OP-ED: State Footy Debate not just a Numbers Game

Thursday 18 March, The Examiner



The question of whether Tasmania can afford its own football team, or continue contracts with Hawthorn and/or North Melbourne is a vexed one.

There are valid questions raised by people on all sides of the argument. Do we spend too much on football? Should this money be spent in our hospitals and schools?

Good questions, but it is irrelevant whether we spend money on our own AFL team or retain Hawthorn/North Melbourne, as this money comes from a different bucket to health and/or education and would not be redirected.

The recent Select Inquiry into AFL in Tasmania estimated the economic benefit of a Tasmanian team would be approximately $110m per annum and create more than 300 jobs. This team would cost approximately $45m to establish and require annual support of approximately $15-17m from the AFL and $7-8m from the Tasmanian Government.

Hawthorn’s current five-year deal in Tasmania, earns them around $3.8m a season from the State to play 4 matches at UTAS Stadium. Independent research conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers estimated that in 2017 (the year of the last major research piece) the direct economic return to Tasmania from Hawthorn’s Launceston games was $28.5 million. The amount North Melbourne gets paid per game at Hobart’s Blundstone Arena from TT Line is unknown, due to apparently “commercial in confidence”, but it’s understood the contract is slightly less than Hawthorn’s deal.

Partnerships with the Department of Health, the University of Tasmania, collaboration with the Department of Education, creation of a curriculum-aligned health, nutrition and wellbeing online schools program, the staging of state-wide high schools sports competitions for boys and girls, delivery of education content to TasTafe and UTAS students and a valuable partnership with the Premier’s Reading Challenge are some of the community programs being run or supported by Hawthorn in Tasmania.

Hawthorn also support the three Junior Football Associations statewide, Prospect Hawks Football Club, Northern Hawks Netball Club and AFL Tasmania in support of their grass roots programs such as Auskick, school clinics and coaching programs.

There is no denying Hawthorn has built a solid brand in Tasmania, particularly the north and north west and if they leave there will be a sizeable void to fill.

The focus on money however, is only part of the story as the social contract between clubs and their communities is integral.

At the National Press Club on 19th August 2015 Gillon McLachlan stated, “Tasmania deserves its own team, it just does. Their participation rates, their ratings, their attendance, they are as passionate as any State. Their numbers stack up with Victoria in my view, they deserve their own team.

The brutal reality right now, the economy and scale of growth mean they financially can’t support their own team playing 11 games, you need $45 million.”

The AFL project team headed by Brett Godfrey, who was co founder and Chief Executive of Virgin Blue Airlines and Chief Financial Officer of Virgin Express, focused on affordability and sustainability amongst other things in their report and conclusively found that Tasmania can afford and sustain its own team. Admittedly there will be a need to source other sponsors, but sponsors don’t have to have their head office in Tasmania.

When Emirates Airlines renewed its 20 year sponsorship with Collingwood in 2019 the Divisional Vice President, Australasia referred to our nations passionate sporting culture noting “Sport is an incredibly powerful connector of people, bringing them together for moments of success and triumph“. The Chairman and Chief Executive of the Emirates Airline Group doesn’t hail from downtown Collingwood, his residence and business head office is in Dubai.

When Mars Snackfood threw its weight and flagship chocolate bar behind Tassies bid for an AFL team in 2004 their sponsorship was to have been $4 million. Their general manager in announcing the sponsorship said “this is a great opportunity to support the underdog, it really is the people’s bid, this will be a people’s team.“

On top of such sponsorships Tasmania would have the luxury of spending the money it now gives to Hawthorn and North Melbourne on its own State team.

Interestingly though the biggest sponsor of all AFL teams is the AFL itself. In 2019 the AFL doled out $27,796,000 to cash strapped Gold Coast. GWS was next in line pocketing $25,544,000. Even Melbourne which was seventh on the list of AFL funding recipients, received $18,092,000.

To my mind, the question remains: how do we best serve Tasmania’s interests? For people who have no interest in football there has to be a defined benefit to our state and community for the money spent – something which is fed back to the community. Whether this comes from our own AFL team or a relocated AFL team will be one of the key questions, so I await with interest the results of the independent consultant appointed by the AFL.

Independent Launceston Legislative Councillor

Rosemary Armitage MLC

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