Why Tasmania’s never had an AFL Team – and why that won’t change anytime soon

Darrel Baldock, Ian Stewart, Peter Hudson, Royce Hart, Garry Lyon, Alastair Lynch, Matthew Richardson.

All the names of former AFL superstars born in Tasmania which inevitably get kicked around like a Sherrin whenever the debate over whether the state deserves its own AFL team invariably resurfaces. That and the fact Tasmania was the first place outside of Victoria to play Australian rules, with a playing history dating back to 1864.

The AFL has a long history of rebuffing bids for a club in Tasmania, and with every new team that is introduced elsewhere more salt is poured on a very open wound in the apple isle’s AFL community.

But is it reasonable that no Tasmanian football club exists in the national competition in 2016? Let’s consider a few key factors.


The Talent

Darrel Baldock, Peter Hudson, ‘Richo’… You get the picture: more than a few legends of the game have had their genesis on the football fields of the island state.

But to field an AFL team, having superstars that dominate the game popping up every couple of years doesn’t cut it. You need 22 superstars on the field every week, and at least 22 more in the reserves ready to take their place.

This is the main challenge Tasmania needs to be up to if it wants a club: The players coming out of the state leagues need to be good enough to match it with the men on the mainland.

I spoke to Aaron Cornelius, former Brisbane Lions utility and playing coach of TSL side Glenorchy, in 2014. He said a club made up mostly of local players would never happen. But then, it doesn’t need to.

“It’d be a mix of players from around the country doing that (being part of a Tasmanian club), and for that to work they’d need to follow the exact same model as GWS, where the AFL supports the club with priority draft picks.”

How long the potential team has to develop before you can start expecting on-field success also has to be established. If a club does comes to fruition, it needs to be challenging for a finals spot in a couple of years – a la Gold Coast – to prove its credibility at senior level.

Cornelius is adamant that to get a club playing at league quality, they first need experience playing against it.

“Tasmania needs to get a VFL side before it can look at the bigger picture. They had one (the Tasmanian Devils) a few years ago but unfortunately that’s no longer around.”

A few years in the VFL might also help a club avoid the baptism of fire Gold Coast and GWS had, where both club’s first two years were characterized by one-sided contests.


The People
Nowhere does the bid for a Tasmanian club make more sense than when considered from this angle: Tasmania is an Australian rules playing and loving state.

Participation figures from the AFL’s game department in 2007 showed there were 4,500 senior players and over 32,000 total participants in footy in Tasmania. Tasmania’s participation rate per capita is currently around 5%, the second largest behind the Northern Territory.

Cornelius points out the viewing audience for football in Tasmania is also the second largest in Australia.

“There’s a big following of AFL down here, definitely, and I’m sure many people here would love to be involved in a Tassie team.”

But the “people” argument is not without its faults: Tasmania is a state of two cities – Hobart and Launceston – resulting in a north-south rivalry over sports events that AFL has already felt the effects of. Where should the state’s team be based? Where should they train and play their home matches? Would one team be more likely to divide the state over football rather than unite it and if so, would it be better if there were two Tasmanian teams instead?

There’s also the question of who will be the soul of the new club.

Says Cornelius, “A football team is built on the people involved in the club. The life members, the past legends.

“That’s where I think it would be hard for a Tasmanian team: Would you use people from the state teams like Gary Linton, Peter Hudson and Alastair Lynch? Or people from the TFL? I’m not sure.”


The Money

Though they’ve used other arguments, this is the main reason the AFL has resisted bids for a Tasmanian club.

In the league’s view, starting a side in a state with poor location and limited supporter base is not likely to attract interest from major sponsors. Thus a TFC would only weigh down the competition that is now run for profit.

It’s a view that’s not infallible. The AFL was proved wrong on multiple counts when confectionery company Mars declared interest in becoming a Tasmanian club’s major sponsor in 2008.

The AFL’s argument regarding low supporter bases also had holes poked in it, when soon after it was announced the hypothetical Tasmanian team had secured over 20,000 potential members. By comparison, the Suns had 13,643 members in 2015, the Giants just under 14,000.

Ultimately, the biggest financial obstacle Tasmania faces in striving for an AFL team is the fact they are Tasmania, the consistent under-performer of the Australian states and territories financially.

If each state were a team, Tasmania would be the Demons of the past few years, fighting a losing battle to remain competitive with the mainland. Low population, negative growth and diminishing tourism revenue mean there’s no chance of this changing any time soon.

You could argue that the very introduction of a club would be a financial boost through interstate tourism, but it doesn’t really stand to reason: Why have the supporters of one interstate team make the trip down to Tassie for matches when you’ve already got supporters from two sides coming down?

Thus, you have to wonder where the state is going to find and maintain the $30 million it costs each year to run a footy club. And that’s just the average – big clubs like Hawthorn and Collingwood easily rack up expenditure bills in excess of $40 million annually.

Economic issues also relate to another factor in the argument for a Tasmanian club.


The Growth

Cornelius recalls a meeting he and several other Tasmanian-based AFL representatives had met with Andrew Demetriou in the months after the two expansion teams were announced.

“I was at the Lions when that was going on, and we actually got spoken to by Demetriou about the reasons they went with teams in the Gold Coast and Western Sydney,” he said.

“I actually asked the question at that meeting ‘Will there be a side in Tasmania?’, and Demetriou said the AFL was only really looking at putting new clubs in growth areas.

“The league thought they could get in those markets and create more interest in the game, whereas in Tasmania that interest is already there and can’t really be built on any more than it already is.

“There were about five other Tassie boys in the room that day, and none of us had a leg to stand on by the time they’d finished giving us the facts. And I reckon if the footy public had heard what we did in that meeting, there wouldn’t be much of a debate about this.”

“What I took away from it was that the AFL doesn’t need to take a team to Tasmania to get people to buy into it.”


The Verdict

There will not be an AFL side based in Tasmania, at least not in the next 10 years.

The way the AFL is run now, with profit and growth being the ends that justify the means, putting the next team in Tasmania just does not make sense, even if rewarding a state for its unfaltering support of the game does.

“They call it the national game,” Cornelius observes, “and I think it’d be fantastic if there was a senior team down here.

“But I don’t think that’s in the AFL’s near or mid-term plans for the future.”

About Alex Darling

Melbourne-born, Horsham-based footy fan. Lover of the Saints, classic rock guitar and good writing on each of these topics.


  1. Rabid Dog says

    The Money. Hmm…Take a few bucks for the BS GWS and GC franchises, get Port to pay back some of what they have been given, fine Essendon a correct amount for destroying themselves, and there’s more than enough money for a team. Maybe two. For years to come.

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