Tasmanian AFL bid
The bid to establish an Australian Football League (AFL) team in the state of Tasmania has been ongoing, with fluctuating levels of support, since the then-Victorian Football League began its national expansion in the 1980s and 1990s.
The AFL's continued rejection of the Tasmanian AFL bid has raised significant controversy, with the Government of Australia launching a Senate inquiry in 2008 which AFL Commission CEO Andrew Demetriou and chairman Mike Fitzpatrick both declined to attend. At the enquiry, Tasmanian senator Kerry O'Brien brought into question the AFL's commitment to the game in Tasmania, and stated that he believed that with continued neglect, the popularity of soccer could overtake Australian rules football in Tasmania. There are already more children playing soccer than Australian rules football in Tasmania.
Although Tasmania was the third Australian state after Victoria to play the game, it has never been represented in Victorian Football League which was renamed the Australian Football League in 1990. This is despite a historically strong supporter base for Australian rules football, one of the highest participation rates in the country and strong local leagues. However, Tasmania initially held back from expressing serious interest in the VFL when there was first talk of interstate expansion.
With the relocation of the Sydney Swans and admission of teams from Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide, Tasmania belatedly began a push to enter the national competition.
In 2008, calls for a Tasmanian franchise has received unprecedented levels of support and media coverage with the AFL's declaration that it intends to expand the competition by creating new clubs in both the Gold Coast and Western Sydney. Many Tasmanians and traditional fans of football strongly believe that the state is more deserving of an AFL team than these other areas as Tasmania has always had strong support for football, whereas Gold Coast and Western Sydney are rugby league heartlands.
In April 2008, Tasmania's former premier Paul Lennon revived the push for an AFL team by travelling to AFL House in Melbourne to officially launch the latest bid. Although Lennon subsequently retired in May, the responsibility of steering the bid went to Economic Development Minister Paula Wriedt. The Mercury newspaper has also been a vocal supporter of the bid. The current bid is known as "Tassie It's Time".
Wriedt says Tasmania is only making a case for a Tasmanian team and not trying to beat the Gold Coast or Western Sydney to the 17th or 18th franchise. It is likely that Tasmania will be added later, in the case of a Melbourne club folding or merging.
AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou has said: "They probably do deserve a team, we shouldn't dismiss the contribution that Tasmania has made to our game... They are absolutely entitled to put forward a proposal, but the commission has already decided where the 17th and 18th teams are going." . The AFL admitted that the state had put together a strong business case, but has indicated that the next two club licences will be in Gold Coast and Western Sydney.
The bid has received a significant boost on 30 July 2008, with the announcement that the confectionery company Mars has signed on as the new club's major sponsor. The deal is reportedly worth $4 million over 3 years. It was long doubted by the AFL that the Tasmanian club would secure corporate interest before a proposal is accepted by the AFL. This announcement came as a major shock as it was before a sponsor could be found for either the Gold Coast or Western Sydney clubs and as AFL clubs Richmond and Western Bulldogs were left without a major sponsor for 2009. The Western Bulldogs have since found a major sponsor in Mission Foods.
The 2008 bid has commissioned Gemba to make a financial audit of the bid to meet the AFL criteria. In addition, the Tasmania team has secured more than 20,000 potential members, ahead of the Gold Coast and Western Sydney bids in raw numbers.
Between 1994 and 1997 the bid was prepared for a Tasmanian team that involved the construction of a 30,000-capacity stadium at the Hobart Showgrounds in Glenorchy, at the cost of approximately $30 million. The stadium would have been the team's only home ground, but the appeal was unsuccessful and the stadium was not built. Thus Tasmanian bids to enter the AFL were rejected in both 1995 and 1997, when Fremantle and Port Adelaide respectively were admitted instead.
AFL arguments against a Tasmanian side
There are a number of factors for the AFL's dismissal of Tasmanian AFL bids. However some of these arguments have an inherent conflict of interest which is noted by many commentators. As a result, the AFL's official stance has been to cite population, sponsorship interest, financial viability and regional rivalries.
There are AFL figures which argue that as Tasmania is a traditional Australian football state heavily influenced by Victoria that many fans of the game have traditional VFL/AFL club allegiances which go back generations. This is especially due to high profile VFL/AFL players coming from Tasmania.
There are notable followings in Tasmania of Hawthorn, North Melbourne, St Kilda, and Collingwood. In addition, Hawthorn and North Melbourne currently playing "home" games in the state, as St.Kilda had also previously done, and have built up followings. As a result, it is argued that it may be difficult to convert these followers to support a new club that represents Tasmania.
There is already a large television viewership in Tasmania, however the state is not counted by OzTam, relying instead on less accurate diary recording.
Population and supporter base
The AFL has dismissed Tasmanian bids on the basis of a small and sparse population. However, existing AFL clubs also have small population catchments, but their supporter bases extend further than their regional locations. Geelong with 300,000 local people, have catchment areas with fewer people than Tasmania, which has 500,000 people. The suburb of North Melbourne, the traditional base of the North Melbourne Football Club had a population of under 10,000 in 2009, the smallest of any traditional Melbourne supporter bases. Many Melbourne based AFL clubs have had to play home games in interstate locations in order to broaden their following.
Another ground for dismissing the Tasmanian bids has been a lack of sponsorship interest due in part to the location and potential supporter base. However the Tasmanian government has indicated its willingness to fill any sponsorship gap and has sponsored AFL clubs in the past. Despite the argument, the Tasmanian AFL bid was able to garner a $4 million major sponsor in Mars confectionery in 2008.
Regional rivalries and politics
The AFL has also had past issues with the rift between north and south and regional rivalry which has caused political division within football in Tasmania. The two halves of the state have relatively equal populations and the major population centres of Hobart and Launceston each want the "home ground" to be located in their city.
A political division and personal differences between the AFL Commission and the Tasmanian administrators (AFL Tasmania) may have also affected funding and other issues such as AFL bids.
It is widely believed that a Tasmanian bid can only succeed if there were strong united support from both the north and south of the state.
Some media commentators have speculated that the AFL holds Tasmania open as a soft target for relocation of struggling Melbourne clubs. Speculation has been fueled by the Kangaroos looking to shift four home games annually to Hobart's Bellerive Oval.
The AFL have also argued that the New South Wales based participation numbers are in excess of that in Tasmania, furthering their argument that a team in Western Sydney is a higher priority. The Senate enquiry found that insurmountable cultural barriers would make such a move non-viable.
- "Soccer could beat AFL". The Mercury. 28 March 2009. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
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- "Our crusade to end Tassie's footy snub". The Mercury. 11 March 2008. Archived from the original on 11 May 2008. Retrieved 14 August 2008. "And today ... the Mercury launches its season-long campaign, Tasmania -- It's Time, to reignite the push for a Tasmanian team in the AFL."
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- Tasmania not too small for an AFL team: Sheedy
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- Answers to questions: AFL – Mr Phil Martin (question 4)
- AFL tells Senate to mind their own business