Capping the AFL at 18 teams
It’s round 14, 2009, ‘the battle of the unbeaten’. AKA the greatest home and away game of the modern era. Not only was there an extreme hype around the game, and not only was it a nail biter, the quality of the footy was impeccable and it was amazing to watch.
Fast forward a decade and the ‘aesthetics’ of the footy we see now don’t come close to competing with what we saw then.
Yes, it can be put down to coaching tactics and the ‘evolution of the game’ and a whole host of other variables, but the glaringly obvious reason we don’t see footy now like we did then is the expansion of the competition.
Two teams doesn’t sound like much but that’s 94 players that wouldn’t have been on AFL lists a decade ago. We’re already seeing the talent pool dilute as a result of this, and the bigger the competition the thinner the depth and the further away we get from the footy's ‘peak’ almost 11 years ago.
One argument for further expansion of the competition is that the growth of teams and listed players is proportionate with the growth of our population. Whilst this does have some validation, shouldn’t we be striving to constantly improve the standard of our competition and not maintain it at a steady plateau?
Tiresome comparison is made between the AFL and America’s sports models. “The NFL has 32 teams, why can’t we have more?”
America’s population is more than 12 times the size of Australia’s. There’s 1,696 rostered players in the NFL. Compared to Australia, there’s 846 AFL listed players. The AFL has around half the number of players the NFL has yet only a twelfth of the population to choose from. The numbers speak for themselves.
Another downside of expanding the competition is more compromised drafts. If existing teams are relocated this isn’t a concern.
In the wake of the financial knockout COVID-19 has delivered to the AFL, and the ripple effects we will see for many years, relocating or expanding will be off the agenda for the near future. When the AFL has recovered enough for this conversation to be on the table again, relocating will be a much more viable option with less money in the game.
Gold Coast to Northern Territory
The Gold Coast is known for its surf, theme parks and lifestyle. It’s most definitely not known for its successful sporting teams.
Like a mouse trap, cheese substituted for fantasies of a thriving sports team in the tourism capital. Codes are lured. The burning desires to fulfil their fantasies masking reality.
The Brisbane Bears were originally based on the Gold Coast before being relocated after facing a host of issues.
In rugby league’s first venture to the Gold Coast, the team underwent four facelifts – Gold Coast-Tweed Giants, Gold Coast Seagulls, Gold Coast Gladiators and the Gold Coast Chargers – before eventually falling apart.
The NBL established the Gold Coast Cougars in 1990, they were renamed to the Rollers and by 1996 had their license revoked. The NBL had another crack with the Gold Coast Blaze which didn’t fare much better, only surviving five seasons.
The A-League’s Gold Coast United lasted a grand total of three seasons before having their license revoked too.
It’s beyond a painstaking process. An ever-present instance of déjà vu. Crash and burn. Crash and burn. Crash and burn. Those at AFL house completely oblivious. More than happy to inject millions of dollars to keep the life support running on an experiment that has already outlived its lifespan.
Cyril Rioli, Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, Shaun Burgoyne, Peter Burgoyne, Nathan Buckley, Michael Long and Andrew McLeod. All household names, some even cult heroes, adored and loved by many.
Players like this will be lost on the game forever, without drastic action to save the game in the Northern Territory.
In 2010, 27 Northern Territory players were on AFL lists. By 2019, that figure had dropped to just 13. More than a 50% decline, that shows no signs of slowing down.
As part of their generous assistance package, Gold Coast were gifted access to the provision of Darwin region as an academy zone.
The Northern Territory doesn’t need its best talent shipped off to a battling club with a deplorable support base and little interest. The Northern Territory needs its best talent living, training and playing right there in the Northern Territory.
Inspiring a new generation of indigenous talent that bring a whole new dimension of skill and entertainment to our great game, not to mention diversity.
Australian rules football has been found to have a direct correlation to improving school attendance, mental wellbeing and lowering crime rates in the Northern Territory's participants.
With the state’s best talent on show, right there for the kids to see. Imagine the spike in AFL participation and what this could lead to.
More kids in school, more kids happier and healthier, more kids staying out of trouble. For every Cryril Rioli or Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti, we could have 10 producing magic on the big stage. Putting more eyes on TV screens and more bums on seats around the country.
Any chances Gold Coast have of improving, are continually stalled by promising talent walking out, the ‘go home factor’. This wouldn’t be an issue in the Northern Territory since it will be home to the core of it’s playing group.
