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The "Barassi Line" is an imaginary line in Australia which divides areas where Australian rules football is more popular than rugby league and rugby union and vice versa. It was first used by historian Ian Turner in his "1978 Ron Barassi Memorial Lecture". Crowd figures, media coverage, and participation rates are heavily skewed in favour of the code that is most dominant on either side of the line.
Despite Australia's relatively homogeneous culture, the dichotomy existing in the country's sporting culture as represented by the line has endured since Australian rules football and rugby football developed distinct identities. Australian rules football is the most popular football code played to the west and south of the line, with centres in Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide, while rugby league and rugby union are more popular on the other side, with centres in Sydney and Brisbane. Each side represents roughly half of the Australian population, due to the concentration of population on the east coast.
At the time the term was first used, there were no professional teams or leagues located on each code's opposite side of the line. However, in the years since, the Australian Football League (AFL) in Australian rules football and the National Rugby League (NRL) in rugby league have expanded their domestic competitions to include teams from both sides of the line. In addition, the multinational body SANZAAR, which organises the Super Rugby competition in rugby union, has expanded its Australian presence on the opposite side of the line.
The line runs from the Northern Territory-Queensland border, south through Birdsville, Queensland, through southern New South Wales north of the Riverina, through Canberra and on to the Pacific Ocean at Cape Howe on the border of New South Wales and Victoria. The exact location of the division may be disputed and the stylised straight line is not particularly accurate in representing the division. No areas of Queensland favour Australian rules football over rugby league and, in the Riverina area in southern New South Wales, both codes vie for dominance. In the Canberra area, there is one professional team playing rugby union, the Brumbies, and one rugby league team, the Canberra Raiders, whereas there is no AFL side in Canberra, and only a few matches are played there each year, even though many Australian rules football teams compete in Canberra at levels lower than the AFL.
Other sports have no such separation in Australia. Cricket has been played on a national scale by state representative teams for over 100 years, and in 1977 soccer became the first sport in Australia to start a club based national league.
The Ron Barassi Memorial Lecture was a series of lectures given between 1966 and 1978 by Ian Turner, a professor of history at Monash University, that were named after Ron Barassi, Sr.. Barassi played a number of Australian rules football games for Melbourne in the Victorian Football League (VFL) before enlisting to fight in World War II and subsequently dying from shrapnel wounds.
The Barassi Line itself was named after Ron Barassi, the former Barassi's son, who was a star player for Melbourne and Carlton and a premiership-winning coach with Carlton and North Melbourne. He believed in spreading the code of Australian rules football around the nation with an evangelical zeal, and became coach and major supporter of the relocated Sydney Swans. He foresaw a time when Australian rules football clubs from around Australia, including up to four from New South Wales and Queensland, would play in a national football league with only a handful of them based in Melbourne, but his prognostications were largely ridiculed at the time.
League structures and expansions
The pursuit of national exposure for sports is influenced by the ratings systems used by Australian television. By the late 1980s, the main football codes in Australia realised that in order to garner the desired high national ratings, and increase the value of their product for television broadcast deals and corporate sponsors, they needed to maximise their national exposure. This meant heavy investment in grassroots development and in the support of clubs on the "other" side of the Barassi Line.
Australian rules football
The Victorian Football League's South Melbourne Football Club relocated to Sydney and became the Sydney Swans in 1982. The Sydney Swans endured limited success and a series of wooden spoons in their first decade in Sydney before rallying for a series of good years in the mid-1990s onward, culminating in premierships in 2005 and 2012. The Brisbane Bears were founded as an expansion team to the VFL in 1986 and also had poor results, with back-to-back wooden spoons until they were the beneficiaries of a forced merger with the Melbourne-based Fitzroy Lions in 1996. The Brisbane Lions were formed and became the first triple-premiership winner in 46 years, winning in 2001, 2002 and 2003.[relevant? ]
In 1990, the Victorian Football League changed its name to the Australian Football League (AFL) to pursue a more national focus. By 1997, six of sixteen AFL clubs were based outside of Victoria, but only two on the Rugby League side of the Barassi Line.
A second Queensland team on the Gold Coast joined the competition in 2011, and a second New South Wales team, based in Western Sydney, joined the AFL in 2012. With the establishment of these clubs, Ron Barassi Jr's prophecy of a national Australian rules football league with four teams in New South Wales and Queensland has been fulfilled. A major reason for the expansion into these non-traditional areas has been to increase both the number of games played each week, and the potential television audience. This resulted in income from television rights rising dramatically.
In 2011 the AFL also created the North East Australian Football League (NEAFL), a second level league comprising the reserve teams of the four AFL teams based in Queensland and New South Wales, along with high-level teams from the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. A junior academy system was also introduced with the aim to increase the participation rate of players from NSW and Queensland.
