THE Launceston City Council is taking the fight up to the AFL to ensure Hawthorn continues to play at least four games in the North, warning cutting a game from the fixture would economically and socially devastate the region.
The council fears the AFL is aggressively pushing a new arrangement that would reduce the number of games played at Aurora Stadium from four to three when the existing $15 million state government sponsorship deal with Hawthorn expires in 2016.
``Our clear understanding is that the AFL is seeking a three-game Hawthorn arrangement and a three-game North Melbourne arrangement in Hobart and that the two agreements coincide in their expiry date,'' council general manager Robert Dobrzynski said yesterday.
Launceston Mayor Albert van Zetten is determined to secure a minimum of four games, while pushing for a fifth game, by forming a united front with the Hawthorn Football Club and the state government.
``If they all agree then it's very hard for the AFL to go against something that's working,'' Alderman van Zetten said.
The council has been in discussions with Hawthorn and the state government about renewing the existing deal and believes both parties are supportive.
Alderman van Zetten said Tasmanian football fans were taken for granted by the sport's governing body.
``They know they've got the market in Tasmania,'' Alderman van Zetten said.
``From that point of view I don't think they really care about games in Northern Tasmania from a business sense.
``I care about it because the people here love it and are passionate about it.
``I think that's what's more important than just the big picture of where the dollars are and where the AFL wants to grow the sport.''
The council and Hawthorn have commissioned Price Waterhouse Coopers to assess the social and economic return of AFL games in the North to bolster its case.
As part of the assessment PWC is surveying members of the crowds at Hawthorn's games at Aurora this season.
The final report, due at the end of this season, will provide updated figures from a 2010 report that estimated the return to the region was $58 million a year.
Replacing Hawthorn with a different AFL team, such as North Melbourne, was also not an acceptable option.
``If they played games up here they would be starting with a very low level of support in the region and perhaps some animosity if the Hawthorn deal was somehow removed from the state unilaterally.''
The council, as the manager of Aurora Stadium, is seeking to be a formal party to the negotiations between the state government and Hawthorn.