The Gold Coast Suns already have the Darwin region academy zone, an expanded rookie list, their crop of 2019 draft picks including Matt Rowell and Noah Anderson, extra picks in upcoming drafts, and a dwindling support base. Making them a perfect fit to revive the sleeping giant that is the Northern Territory’s AFL community.
North Melbourne to Tasmania
Tasmania deserve a team, there is no questioning it. They deserved a team back in 2010 and 2011 when the AFL decided to expand into rugby league heartland.
A team in Tasmania is sustainable, and crucial to keeping footy alive there. As proven by the AFL taskforce’s 268 page report into a Tasmanian team.
Thankfully, it appears a Tasmanian team is inevitable. If the ideal scenario comes to fruition and no new teams are introduced, a small Victorian team has to be on the cards for relocation.
Every club has die-hard fans that would fight tooth and nail for the survival of their team, whether it be liquidation, relocation or mergers.
The brutal truth is we have too many Melbourne-based teams. 10 teams from one state in an 18 team ‘national’ competition is an unsustainable model.
As heartbreaking as it is, livelihoods have to be sacrificed for the benefit of the AUSTRALIAN Football League.
A Melbourne team has to make the move to Tasmania, and North Melbourne is the perfect fit. They have the smallest membership base of any Melbourne club, and already have a foot in door at Tasmania.
Their AFL team plays four of their eleven home games in Hobart as it is. Their AFLW team is the North Melbourne Tasmania Kangaroos, having joined the AFLW in a joint bid with North Melbourne and Tasmania.
What it would look like
The Northern Territory Suns and the Tasmanian Kangaroos.
The shift from the Gold Coast to the Northern Territory is relatively straightforward. Gold Coast has team has never experienced success, has the smallest supporter base in the AFL and has only been in existence for 10 years. Meaning you don’t have those rusted on die-hards that have lived and breathed Gold Coast their entire life.
The Northern Territory Suns would mainly play out of TIO Stadium in Darwin, with two or three games in Alice Springs and one at Metricon Stadium.
They would retain Gold Coast’s guernsey, maybe with some added significance to the Northern Territory or even a complete indigenous themed one like those we see in Indigenous Round.
The Northern Territory is a sport-starved state, and the Suns would be their only professional team. They wouldn’t be competing with any other AFL clubs, or even any other sporting codes. Meaning they could comfortably exceed Gold Coast’s 13 000 members.
The team would have complete access to all provisions of the Northern Territory as an academy zone. This means a large portion of the AFL’s Northern Territory talent would end up on the team, giving it an identity in the Northern Territory and nullifying player retention problems.
It would be a challenging process, but hopefully indigenous stars would be lured to the Suns. Clubs affected by this would be offered AFL compensation, and potentially receive players who aren’t keen on moving to Darwin.
Relocating North Melbourne to Tasmania is where it gets complicated. It’s a very fine line trying to give the Tasmania a team they feel is their own, whilst maintaining some North Melbourne heritage so North supporters still feel like it’s their team too.
I’ve gone with the Tasmanian Kangaroos, and they would play with the traditional Tasmania green, gold and red ‘map’ guernsey but keep a kangaroo as their mascot etc. An alternative to this would be to go with the Tasmanian Devils, but play in North’s blue and white stripes. I feel the former is more beneficial since Tasmanian’s feel a strong sense of pride and connection with the ‘map’ guernsey and it really resonates with them.
Of their eleven home games, the Tasmanian Kangaroos would have a 50/50 split between Hobart and Launceston, playing five games in each. They would return to Marvel Stadium to play one home game each year wearing North’s blue and white stripes in a homecoming of sorts.
They could also offer a special ‘Melbourne Membership’, incorporating the one home game and all their Melbourne away games, allowing North supporters to still support and contribute to the club in Melbourne.
In terms of membership numbers, if Tasmania achieves the taskforce projected 38.4k members. They would just need 4000 of North’s 42000 members to sign up to the ‘Melbourne Membership’ to break even with the current North Melbourne membership numbers
This new model would give the AFL a nine-nine split. With nine teams in Victoria and nine teams interstate – two in Western Australia, two in South Australia, two in New South Wales, one in Queensland, one in Tasmania and one in the Northern Territory.
Shifting the scales from the current ten-eight spilt and making the competition truly national without sacrificing the talent pool. There would be a team in every state and territory except for the ACT, which is Giants territory.
The Northern Territory and Tasmania would fall in love with footy again, and the participation growth in the states would be astronomical to say the least, only further improving the standard of our great game.
Whilst there will certainly be downsides, challenges and controversies with relocating two clubs. These will be far less significant than those of establishing two new clubs from scratch, and far more beneficial to the game we love.