AFL finally expands into Tasmania, but is it really a win for all stakeholders?
The state of Tasmania is known for its 150 years of adoration for Australia’s national game, though punters from the island state have had to make do with displaying their passion artificially.
Whether it has come in the form of hopping on the ferry to Melbourne or waiting around for traditional Melbourne-based clubs Hawthorn and North Melbourne to schedule home matches in Tasmania - footy fans in Tassie have never been afforded the right to back a true representative team and have always had to keep their connection with the sport at an arm’s length.
Tasmania has always been a sporting desert in a sense and if not for the Tasmania JackJumpers NBL basketball franchise, which only launched in 2021, the Tasmanian Tigers cricket team would remain as the state’s only professional sporting outfit.
Enter the AFL and outgoing CEO Gillon McLachlan, who completed what will likely be the final piece of his legacy for the organisation on the third of May, announcing that Tasmania will have the AFL’s 19th team from 2028 onwards.
Off the back of last week’s historic announcement made by the AFL, there has been ongoing debate among members of the FlowNews24 team as to whether the decision truly benefits all stakeholders of the AFL ecosystem.
Eddie Dadds from scplaybook.com.au, who regularly contributes to Flow FM’s sports programs, admitted last week that the move to secure an AFL team in Tasmania was the right decision for a multitude of factors.
“I think the AFL at times skews more towards seeing itself as an organisation that needs to operate to generate a lot of revenue and I think it needs to reign itself in a little more in that respect and have more focus on growing the game and bringing the game to communities and places that haven’t had teams or haven’t had the ability to watch AFL games,” Dadds said.
Dadds said in his weekly world sports segment that the AFL had missed the boat where Tasmania’s football development pathways are concerned, arguing that finances should take a back seat for the AFL’s next stage of expansion.
“I think the logical next step for the AFL has to be establishing a team in Tasmania.”
“Whether or not that team is successful, from a financial standpoint – that can’t be the be all or end all of whether they’re doing this, it has to be based on growing football in Tasmania.”
“Tasmania has generated a number of AFL stars…Jack Riewold, Nick Riewoldt, Matthew Richardson; I think that quality of player coming from Tasmania has just dropped off in recent years because, simply, the AFL hasn’t put enough time and attention into growing the game in Tasmania.”
Dadds emphasised that the island state has lost its footballing identity over the years due to the lack of representative team in the region.
“Local football over there (Tasmania) is suffering, they’re getting a Hawthorn or a Kangaroos game a couple of times a year, that’s not good for anyone really, at this point in time.”
“I’m excited to see, basically, a self-contained island get around a team.”
Ultimately, the author of this article agrees with the AFL supercoach guru Eddie Dadds, but for less parochial and more selfish reasons.
The most obvious way in which the AFL’s foray into Tasmania benefits all supporters of the game is through the confirmation that there’s simply now more football for everyone to look forward to.
With the general lack of appetite across the league for a bye round, most recently expressed back during the 2011 season, Tasmania entering the AFL will be the catalyst for a 20th team to eventually enter into the competition, guaranteeing punters 10 rounds of action every weekend.
In a challenging economic climate, particularly for younger fans in entry level jobs or still in tertiary studies, attending AFL football, as well as other social activities, has become less affordable, so at least there will be more football to enjoy on TV at home.
On the other side of the internal debate at Flow FM’s Roseworthy media centre, lies Clayton Bester, host of the Arvo Flow.
According to Bester, who is not fully opposed to Tasmania entering an AFL franchise, said the AFL lacks the financial coffers to experiment with small market franchises and would’ve been better off relocating a Melbourne-based club to Tasmania, with the Hawthorn Hawks being the prime candidate to fully absorb a fresh Tasmanian identity.
“I agree there should be a team in Tassie, it should be one of the Melbourne squads…we can see week in week out when teams do go to Tassie, they get a reaction from the crowds down there, the two teams – it should be North Melbourne or Hawthorn, I think Hawthorn have got Tassie on their guernseys now, so that should be the obvious choice, in my view,” Bester said.
“As top the level of teams, I don’t think getting up to 20 is a wise move, I don’t think there’s enough money, I really do not feel there’s enough money in the kitty.”
“I say that because at the end of the day, the ones who pay for it are us fans, it comes out of our pocket, which will go in higher fees for our memberships, it’ll be more for the guernseys and the hoodies and all that…we’re going to be paying more for just those simple things.”
As for Morning Show host Wayne Phillips, the argument for expansion into Tasmania serves only as a microcosm for a greater debate – why is there no serious talk of a reserves competition?
“We need the reserve grade to also be put around the country…I would be funding a reserve grade competition as a national AFL competition rather than a new team in Tasmania at the moment,” Phillips said.
However, Mr Phillips agreed that the prospect of eventually expanding into Tasmania was necessary and took the side of radio colleague Clayton Bester, suggesting a traditional VFL outfit should have taken up a Tasmanian identity to preserve the overall quality of the competition with less teams rather than a new franchise being greenlit.
“I think there is the need for a team in Tasmania, I think it should have been the relocation of one of the Melbourne-based clubs,” Phillips stated.
Those who are either completely against the idea of a full-time AFL team occupying Tasmania, partially in favour or undecided will need to finally accept defeat with last week’s confirmation of a Tasmanian entrant in 2028, though it is a visceral debate that will continue long into the future.