North's deal is not good for Tassie

HOBART Lord Mayor Damon Thomas talked up the "significant and long-lasting benefits" for greater Hobart, the Tourism Council's Luke Martin said it would "make Hobart a happening and exciting place" while North Melbourne chief executive Carl Dilena wanted to "maximise the economic and social benefits for all Hobart residents".

And that figurehead in the fight against Tasmanian parochialism, Alderman Marti Zucco, added: "This result is another bonus for Hobart."

Four leading observers of the decision to get taxpayers to pay $600,000 to have the Kangaroos playing at Bellerive for the next two years, all happy to trumpet the benefits for the capital.

And why not, after all, the capital was footing the bill.

But what of the benefits for Tasmania?

At least Hawthorn's guernseys have the word "Tasmania" on them. North Melbourne's would just say "Hobart", or more likely "Ballarat" as that is where the club reaffirmed its interest in playing just four months ago.

To Hawthorn's credit, the club has always treated its deal as being with Tasmania as a whole. Its games just happen to be in Launceston.

The club's 2014 community camps were divided between North, South, West and East Tasmania taking in such outposts as Triabunna, Smithton, the Tasman Peninsula, Strahan, New Norfolk, Zeehan and St Marys.

Lance Franklin once said his fondest community camp memory was visiting Cape Barren Island while Sam Mitchell's favourite spot in Tasmania is Richmond.

North Melbourne's 2014 community camps were held in the same place as the previous five seasons — Ballarat.

When North Melbourne games were first locked in to Bellerive, there was concern up North that they could have a negative impact on AFL crowds in Launceston. The question of how many Hobartians would continue to drive four-hour round trips when they could get an AFL fix on their doorstep was largely dismissed as typical Tasmanian parochialism.

AFL head of marketing and strategy Andrew Catterall stated categorically that matches in the South would not be detrimental to those in the North.

The very next match at Aurora Stadium saw 19,217 squeeze in to watch Hawthorn play Sydney in a forerunner of that season's grand final.

However, since then, the venue has not come within 3000 of matching that size of crowd in 11 attempts.

In contrast, it had achieved the feat 10 times in the 14 preceding fixtures.

In those 11 matches since Sydney's visit (which was also Hawthorn's last loss in Tasmania), Aurora Stadium crowds have averaged 13,798.

In those 14 games preceding it, they were 16,895.

A negative impact of more than 3000 paying customers.

Two months into the Kangaroos' Tasmanian adventure, ahead of a clash with Hawthorn, coach Brad Scott conducted a press conference in Launceston, talking up a commitment to Tasmania in front of a club backdrop declaring Ballarat as being "destined for the AFL".

The undisputed couch-surfers of the AFL, the Kangaroos have played home games at an impressive 11 grounds, hosting games in Canberra, Gold Coast, Sydney and even Perth.

As economist Saul Eslake said in 2012: "I thought Tasmania stopped being a dumping ground for unwanted people in 1853 when transportation ended."

AFL Tasmania CEO Scott Wade has voiced a quantity over quality approach when it comes to AFL matches being played here, while AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan has made no secret of his preference for a one-team model.

With Hobart City Council locking its arrangement with North Melbourne into the existing timeframe of Hawthorn's deal with Tasmania, the odds on the Kangaroos becoming Tasmania's sole AFL tenant from 2017 onwards must have shortened dramatically.

Unsurprisingly, The Mercury's editorial on the North Melbourne vote continued the city-wide theme by being headlined: "The big winner is Hobart."

This was correct, but there is an even bigger winner.

That would be the AFL which has had to finance every step of the Giants' progress into western Sydney and the Suns' to the Gold Coast but has helped manufactured a scenario where Tasmanians finance AFL football in at least five ways.

Clarence residents help pay for the annual upkeep of Bellerive Oval while Launceston's do the same for Aurora Stadium, Hobart folk prop up the Kangaroos while all Tasmanian taxpayers pay for the state government's $18 million sponsorship of Hawthorn plus the state-owned TT-Line's sponsorship of North Melbourne, which The Advocate last week estimated to be above $1 million per year.

Tasmania's die-hard footy fans aren't simply wrapped around Gillon McLachlan's little finger, they are paying richly for the privilege and could yet be left with a club to whom loyalty is as alien a concept as finals football is to Melbourne.


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