The long-awaited Carter report on the potential AFL expansion into Tasmania has outlined a range of options for the state to enter the league, but there are hurdles to overcome.
The AFL released the report authored by former AFL Commissioner and ex-Geelong president Colin Carter on Friday - a comprehensive response to Tasmania's most recent case for its own AFL club.
In perhaps the biggest step forward for Tasmania's case, AFL chief executive officer Gillon McLachlan confirmed that it was the view of himself and the AFL Commission that having a Tasmanian club was "the right thing to do".
So what does the Carter report actually say?
The three options
The Carter report detailed three potential options for Tasmania: to become the 19th AFL team, to have a team relocate from Melbourne, or to have a Melbourne club be involved in a club sharing arrangement with Tasmania.
McLachlan ruled out relocating the Gold Coast Suns.
The report raised a range of challenges should the 19th club option be pursued for Tasmania, which it conceded would be the most popular approach for fans, but not necessarily for other clubs.
"But it may not be the best option for Tasmanian football and achieving the required two-thirds support of the 18 AFL clubs may also be a challenge," the report reads.
The report was more positive about the possibility of relocating an existing club, pointing to the success of the Sydney Swans following the relocation of South Melbourne.
Such a move would remove the "start-up" challenges faced by Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney, who endured several years of heavy defeats. It would immediately have more than 40,000 members and on-field success provided it had draft concessions as well, with access to a club's existing list.
"A combined Tasmanian and Victorian support base would position the new club in the middle wealth ranks of AFL clubs, a formidable competitor on and off the field," the report reads.
"This might involve a Victorian team committing to a 'two market' strategy, playing most of its 'home' games in Tasmania (wearing the Tasmanian jumper) and playing most of its 'away' games in Melbourne where its Melbourne-based members have 'home game' privileges."
If relocating a club was considered, the AFL would have to take a long-term view and accept opposition from supporter groups, Carter believed.
But there was one positive: the other 17 clubs would support it, as it would not affect fixturing and would be the least disruptive way of adding a Tasmanian club.
"Victorian clubs that struggle to keep up should look at this seriously," the report reads.
"A commonly held view is that a 'relocation' is unlikely because club members will have the final vote. But other possibilities have been floated - such as a 20th team from northern Australia or forming a Tasmanian team through a joint venture between Tasmanian interests and a Victorian club - 'One Club, Two Cities'."
The Carter report found that the Tasmanian club would be profitable if it receives $17 million per year in AFL distribution - minus a media uptake of $4 million - and funding from the Tasmanian Government of between $7 million and $11 million per year.
The cost of running an AFL club was about $31 million per year, with COVID adding a $3 million to $5 million hit.
The report pointed to the success of major sporting competitions in Europe and the US where huge clubs and smaller clubs coexist.
Carter believed a Tasmanian club would fit economically into the AFL.
"It 'automatically' leads to a further $25 million or so being raised in Tasmania from match attendees, members, sponsors and Government. This will be invested in Tasmania, helping to secure football's future," the report reads.
A estimated 38,000 members would place the Tasmanian club in the same per-capita range as most other clubs.
No other club would be worse off, either.
"The extra eleven games per season will produce an additional $17 million which offsets the (preCovid) AFL Distribution of $17 million," the report reads.
Carter reached a positive conclusion in regards to the financial viability of a Tasmanian club - it would be in the middle of the bottom third of AFL clubs, but not at the bottom.
"Importantly, the numbers still work. Along with an AFL Distribution of $15 million, an increase in the Government support from $7.3 to $9.6 million per year is still inside the range of Government support outlined by the Task Force," the report reads.
Is there enough AFL talent to support a Tasmanian club?
Again, the Carter report was positive in assessing whether the player talent and numbers existed to support a Tasmanian club.
One more team would add 5 per cent more players to the total pool, but population growth and lengthening player careers could cover this.
But will Tasmania have a retention issue, given it would be more reliant on interstate talent than other clubs?
Carter believed on-field success would be critical to this, and the best way to ensure success would be relocating a club.
"If the club is successful, the 'retention' argument fades because the evidence is that players will stay at a good club. But it becomes an issue if the club has too many poor years after start-up," the report reads.
"Relocation of a Victorian team - if any team views that as an option - would substantially address start-up challenges and bring a strong membership component."
The report was also positive about Tasmania as an attractive place to live - Hobart, at least.
A survey of AFL players found that nearly half believed Tasmania should have a team.
What happens to Hawthorn and North Melbourne?
Hawthorn and North Melbourne's contracts to play four games a year in Tasmania have been on hold while the state awaits a commitment from the AFL for its own team.
Both clubs have expressed their desire to continue playing home matches in Tasmania, although they have faced criticism for only playing matches in Launceston and Hobart respectively that would have made a loss if they were played in Melbourne.
It means Tasmania generally receives low-profile matches against non-Victorian clubs.
But strong crowd figures for Essendon's visit to Launceston and Geelong's match in Hobart - as well as a quick sellout of the later-cancelled Collingwood match - demonstrated how locals would turn out in force to see the bigger Victorian clubs.
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The Carter report believed Hawthorn would comfortably cope without matches in Tasmania.
"These clubs should be treated respectfully as they withdraw. Both clubs will need new revenue sources although the impact on Hawthorn may be minimal because returns from games moved back to the MCG have improved," the report reads.
It did not name specific clubs that could be considered for relocation, however AFL media commentators have suggested that it could put the most pressure on North Melbourne and St Kilda to prove their cases for remaining in Melbourne.
The stadium question
The report did not spend much time assessing specific details of stadium requirements, believing this was more a matter for the state government.
It found that a "stadium strategy" would be needed and "significant investment will be required".
"The Task Force correctly argued that a 'clean' stadium is important and that the stadiums in Hobart and Launceston should not be too large because that will undermine the new club's economics," the report reads.
UTAS Stadium is set for significant upgrades in the coming years, however.
So what about the North-South rivalry?
Carter was unconcerned.
"The north-south rivalry is real but won't necessarily undermine support for a team. Tasmania supports its Sheffield Shield and Big Bash cricket teams. The early signs are that it will support its basketball team in the NBL," the report reads.
"Football leaders in the north and south of Tasmania express commitment to a team based in Hobart but sharing games with Launceston."
Where do we go from here?
The AFL would need to answer this question: are relocation or a "joint venture" realistic options?
If not, then the 19th team option would need to be looked into, although this had a range of shortfalls.
Carter was commissioned by the AFL to write a review of Tasmania's task force report into a case for an AFL team. The task force was led by former Virgin Australia chief executive officer Brett Godfrey.
The Carter report will be considered by the AFL Commission at the end of this year, with the ongoing coronavirus disruptions likely to be a key consideration in assessing how to progress Tasmania's bid.
To be granted a 19th license, at least three-quarters of the 18 clubs would need to vote in favour in a formal vote. At least one club - the Gold Coast Suns - has been outspoken in its opposition to a Tasmanian club.
It would also require the support of players.
"Discussions should take place with the AFLPA about the player requirements to be provided for the team as well as a possible financial contribution to be made by players. This issue might be addressed through reducing list sizes for all teams," the report reads.
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