Bleak future for Tassie’s bid

May 28, 2016

AFL match between the North Melbourne Kangaroos and the West Coast Eagles at Blundstone Arena in Tasmania (AAP Image/Rob Blakers)

I’m a proud Tasmanian and I love my footy, but I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever see my home state have a team it can truly call its own.

In Hawthorn and North Melbourne, we have two part-time tenants who play seven regular season home games each year in Tasmania between them and for that, footy fans in the Apple Isle are very grateful.

Next Friday night, a huge milestone is reached when North Melbourne and Richmond play the first ever Friday night match in Hobart at Blundstone Arena.

Now, trust me on this one, Blundstone Arena at night is cold in the middle of summer, let alone during the winter months.

But so keen were fans to catch a piece of the action that all tickets were quickly snapped up. The match is a sell-out.

While football followers are pleased to be able to watch top-level football on their doorstep, it is just not the same as the ultimate prize of having their own team pull on ‘‘The Map’’.

The closest we have got was the Tasmanian Devils, a team that played in the second-tier VFL competition from 2001 and 2008, before the concept was abandoned and the state body decided to re-form a state league.

The Devils had varied success, but made finals several times and attracted a crowd of 10073 to a home final at the above-mentioned venue.

To put this into context, an AFL game last weekend featuring expansion team Greater Western Sydney Giants and the Western Bulldogs in Sydney saw only 9612 people attend.

There is a very real possibility that GWS could win this year’s flag.

The sad part is that if this happens, few will actually care.

Attendances for a home game like the one mentioned above are not abnormal, they are common.

After entering the competition in 2012 and due to generous draft concessions, GWS now have the best young developing list in the competition and are chock full of talent.

The AFL expanded into the Greater Western Sydney and Gold Coast areas because it wanted to tap into a market dominated by other sports, mostly rugby.

Ironically, Tasmania’s greatest hindrance to having its own team in the AFL is the fact that it is a footy-mad state.

The AFL knows it has a captive audience in the state to our national game and does not need to try and convince Tasmanians to love it.

Not even a change in leadership at the AFL — from Andrew Demetriou to Gillon McLachlan — has made much difference, although the latter has at least appeared more sympathetic to Tasmania’s cause.

But fans dreaming of a Tasmanian team were dealt a blow in August last year when McLachlan said while Tasmania deserved its own team, he did not believe the state could support it financially.

That suggestion has been refuted by many, including leading economist Saul Eslake, who said if five million Victorians can support 10 AFL clubs, he could not see why 500000 Tasmanians could not support one.

With the AFL’s expansion into two target areas in the last decade to make the competition 18 teams, further expansion does not appear likely any time soon.

It seems to be a matter of if, not when Tasmania will be granted its own team in the AFL and if it is when, it’s a question of decades, not years before it comes to fruition.

I can only hope it happens within my lifetime.

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