AFL team would 'unify' Tasmania, Saul Eslake says

AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan and former AFL Tasmania chief executive Scott Wade
AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan and former AFL Tasmania chief executive Scott Wade

A Tasmanian AFL team would unite the north and south of the state, economist Saul Eslake says.

Mr Eslake was a member of the former Labor government’s AFL steering committee, which was tasked with campaigning for a Tasmanian team in 2008. 

Earlier this month, Premier Will Hodgman called for the AFL to relocate the beleaguered Gold Coast Suns to Tasmania, even getting into a fiery back-and-forth with club chairman Tony Cochrane on Twitter.

The Suns have since won their past two matches, including an 86-point drubbing of Hawthorn.

Mr Eslake said it had been the AFL that had held Tasmania back from securing a team, treating the state with “something that borders on contempt”.

“Because football is so widely and passionately supported in Tasmania, the AFL seems to take the view that there is no upside, financially or otherwise, for the AFL in locating a team here, compared with the potential gains that they see in colonising parts of Australia which do not have the same historical tradition of supporting AFL,” Mr Eslake said.

In February, outgoing AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick claimed that Tasmania had not received a team due to the perceived rivalry between the north and south of the state.

Mr Eslake said Mr Fitzpatrick’s comments were “disgraceful”.

“The AFL has been consciously encouraging rivalry between [West Coast] and Fremantle, Port Adelaide and Adelaide, Sydney and Greater Western Sydney,” he said.

“In other states they encourage it, here they use it as an excuse.”

A Tasmanian team, Mr Eslake said, would be “a way of unifying the state”.

“It would be something all Tasmanians would get behind,” he said.

Mr Eslake was of the view that the majority of a prospective Tasmanian team’s games should be played in Launceston, so as to provide greater access for north-west residents.

He also believed it would be less costly to bring Launceston’s University of Tasmania Stadium up to full AFL standards than it would be to do the same for Blundstone Arena in Bellerive.

Mr Eslake said the economic impact a Tasmanian AFL team would have on the state would be significant.

He said games against big-market teams such as Collingwood and Richmond would attract large numbers of visitors to Tasmania.

“You’d have people coming down for those games from Melbourne in a way that they don’t come from Port Adelaide or Western Sydney or the Gold Coast,” Mr Eslake said.

He equated the potential impact of a Tasmanian AFL team to the success of Dark Mofo.

“[It would] keep people coming here when a lot of the rest of the time they don’t,” Mr Eslake said.

Opposition sport spokesperson Michelle O’Byrne said a Tasmanian team would not just “fall in our lap”.

She noted Labor had called for the establishment of a Tasmanian AFL academy in 2015.

“An academy would be the launching pad for a Tasmanian team in the AFL and make sure there’s a clear path to the highest level for our young players,” Ms O’Byrne said.

She also said Tasmania should be active in trying to get an AFLW team.

The Premier said Tasmania was primed for an AFL team.

“We love our footy and have produced some of the game's greats,” Mr Hodgman said.

“Tasmania's economy is strong and business confidence levels are high.

“We are a hotspot destination for investment and the nation's premier tourism state.

“Why wouldn't companies want to support a Tasmanian team?”

In 2015, a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report found that Hawthorn’s partnership with Tasmania in the 2014 home-and-away season generated $17.5 million for the state.

Meanwhile, the North Melbourne Football Club’s partnership with Tasmania was “conservatively” estimated to have contributed $43.7 million to the state’s economy in 2015, according to a report compiled by the Institute of Project Management.