimillion-dollar contract negotiations with Hawthorn and North Melbourne beyond 2021.

On February 19, the League responded. Tasmania’s demand for a concrete timeline towards an AFL side had been knocked back, with the league instead pledging to set up a detailed, independent review into its merits. The AFL Commission had begun to consider the Taskforce report on a team based in Tasmania last year when that work with clubs was placed on hold, due to the impacts of Covid-19, which had a far greater impact on our season and overall health of our game than could have been expected or predicted.

“This is an important review,” McLachlan wrote. “While the AFL respects your desire for a timely decision, we also need to ensure we have greater certainty around the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

That decision has enraged Gutwein who has said he is unwilling to extend multimillion-dollar deals with Hawthorn and North Melbourne to play games in Tasmania beyond 2021 unless a timeline is provided.

On March 19th,  The AFL announced that Colin Carter would conduct a review of the business case presented by the Tasmanian AFL Taskforce. Mr McLachlan said he had agreed with the Tasmanian Premier that Mr Carter would complete his review of the Taskforce submission for a 19th licence for Tasmania by mid-year, however Mr Carter’s review would not be considered by the AFL Commission until the end of the year when there was a clearer picture of any Covid-19 impact on the 2021 Toyota AFL Premiership season.

The Carter Report was completed in July 2021. His recommendation was that Tasmania should be represented by a team in the AFL/AFLW national competitions. He notes that the best form of that team is less clear-cut – It could take the form of a 19th licence, the re-location of an existing team, or a joint venture between Tasmanian stakeholders and a Victorian team that secures strong support in two markets.

Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein said he was “annoyed” when Colin Carter’s report did not categorically advocate for a 19th license in the state and threatened to dismiss Hawthorn and North Melbourne’s presence in the state for the 2022 season. However a deal was struck when the AFL agreed that a decision on whether a standalone team from Tasmania will enter the league will be made in early 2022, after negotiations between AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan and Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein over a timeline were finalised on August 24.

In February 2022, The State Governments feasibility study into a new stadium was completed, with a number of options reviewed, the report gave top billing to Macquarie Point.

On March 1, Gutwein announced a proposal to build a new stadium at Regatta Point, subject to stakeholder consultation, planning approval and achieving an AFL licence. The stadium will include a retractable roof for all weather playing and performances, making it one of only two such AFL venues in the country, it would complement the investment in MyState Arena as a boutique stadium, while Blundstone Arena would remain the home of cricket.

On March 6, AFL supreme Gillon McLachlan gave the thumbs up to Hobart’s proposed $750 million waterfront stadium while also declaring the league had the balance sheet to bring in a Tasmanian team.

On March 9, Gillon Mclachlan remained short on detail about discussions over Tasmania’s bid for its own team.

“There are about 10 or 11 issues, from financial, to list builds, to stadia, to governance,” he said. “The framework is there, the discussions are getting meatier, the heavy lifting will be happening over the coming months.”

On March 12, Mclachlan made it clear that it will be a strong majority of the clubs, and not the AFL’s “technical” rules or merely the league hierarchy, that will drive whether a Tasmanian team gains entry into the competition. McLachlan suggested that while the decision on a Tasmanian team technically belonged with the AFL Commission – and could only be overturned by two-thirds of the clubs (13 of 18) – that the AFL would follow a practical path and needed “broad alignment” of the clubs on the Tasmanian decision.

On May 28th, The Tasmanian Government announced it had made a bold $150 million bid to secure the creation of the southern state’s first AFL team. The government proposal envisaged a 10-year deal worth $100 million with a further $50 million in start-up costs, including a state-of-the-art high-performance facility placed within walking distance of Hobart’s CBD, prioritising the attraction and retention of elite football talent.

On June 1, The Taskforce said they would attempt to appeal to the clubs directly ahead of any vote on the license.

The same day, It was reported that the $750 million price tag attached to Hobart’s proposed new stadium was a “ballpark” figure provided by a consultant a week before the announcement — with a minister admitting “we had to be able to explain what it could cost, now we need to find out what it will cost”.

On June 10, Mclachlan said that the license required a new stadium.

