Monday, April 28, 2008

Tasmania to get an AFL team?

Some further discussion of AFL representation in Tasmania is warranted. Tasmanian people have stated that they are not very interested in supporting a Melbourne team, playing in Tasmania. Experiments over the last number of years have seen teams like Fitzroy, St Kilda and Hawthorn play "home games" in Launceston. There could have been a small chance for Fitzroy to relocate to Tasmania, but the AFL were in favour of them merging with Brisbane. Admittedly that was a very successful move for all involved, and the Brisbane Lions have been a very successful team.

It remains to be seen how successful the new teams on the Gold Coast and Western Sydney will perform, or how good their supporter base will be. The AFL are prepared to put a lot of money into making their expansion endeavours successful. It seems the AFL were waiting more than a few years for a Victorian team to choose to relocate. It was obviously the AFL's preference. North Melbourne stubbornly resisted this, and that could be their demise in the end. North Melbourne supporters were making stupid decisions back in 1896 before the formation of the VFL. In an 1896 VFA game their supporters bashed the umpires and players after they were unhappy with the result. The VFL decided they did not want North Melbourne in 1897 when they formed. Now, North Melbourne supporters chose not to relocate to the Gold Coast, and will probably miss out on staying in the AFL too.

Hawthorn have enjoyed their relationship with Tasmania, so much so that when St Kilda pulled out of playing two games per season there, they increased their schedule to four games in Tasmania. The Tasmanian government have enjoyed this relationship too and have chosen to be Hawthorn's major sponsor. So their current corporate name is the "Tasmania Hawks." Tasmanian supporters however would like a team that they can truly call their own. If the Tasmanian government are serious about having an AFL team in Tasmania, then their best bet is to lure a Victorian team to move there. Hawthorn, may not be the club to do that, because they are financially strong now. Yet the management of Hawthorn is undoubtedly smart enough to do what is necessary for the long term survival of their club. It seems that there is a big enough niche for them to survive in Melbourne.

North Melbourne have already proven themselves too stupid to make a move, they flirted with the idea in Canberra, Sydney and the Gold Coast over many years. This leaves the three other candidates for a possible relocation as St Kilda, Footscray and Richmond. St Kilda may have shown their disinterest, may not be out of the running. The Tasmanian government need to put forward a deal to a Victorian club that will be more than attractive, that they would be stupid to stay in Melbourne, a deal that would guarantee their long term survival.

Basic mathematics would probably show that in a pro Aussie Rules state, it takes around 500 000 people as a demographic foundation to support a professional AFL team. Perth and Adelaide have a population of around 1 million each and they both have 2 AFL teams. They can probably not support any more than this in the next decade or two. Geelong do extremely well to support their team with a population of 350 000, but then it could be argued that regional south western Victoria make up the rest of the 500 000. This leaves Melbourne with a population of 3.5 million. At 500 000 people per team, Melbourne is probably capable of supporting 7 teams at strength. This means that 2 teams may not survive. Tasmania's population is 500 000 over all. The state is the smallest and people are prepared to drive a couple hours to watch an AFL match. Launceston is able to support 4 games a year at strength, but they may not be able to support 11 games a year. But if Launceston could support 4, they could possibly manage 5 or 6. Likewise Hobart, with a slightly larger population could support at least 4 games. Therefore, arguably Tasmania could easily support a minimum of 8 games a year if split between the two cities. They could possibly support 11 games.

If Tasmania is to lure a Victorian team to change their name officially to Tasmania, i.e the Tasmanian Hawks, Tigers, Devils, Saints or Bulldogs, then the team could play 8 home games in Tasmania, and perhaps 2 or 3 "home games" in Melbourne. This would please their Melbourne supporters and ensure that the team would not be too heavy a financial load for Tasmania. As Tasmania's population grows, they should eventually be able to host a full season of home games. Tasmania may not be able to convince the AFL to let the Devils advance to the 1st division, but they may be able to convince a Victorian team to relocate. The AFL will hardly be able to argue with that, if a Victorian club choose it of their own will. The final question remains, will any of the Victorian clubs be smart enough, or will they eventually disappear from the AFL altogether?

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