The long-awaited report into whether a Tasmanian team should be granted an AFL licence has found the state would reap a windfall of more than $110 million a year and hundreds of jobs, urging the State Government to take the case to the code’s governing body — or watch as the code dies.
- Tasmanian support for AFL clubs Hawthorn and North Melbourne was declining, the report said — urging a Tasmanian team be granted a licence by 2025
- After 20 years of “enjoying the highest per capita rate of participation in Australian Rules across the country”, the code was now fading on the island, it said
- A Tasmanian AFL and AFLW team, the Devils, would not only thrive and prosper, but “must be strongly considered to revive and sustain the sport in Tasmania”, the report said
The report, released today, detailed the findings of the AFL taskforce, set up in 2018 to investigate recommendations to “develop the framework and business case to support the granting of a Tasmanian AFL and AFLW licence”.
In the 268-page document, members Brett Godfrey, Paul Eriksson, James Henderson, Julie Kay, Grant O’Brien, Nick Riewoldt, Adam Sproule and Errol Stewart said Tasmania “has the opportunity now to change the AFL’s misperceptions” — urging the Government to secure a timeline with the administrators for a team to enter by 2025.
To miss the opportunity of having a representative team in the national competition would risk AFL giving further ground to other codes, the report warned.
“Football has enjoyed a rich history in Tasmania, playing an integral part in its communities and contributing to the national game. Yet the game is under threat — stagnating at best,” the report said.
“The opportunity to join the AFL and AFLW competitions with no negative impact on their existing clubs must be strongly considered to revive and sustain the sport in Tasmania.”
Island support for Roos, Hawks ‘eroding’
It also said the current deals with AFL clubs Hawthorn and North Melbourne to play games in the state should be reconsidered once the arrangement expires in 2021, with energy instead redirected to the Tasmania Devils.
“Tasmanians have failed to engage with Melbourne-based teams domiciling their ‘home’ games in the state,” the report found, adding “local support and interest for both Hawthorn and North Melbourne has eroded over the past decade and value will likely follow”.
Other findings included:
- Independent modelling of the direct economic impact of 11 home games in Tasmania played by the Devils AFL team indicates a direct contribution to the state of more than $110m per annum and more than 360 jobs
- Additionally, the AFL club itself would add a further 116 full-time employment positions, providing an additional $27m in salaries and on-costs, plus other direct expenditure of $13m to the state economy
- These numbers are comprised of a mid-point level of direct annual spend of $72m, and 250 permanent football tourism-related jobs
- The AFL is not seeking a 19th team to add to the competition. Admission to the league requires a ‘special majority’ of clubs to back a new entrant. It is unlikely any consideration of a new team would be considered outside of a subsequent broadcast deal, with the earliest opportunity at this time being possibly 2025
- Any decision to enter the VFL in isolation of an AFL licence timeline is unlikely to be met with higher interest or engagement in the game. Indeed, there appears a genuine belief it will fail, causing irreparable damage to the state’s ambition around its own AFL club
While addressing concerns around “critical success factors”, the report said: “a well-planned and executed pathway to an AFL Tasmanian team in 2025 will add value to the AFL while protecting its marketplace in an increasingly competitive sports and media landscape”.
“Equally, the State Government will generate additional revenues, jobs and general game wellbeing at a reduced cost to its current AFL commitment.”
No local team harming code
The report blamed “the absence of a local team” for the declining popularity of the code in the state, and that “based on current trends, AFL will cede being Tasmania’s favourite sport by 2030 and the AFL risks conceding a key heartland state and market-dominant position”.
“Two decades ago, Tasmania enjoyed the highest per capita rate of participation in Australian Rules across the country … the absence of a local AFL team has contributed to its declining popularity and in particular lower male participation since the last bid a decade ago.”
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Since the early 2000s, the path to a standalone Tasmanian team has been blocked by State Government deals with Hawthorn and North Melbourne, that sees the two clubs play eight games in the state for a combined total of about $7 million a season, until 2021.
“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,” the report said.
It said the longer an AFL entry is delayed for a Tasmanian team, the “wider the door opens for competitive sports identifying easier, more seamless entry into the last 500k market”.
“The Tasmanian football community is a core home AFL market. Good businesses protect home markets before chasing expansion, and the long-term cost of regaining an advantage, if lost, will be substantial.”
The report said successive AFL administrations since 1990 had “held out the opportunity for a future Tasmania team to enter the competition”, but “ambiguous timeframes have allowed the issue to be deferred”.
“Current [chief executive] Gillon McLachlan has perhaps been clearest in his advocacy for Tasmania,” the report said, adding McLachlan’s questions about financial viability and Tasmania’s ‘north-south divide’ hampering support were “valid” but misplaced.
Bellerive, Launceston venues not up to AFL standard
The report found the “existing Tasmanian AFL stadia capacities are incapable of hosting the forecasted average attendance or member demand required” for a Tasmanian team.
“Additionally, key infrastructure not currently available but required prior to a Tasmanian club’s first season includes high-performance training facilities.”
The taskforce said facilities for playing, training, recovery and administration “must be upgraded in both Launceston and Hobart as part of the unified ‘north-south’ model.
“This will deliver improved spectator and participant options, with an end game for consideration being a covered, multi-purpose stadium to dramatically change the sport and entertainment landscape in Tasmania.”
Addressing the issue of the “north-south divide”, the report found the “appetite for an AFL licence in Tasmania is supported by a unified approach across the state” — but that Hobart should be the base for the team, however that may change.
“In terms of the key drivers around team location it should be reconsidered to centre around player attraction and retention, the availability of partner jobs, schools and general demographics,” it said.
“It is highly likely the majority of the playing roster will be from interstate and so air links and general access for partners, families and friends were also assessed.
“These criteria suggested that, while Hobart was logical today, the final decision could wait and be reassessed upon the granting of a future provisional licence.”
‘Tasmania is an AFL state’, Premier says
At the press conference for the report’s release, Brett Godfrey, the taskforce chairman said, “we’ve put a stake in the ground that this business case stacks up”.
“If it was my money, I’d invest in it. It’s not a business, we all know that, but the AFL is and so we’re calling on the AFL, the clubs and the club presidents, if the state deserves a team, you’ve got to act on it.
“You cannot continue to kick this can down the street.”
Mr Godfrey said the report put the onus back on the league.
“Nobody can say that Tasmania doesn’t have a team because of Tasmania; it’s now if Tasmania doesn’t get a team, it’s because others north of Bass Strait have decided that that’s the case.”
Premier Peter Gutwein said, “we know Tasmania is an AFL state, having delivered some of this country’s finest footballers over the years”, adding he had “appointment to see Gil (AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan) in coming weeks”.