Almanac Footy Opinion: It’s time…for a Tassie team in the AFL

 

 

 

 

By Tim Harcourt

 

There’s been momentum building for the nineteenth Australian Football League (AFL) licence to be given to Tasmania. After all, Tassie is Aussie Rules heartland with a history going back as far as Victoria and the other heartland states of South Australia and Western Australia. They have an authentic and obvious nickname the Tassie Devils (the state cricket team are already the Tassie Tigers), original colours of rose, green and gold (that won’t clash with any other team) and well established grass roots support in Hobart, Launceston and all across the Apple Isle. They have produced a Parthenon (Tim’s choice – Ed) of champions from Laurie Nash, Darrel Baldock, Brent Tasman ‘Tiger’ Crosswell, Royce Hart, Peter Hudson, Ian Stewart, Alistair Lynch, Nick and Jack Riewoldt, Brendan and Michael Gale, Robert Shaw, Rodney Eade and Matthew Richardson to name a few, and terrific grass roots footy leagues and supporters.

 

Of course, the ‘spiritual’ or emotional case for Tasmania has always been strong. After all, it is a footy state. But it has always been overlooked by the Victorian Football League (VFL) then the AFL, who have always been looking to expand into the non-traditional AFL states of New South Wales and Queensland with growing populations and potential TV audiences. Tasmania was regarded as too small, too poor and as an already a ‘captured’ market not worth giving a licence to. The arguments about Tassie joining to make the game truly national were dismissed as emotional. As though we had to do a cost benefit analysis when Tasmania joined Federation.

 

But the tide is now turning. For a mixture of reasons. Tasmania’s economy has improved, Tasmania’s population is growing and the establishment of tourist attractions such as Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and the Dark Mofo Festival are signs of Tasmania’s new confidence. Tasmanian Tourism growth since MONA has seen a 45 per cent increase in visitors and 63 per cent increase in visitor spend in just under a decade. That’s why the AFL Licence Taskforce, chaired by former Virgin Australia CEO Brett Godfrey made a business case on economic grounds rather than purely traditional or emotional grounds.

 

Of course, in the unusual economic of sports, economic and social benefits often overlap and competition is not like pure competition (especially as your output depends on the other team being successful, hence the draft and salary cap). The AFL also has a history, of cross subsidisation (“Football Socialism” as former Carlton President John Elliott used to call it) often for non-economic (but good) reasons.

 

For instance, would you establish AFL Women’s League (AFLW) on purely economic grounds? Probably not. And we know AFLW has been heavily subsidized by the AFL. But there are good social reasons to do it to help boost female participation in sport and to strengthen grass roots footy clubs by having girls’ as well as boys’ teams. And whilst AFLW was established first on social grounds, in the long run it could well bring in economic benefits. Look at the amazing crowds when the AFLW first started. And that was when admission was free. As they can charge entrance, the players’ wages can rise and the game can grow and there will be no need to subsidize AFLW over time.

 

Also, if you designed a national competition from scratch would you ever have 10 out of 18 teams from one state? Would it be economically viable? Probably not. But this is the historic legacy of the old VFL deciding to graft on non-Victorian teams to its league instead of developing the National Football League as a true national competition from inception (and idea proposed by some South Australian football administrators in the 1970s). The VFL wanted to preserve its Victorian clubs as much as possible and only lost two (South Melbourne moved to Sydney and Fitzroy moved to merge with Brisbane). As a result, there’s lots of cross subsidisation going on to help the struggling Melbourne Clubs, and the expansion Clubs Gold Coast Suns and GWS Giants (just as the Swans received and the Brisbane Lions in the early days of re-location).