As of 2019 the Greater Western Sydney Giants have an agreement to play four home games in Canberra during each season.
In 1995 the Australian Rugby League (ARL) created four new expansion teams including one in Perth, resulting in the first major rugby league club based on the Australian rules football side of the Barassi Line, the Western Reds. By the time the breakaway Super League started in 1997 a second club on the opposite side of the line was created, the Adelaide Rams. A third club on the opposite side of the line, the Melbourne Storm, was due to be created in 1998 to play in the second season of Super League but, in the meantime, the opposing leagues made restitution and established the National Rugby League (NRL). Part of the agreement to form a new league included a reduction of clubs in the league, especially those recently established in difficult markets, resulting in the disbanding of the clubs in Perth and Adelaide. The Melbourne Storm continued with success in the new competition, achieving their first premiership win in 1999.
Despite this, there are official bids for expansion teams on both sides of the line; in Queensland, from Brisbane and Rockhampton, from the NSW Central Coast, Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea and Wellington in New Zealand on the home side, as well as from Perth on the other side. The only NRL club on the non-traditional side of the Barassi Line remains the Melbourne Storm.
Rugby union has also attempted to expand on the Australian football side of the Barassi Line, with mixed results. Shortly after the sport went professional in August 1995, the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) joined forces with the New Zealand Rugby Football Union and South African Rugby Union to create the Super 12 competition. It began in 1996 with five regional franchises from New Zealand, four provincial teams from South Africa, and three state/territory teams from Australia. The three Australian teams were all on the traditional side of the Barassi Line; the Brisbane-based Reds, the Canberra-based Brumbies and the Sydney-based Waratahs. The league expanded by two teams, one each in Australia and South Africa, for 2006, with the competition then becoming the Super 14. Significantly, the new Australian team, the Western Force, was based in Perth on the opposite side of the line.
The following year, the ARU sought to create a national domestic competition, launching the Australian Rugby Championship (ARC). It launched with eight teams, with the Melbourne Rebels and Perth Spirit based on the opposite side of the line. However, the ARC lasted only one season.
The next expansion of rugby union on the opposite side of the line came in 2011, when the current Melbourne Rebels were added as Australia's fifth team in the newly renamed Super Rugby.
In 2013, the ARU announced that a new domestic competition, the National Rugby Championship (NRC), would start play in 2014. Of its nine inaugural teams, two were on the Australian rules side of the Barassi Line—Melbourne Rising and a revived Perth Spirit. Both teams remain in the league to this day.
Neither the Western Force or the Melbourne Rebels have qualified for the finals series in either the Super 14 or Super Rugby, while the Brumbies, Waratahs and Reds, from the traditional areas have all won championships. In 2017, the Western Force was cut from the Super Rugby competition for the 2018 season. Teams from the Australian rules side of the line have enjoyed more success in the NRC. Both Melbourne Rising and Perth Spirit have made the finals series three times, and Perth won the NRC title in 2016.
Four professional Australian football clubs, one rugby union Super Rugby club and one rugby league club, exist on the non-traditional side of the Barassi Line.
An academic study conducted from 2007 to 2011 shows that the traditional divide remains evident between the two sections of the Barassi Line. The study found:
Results indicated demarcation of viewer loyalty to each code based on geographic boundaries, [was] consistent with the existing notion of "the Barassi line". Both codes were shown to be largely reliant on traditional markets for driving television viewership figures, with little evidence to suggest either code expanded its national reach during the period, despite vastly contrasting broadcast strategies.— Fujak, Hunter
Australian rules football east of the line
|State & Territory||Australian Capital Territory||New South Wales||Queensland|
|Governing Body||AFL NSW/ACT||AFL Queensland|
|Clubs||Greater Western Sydney Giants
play four home games in Canberra per season
|Gold Coast Suns|
Rugby league west of the line
|State & Territory||Northern Territory||South Australia||Tasmania||Victoria||Western Australia|
|Governing Body||Northern Territory Rugby League||South Australia Rugby League||Tasmanian Rugby League||Victorian Rugby League||Western Australia Rugby League|
Rugby union west of the line
|State / Territory||Northern Territory||South Australia||Tasmania||Victoria||Western Australia|
|Governing Body||Northern Territory Rugby Union||South Australia Rugby Union||Tasmanian Rugby Union||Victorian Rugby Union||RugbyWA|
(Super Rugby: 2011–present)
Melbourne Rising 2014 -
National Rugby Championship
(Super Rugby: 2006–2017)
2014 - National Rugby Championship
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