Tasmania looks certain to bid for a provisional AFL licence by the end of this year as one of a raft of recommendations that have emerged from the Hodgman Government-appointed task force.
In a significant step forward in the push for a stand-alone team, task force chairman Brett Godfrey told The Age that a provisional licence would demonstrate a degree of certainty to the state as it builds a strong business case for an AFL team with a potential 2025 entry into the national competition.
"A provisional licence would be contingent on certain things happening," said Godfrey, whose working party met in Hobart on Friday on the eve of Tasmania's last home-and-away game for the 2019 season.
"It would be subject to us submitting a compelling and sustainable business case that we can actually add value to the AFL and not simply existing to take from the pie.
"It doesn't mean when and it doesn't mean how but it does provide a good degree of certainty.
''Wouldn't a provisional licence be the logical next step?''
Godfrey, the founding chief executive of Virgin Australia who is now a key player in Tasmanian tourism, pointed out that the yet-to-be-established Tasmanian Devils VFL team has already been granted a provisional licence. The AFL granted Gold Coast a provisional licence in the years leading up to their AFL establishment in 2011 and there has not been a case where the granting of a provisional licence by the league hasn't led to a permanent place in the competition.
While the bold move would not guarantee Tasmania a stand-alone team it would underpin the resolve of the Hodgman Government as it moves towards shorter-term and potentially reshaped agreements with Hawthorn and North Melbourne.
It would also give the government and its highly motivated taskforce some certainty of Tasmania's place at the head of the queue for a potential next AFL club as the state gets behind the national bid.
In recent weeks Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett has again privately mooted walking away from a new deal with Tasmania should it forge ahead for a bid for its own AFL side.
The taskforce is due to present its findings to the Tasmanian Government in December but looks certain to demonstrate its belief that a stand-alone team could not only survive but thrive, potentially by 2025. In a separate development the AFL has been exploring extending the broadcast rights agreement by two years until the end of 2024.
In a series of developments in Tasmania it is understood:
- The taskforce is working towards the creation of a viable AFL team model with an annual turnover of $50 million.
- It will push to delay the launch of a second-tier state team until 2022 in a bid to better develop local talent, a move at odds with AFL Tasmania, which is working towards a 2021 deadline.
- Former St Kilda champion Nick Riewoldt has been charged with looking at potential player-retention issues in his firm belief Tasmania could be developed as a destination club.
- There is strong backing for the establishment of a new stadium and training facility at Hobart's Macquarie Point with home-and-away games divided between Launceston and Hobart.
- The taskforce could recommend the establishment of a board of directors to oversee the Tasmanian Devils - a name registered with the AFL, currently a fledgling under-age team competing in the NAB under 18s and run by AFL Tasmania.
- Potential new deals with Hawthorn and North would prioritise game development in the state.
The taskforce has already spent time in Queensland looking at the Brisbane Lions' successful academy model and plans to investigate in some depth the highly successful Geelong Football Club and its ascendancy over the past two decades under Brian Cook at GMHBA Stadium.
Riewoldt has emerged as a key mover within the taskforce and in the Tasmanian AFL bid. The recently retired St Kilda champion took part in Friday's task force talks and has been focusing on player retention.
Riewoldt, a native Tasmanian, has remained firm in his view that the potential 19th team could ultimately become a destination club. Brendon Bolton, who has temporarily retreated from the public eye since departing Carlton, is also working behind the scenes in the football development space.
HAVE YOUR SAY:
The taskforce also includes former Woolworths chief Grant O'Brien, Football Tasmania director Julie Kay, former GWS executive Paul Eriksson, Dynamic Sports and Entertainment Group boss James Henderson and Launceston-based business leader Errol Stewart.
The view of the task force is that an annual turnover of $50 million would place the Tasmanian Devils as a middle-ranked AFL team, which would prove sustainable and not reliant over the long term upon head office hand-outs.
The preliminary findings of the Godfrey-chaired working group appear to have the cautious support of AFL chief Gillon McLachlan who in his first year at the helm of the competition declared a one-team model preferable for Tasmania.
The same cannot be said for Hawthorn, whose president last week described the "endless ongoing discussions" as "debilitating". In an open letter to Hawthorn members Kennett added that the research into the viability of a stand-alone Tasmanian team "takes everybody's focus off getting on with the issues we are charged to address".
But Hawthorn chief Justin Reeves told The Age: "We would love to see a team in Tassie and we also think this current model works really well."
Kennett and Reeves held talks with the task force in Launceston earlier this month and conveyed the message that they could move to depart Tasmania if the state pushed ahead with its bid for a stand-alone team. The Hawthorn view was that it could reap the same or a better financial result by playing more games at the MCG.
The five-year, $19 million deal expires at the end of 2021 and does not involve the financial incentives for winning finals and grand finals that led to an extra $1 million being paid by Tasmanian taxpayers to the Hawks during the previous agreement.
The prevailing view at grass-roots football level is that the Tasmanian Government should push both the Hawks and the Kangaroos to invest significantly more into game development in the state as part of any future agreement. Hawthorn and Tasmania are contracted to re-open negotiations in March next year.
Do you know a junior sports star who calls Northern Tasmania home? Nominate them today.