 

It was often said that Tassie is too small and too regional to have a team. But as the Taskforce points out the Tassie Devils would be similar to the very successful on and off the field regional team, Geelong in the AFL, or the North Queensland Cowboys based in Townsville in the National Rugby League. Geelong has a population of 264,866 (Greater Geelong) which is bigger than Hobart, 232,670 and Townsville 195, 930 and Launceston 68,813. And despite the population of Geelong and Townsville being 6 per cent of their league’s average catchment area their average crowd is higher than the leagues (10 per cent higher in the case of North Queensland) and their TV audience is higher (41 per cent higher than the League average in the case of Geelong. The Tasmanian AFL team would be comparable to these regional teams but would be boosted by having two main cities, Hobart and Launceston and a whole state to draw support from.

 

A good comparison, is to the famous case of The Green Bay Packers in the National Football League (NFL) in the USA where a team from the little town in northern Wisconsin won the first two Superbowls after dominating the league for years, so much so the Green Bay is known as ‘title town’. Green Bay only has a population of 104, 068 and Wisconsin is only 5.8 million bit the Packers attract a huge 15 million plus TV audience and are one of the most watched teams in the NFL. They also traditionally shared home games between Green Bay and Milwaukee (like Hobart and Launceston) and play preseason games around the whole state of Wisconsin as the Tassie Devils could potentially in preseason NAB Cup Games.

 

Of course, why should Tasmanian taxpayers pay for Hawthorn and North Melbourne to play in Launceston and Hobart respectively when they could have their own team? The largely pro-Essendon crowd, in the game against Hawthorn at York Park in Launceston shows that Tasmania has not really taken the Hawks or Kangaroos to heart despite years of trying. In fact, 62 per cent of Tasmanians stated they would attend more matches of they had a genuine Tasmanian team to barrack for.

 

And the idea that Tasmania is a ‘captured market’ is not quite as cut and dried as the AFL used to think. The lack of an AFL team has seen a drop in junior football participation rates (particularly among boys), and less Tasmanian talent nominating for the draft. Could the AFL by refusing Tassie its own team be leaving the field vacant to soccer or basketball? The new basketball team, the Tasmanian Jack Jumpers could be a test of this hypothesis. The entrance of the Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash domestic cricket league has seen a huge boost in cricket participation by boys and girls and cricket ‘passion’ in terms of spectator support. The Tassie Devils could so for do for local footy participation and passion in the winter what the Hurricanes have done for cricket in summer.

 

Finally, Tasmania is the only state in the Federation without an AFL team. It’s going to be hard for the AFL to be a truly national game without Tasmania. And there are now sufficient economic and social reasons to include Tasmania in the AFL.

 

As the Premier of Tasmania Peter Gutwein has himself said:

 

“There is no doubt that the inclusion of a Tasmanian team will not only stack up financially and provide our young men and women with a pathway to play football at the highest level, but will also complete the AFL by making it a truly national competition.”

 

It’s time for…the Tassie Devils!

 

 

 

 

Tim Harcourt is Industry Professor and Chief Economist at IPPG at UTS. He grew up in South Australia and has played and coached Aussie Rules footy in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. He is the author of The Airport Economist (www.theairporteconomist.com) and Footynomics. Tim is also the host of The Airport Economist podcast on Listnr. His new book The Airport Economist Flies Again! was published by Cambridge Scholars on 1 June 2021. His next book is on the Economics of Sport.

 

Data Source: AFL Licence Taskforce Business Plan 2019 Prepared for the State Government of Tasmania.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I’m 2/3rd through Mick Warner’s book The Boys’ Club – the overwhelming theme is that the AFL is never ever allowed to be seen to be wrong – certainly in the post-Wayne Jackson years. Until they work out a way to spin it, the introduction of Tassie might remain in the Too Hard Basket.

  2. Rick Harley says

    Tim
    Very good analysis. If you haven’t done so already read The Boys Club by Mick Warner. As Swiish has said it is a very insightful commentary about some bad decisions of the AFL.
    Time has come to abandon the Suns “ experiment “ and reinvent it in Tassie .
    I am old enough to remember when Tasmania pressed for a cricket team in the Sheffield Shield . No one can suggest it has not been successful – indeed much more so than South Australia !
    Cheers

  3. Rod Oaten says

    Get rid of the embarrassing , bottomless pit of money Gold Coast Metre Maids and give Tassie the go ahead.

