AFL set to snub Tasmania
THE AFL appears certain to snub Tasmania from its major expansion by reiterating its priorities lie in the north, despite the island state's call for its licence submission to be judged on its merits.
Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon formally launched his state's bid for its own side today, meeting with AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou and asking to be granted either the 17th or 18th team licence within the next four years.
Lennon said Tasmania had the history and support - both emotional and financial - to warrant its own AFL side and that the state's population of about 500,000 and love of Australian football put it on equal footing with the AFL's desired areas of expansion.
The Tasmanian government plans to present a detailed submission - including potential support base for the side, financial backing, game attendances and junior growth areas - to the AFL this year to try to persuade the league.
But Demetriou made it clear the AFL was still eyeing off Australia's major growth areas of south-east Queensland and western Sydney as the regions best-placed to grow the game and issue licences in 2011-12.
He said the AFL was respectful of Tasmania's contribution to the game - it produced champion players Darrell Baldock, Royce Hart, Peter Hudson, Ian Stewart and Matthew Richardson and also hosts Hawthorn home games - but its potential for growth could not match the other regions.
"We said we'd welcome a submission if they wanted to put one forward, but we reiterated that our key priorities and the two markets that we have identified going forward are south-east Queensland and western Sydney," Demetriou said.
"The Gold Coast and western Sydney provide us with great opportunities to grow our game, to give us a national footprint, and that's what we're focusing on.
"Football is moving forward in Tasmania.
"Does that translate into a new licence? No, not at this stage, because our view is that the two key priority markets are the Gold Coast and western Sydney."
While Tasmania will argue it can get the whole state behind its side and gain the financial support to sustain a team - provided by the government if necessary - the league believes it can increase its television viewership by creating bigger foot-holds in the two non-traditional Australian rules states.
Demetriou said the AFL had investigated the merits of establishing a new team in Tasmania, but everything pointed north.
"We are where we are," he said.
"The two fastest-growing corridors in Australia are western Sydney and south-east Queensland. That is an economic fact.
"You've only got to speak to leading demographers ... that's where the population is shifting, it's where the economy is being driven out of, it's where major corporates are being based out of, it's where the major media markets are.
"These are facts, not something the AFL has created."
Tasmania's bid to join the AFL was today supported by Hudson and broadcaster Tim Lane, who said the state could achieve in football what it had in cricket - punching above its weight to become competitive and eventually win trophies.
Lennon said Tasmania's biggest advantage over rival markets was its footballing culture, as a side in the Apple Isle would immediately gain support from across the state without having to establish itself like an AFL side in rugby league territory would.
But while he maintained Tasmania had the economics to support a side, Lennon made no apology for using the emotional argument as the basis for his state's submission.
"We will be asking the Australian footy public to support us in our drive to have this a truly national competition," he said.
"Football is more than a business, it's part of our very being, it's in our blood and been played in our state since 1864 ... if you're going to regard yourself as a truly national competition and have a national identity, than you must allow the game to be played at the highest level in every state of the nation.
Lennon said Tasmania was confident of attracting crowds similar to the 20,971 who watched Hawthorn and Richmond play in launceston in 2006.
Tasmania's submission also has the support of Hawthorn, who host four home-and-away games at Aurora Stadium every year as part of a deal with the government that expires in 2011.
Tasmania has produced over 300 footballers to have played in either the VFL or AFL and there are currently 19 players on the lists of AFL clubs recruited directly from the state.