“This team needs and will have a new stadium if you want a licence, and I think Tasmanians would expect that,” he told the shivering press pack.

On September 6, new Tasmanian premier Jeremy Rockliff said the government is open to the idea of building a new stadium at Macquarie Point on Hobart’s waterfront.

On September 17, it was reported that the AFL bid would be presented to the 18 club presidents in Melbourne after the Brownlow ceremony. Its believed that McLachlan will tell the presidents the AFL can afford a Tasmanian team after its landmark $4.5 billion broadcast rights deal, but the league is yet to come to a stadium agreement with the state government as it awaits a feasibility study on a Macquarie Point venue that could cost $750 million.

On September 19, the AFL Commission said they believed they had resolved and finalised 10 of the 11 workstreams and the final piece is resolving the stadium.

“There is a collective view that if a 19th license is to be awarded to Tasmania it must be done in a way that gives the club the best chance to be successful and a significant contributor to the competition and Tasmania more broadly.”

The same day, Rockliff promised an “iconic” stadium at Macquarie Point would bring the type of economic benefits to help solve a raft of the state’s most glaring woes. Mr Rockliff said plans to build a 23,000-seat, “iconic, boutique stadium” on Hobart’s waterfront, as the centrepiece of a culture, entertainment and sporting precinct, was a “huge opportunity” for Tasmania. The state government has promised to commit $375m to the proposed $750m stadium – with the remainder to be sought from federal government funding and private investment – should the AFL grant a 19th licence to Tasmania in the coming weeks.

“We’ve made the call. Macquarie Point’s the spot. This is where we can build aspiration, right across Tasmania. I want to assure Tasmanians we’re going to give this a red-hot go,” Mr Rockliff said.

On September 22, The state government defended its decision to sweeten its AFL bid deal in chasing a licence for Tasmania by increasing its annual commitment from $10m to $12m for the first 10 years of the team in an attempt to get the bid over the line.

On September 24, the AFL said it had committed to go into bat for Tasmania to secure funding from the federal government to help build Hobart’s “field of dreams” at Macquarie Point – a multi-purpose roofed stadium that would be home base for a new AFL team.  CEO Gillon McLachlan confirmed the AFL would be actively involved in raising the money to build a state-of-the-art stadium.

The 18 club presidents and their CEOs also saw Tasmania’s licence submission in a two-hour meeting at league headquarters. They were reportedly given two to four weeks  to assess the bid before reconveningto give their vote on Tasmania’s bid. That deadline was later revealed to be October 7.

On September 25, it was reported that Reconciliation Tasmania was concerned the government’s decision to choose Macquarie Point as its preferred stadium location could shunt aside a proposed Aboriginal reconciliation and truth-telling park, But the original designer of the idea – the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) – has backed the move, seeing it as an opportunity to redesign the park concept.

On September 30, The Mercury reported that Tassie’s arts and entertainment industry heads say the proposed new Hobart stadium would help attract major international acts, injecting much-needed dollars into the state. Mr Xintavelonis said the stadium would not only host elite sporting events but would become a major arts and entertainment precinct, allowing the state to host major international acts often left to the rest of Australia.

On September 30, Labor Minister Julie Collins said the Federal Government is supportive of a Tasmanian AFL team but doesn’t believe it should be contingent on a new stadium.

On October 1, Adelaide became the first club to officially approve Tasmania’s 19th AFL licence in a key development for the state’s bid. Adelaide chairman John Olsen confirmed his board had reviewed the AFL’s information package and as a collective group decided the case for the team stood up.

On October 6, it was revealed that Collingwood, Gold Coast, Sydney and Hawthorn were the clubs believed to be “reluctant” to support the state’s dream of joining the big league.

On October 7, Geelong officially threw its weight behind a 19th team in Tasmania as the AFL extended its deadline for clubs to make assessments of the official bid.

On October 8, Gold Coast boss Tony Cochrane said he was so impressed with the state government’s submission, he has changed his mind after being opposed for a large period of time. Cochrane went from calling Tasmania’s dream financial “insanity” a few months ago to praising the state government for “stepping up enormously”. Cochrane even admits he is now onboard.

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