  4. Hard to argue

  5. I’m all for a Tasmanian team but 19 teams is a step too far. 18 teams was a step too far – dilutes the talent pool – but we can’t put that genie back in the bottle.
    I’m thoroughly sick of the privileged Victorian bully boys (with 10/18 of teams already) kicking sand in the Gold Coast weakling faces. I find Tony Cochrane’s arguments convincing about the increased penetration of Aussie Rules into South East Queensland schools; burgeoning population & wealth etc.
    For all the talk of Royce and Richo I reckon SE Queensland has produced more AFL footballers than Tassie in the last 10 years.
    Tassie should come into the AFL immediately – with the exit of North Melbourne or St Kilda basket cases.

  6. Dr Rocket says

    The Gold Coast is Australia’s 6th biggest city.
    It must continue to have a team for the sake of the future of the game on a national basis.
    Same for the Giants, who will ultimately be a powerhouse. It might take another 20 years.

    Apparently the Tassie case stacks up on an economic basis according to my snout who is a professor in Accounting…
    but not at the expense of the Suns!

  7. Dan Hansen says

    A team is Tassie is not going to increase braodcast revenue, and therefore wont happen. The CEOs have always been driven by their “growth of the game” bonus. Oakley got a nice bonus for getting West Coast, Brisbane Bears, Fremantle and Adelaide into the comp. Jackson was rewarded for getting rid of Fitzroy and getting Port Adelaide into the league. Demetriou got a healthy bonus for getting Gold Coast and GWS in and McLachlan is banking on the AFLW giving hima huge “growth of the game” bonus. Unless you change the metrics and KPIs linked to the top brass’s bonuses a team in Tassie is not going to happen based on history on sentiment alone.

    https://www.afl.com.au/news/43422/full-statement-competitive-balance-deliberations-and-agm

    “Mr Fitzpatrick said the package for AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou, including superannuation, was $1.47 million. The CEO was also paid a performance bonus, based on achieving key performance indicators, for an overall total 2013 package of $1.8 million. In addition, the CEO received a $2.0 million long term incentive bonus associated with his leadership role in achieving several key metrics including the $1.25 billion broadcast rights deal, the expansion of the competition and the completion of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.”

  8. CITRUS BOB says

    Much like peter B the only way Tasmania will get a team is for either St.Kilda – North Melbourne to merge or one of them to be exited.
    Too much at stake for the AFL to include an unworkable 19 team competition.

  9. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    The Fitzroy/Bears merger was on Ross Oakley’s watch Handbag, as was the groundwork for Port’s admission.

  10. There’s way too many clubs coming out of Victoria. HAWTHORN should be made to relocate to Tasmania, the Suns and North Melbourne should be forced to amalgamate and possibly relocate to either Darwin, Alice Springs or perhaps Canberra. There should be a team in Northern Territory whether it be the Suns / North Melbourne or one of the other Melbourne clubs..

  11. Dan Hansen says

    True Swish, Oakley’s did all the groundwork for the Bears/Fitzroy merger and Port’s admission, but Jackson was rewarded when he negotiated the next broadcast rights deal. Jackson was the least aggressive of all the CEOs in the last 30 years, and didn’t seem to be motivated by his “growth of the game” clause as much as the others. He was also a strong believer in the 16 team competition and I’d be surprised if he would support a 19th team in Tassie. As time has progressed the CEOs have seemed to become less “visionary” and more motivated by self-interest.

  12. The time might be right for a Tassie team. I guess Richmond could relocate and become the Tassie Tigers . Our (Richmond) past players from the Apple Isle: Hart, Roach, Richardson, Stewart, Gale (Brendan and Michael), Riewoldt- makes for a handy forward line anyway!

  13. Rulebook says

    Plug v interesting article 1 thing I would love to know is how much the Hobart v Launceston etc rivalry hurts
    Tasmania overall.My mail and I trust it implicitly is that,Cadbury knocked the afl back re being the chief sponsor years ago which cost,Tassy entry.

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