End of the Line for the Tassie Kangaroos - where next for Tasmania?

A football is yet to be kicked by one of the new girls on the AFLW block, the awkwardly named North Melbourne Tasmanian Kangaroos, however, the latest AFL venture into Tasmania has already reached the end of the line as a dismal failure.

While previously rejecting a relocation proposal more than eighteen months ago to play nine games in Tasmania, North Melbourne – of the men’s variety – have now not only squashed the most generous relocation offer ever handed down by the AFL (seven games in Tassie and twelve in Melbourne plus recruiting rights for the whole state) but have now also publicly ruled out increasing the amount of Tasmanian games beyond their current total of four. So, this is it? This is the end of the mountain climb for the AFL’s ideal Tasmanian team?

The decades and decades of campaigning, funding and pleading leads us to this moment, this destination. Four games played in Tasmanian by a foreign team in foreign colours and half of a thrown together women’s team that does not really feel as though it belongs to them? What a spectacular failure and letdown for a state who deserves better by the AFL.

North Melbourne should not be playing in the AFL Women’s competition under a Tasmanian alias. Why are the reaping the rewards of the Apple Isle when all Tasmania are receiving are the crumbs of a cake the Kangaroos are trying to have – and eat too? The AFL, through establishing a Kangaroos Tasmanian team, albeit in the AFLW, have put into concentre that North Melbourne will be the “single team representing Tasmania” that CEO Gillion McLachlan is seeking, not Hawthorn, and certainly not Tasmania itself. Why did they not seek a greater commitment from North before doing this? Or at the very least ensure that they open-minded about increasing their involvement with Tasmania in the future?

The AFL have now placed themselves in an extremely tough spot. There will not be a new Tasmanian side enter an expanded 19-team competition before the new broadcast deal in 2023, despite the hopes of a disenchanted state. So, where does that leave them if North Melbourne are reluctant to go beyond four games? That completely rules out any form of relocation. Does the AFL then proceed with their plans of only one club playing games in Tasmania and once again offer Hawthorn, who have occupied Tassie since 2001, $8 million to abandon the state? An offer in which outspoken President Jeff Kennett said he would take “over his dead body”. If North becomes the “single team representing Tasmania”, the Tassie fans will see just four games per year, down from the eight they will see in 2019. That’s hardly a good outcome for anyone.

Hawthorn President Jeff Kennett has told the AFL, in the manner in which you would expect, that they should “put up or shut up” in regards to a Tasmanian team. To be fair to Kennett, it appears that he has “put up” the most for Tasmania, somewhat making up for his lack of “shut up”. Kennett has offered the most attractive proposal for Tasmania, as if he were to convince his board at Hawthorn, he would relocate the Hawks to Launceston and play five games per year (three in Hobart and two in Launceston) provided the AFL schedule them nine games at the MCG. Considering the AFL offered North Melbourne twelve games in Melbourne as part of their relocation offer, it’s hardly an unreasonable demand. While five games and a permanent training base is more significant than anything North Melbourne is prepared to stump up, the AFL can’t have the Tassie Hawks if the AFLW has the Tassie Kangaroos, surely? The arrangement is complicated enough as it is already.

It does beg the question though; why are the AFL so keen to push North Melbourne to Tasmania when Hawthorn are dying to stay there? Hawthorn have played games in Tasmania for the last eighteen consecutive seasons - surely they have dibs? Yet, only North Melbourne was offered a women’s team on the sole proviso that it was in conjunction with Tasmania. The only explanation is that the AFL understands the vulnerability of having nine clubs based in the one city, and that North Melbourne, along with St Kilda, are the most underperforming club off the field in Melbourne. Whereas, Hawthorn are already an off-field powerhouse in Melbourne.

It seems that the AFL have backed the wrong horse here. However, that is not to say Hawthorn are the noble servants of the Apple Isle that they claim to be. Despite, the experts such as lawyer and Bulldogs President Peter Gordon and leading economist Saul Eslake confirming that a Tasmanian AFL team is now financially viable, Kennett continues to shout from the rooftops any possible reason he can think of, against a Tasmanian team. Kennett does not believe the Tasmanian economy is strong enough to handle an AFL team. However, Labor have committed to providing $25 million in funding towards a Tasmanian team if they form government at the federal election in May. This is around what the AFL puts in to the Gold Coast on a yearly basis. If the AFL are consistent this puts us at $50 million already, before incorporating membership, sponsors, ticket sales, merchandise and potentially even Kennett’s beloved pokies money – meaning we are well over Gillon McLachlan’s estimate of $45 million for a new Tasmanian team. 

Hawthorn has certainly made enough out of their deal with Tasmania. When the club began playing games on the Apple Isle they were in financial disarray, five years after nearly being forced to merge with Melbourne. Fast track seventeen years later, and Hawthorn are financially one of the strongest in the competition, their involvement in Tasmania is a significant reason for this. Although, on the day Kennett announced Hawthorn wanted to remain in Tasmania, contrary to AFL wishes, beyond 2021, one of its official promotions left Tasmania off the map. Perhaps, at the maps down at Hawthorn, Tasmania is replaced by a dollar sign signifying their $3.8 million sponsorship.

So as the bickering continues between Hawthorn, North Melbourne and the AFL, the money continues to flood in. Hawthorn continues to parade its good work for Tassie, and in the same breath actively campaigns against their wish for a real team. North Melbourne continues to try to find the right balance between making the most money as possible for as little Tasmania as possible. While, the AFL seeks to place its dream comp into an eighteen-team framework as neatly as possible to optimise their most critical markets, which Tasmania simply isn’t. I think we are starting to discover why a relocated team simply is not going to cut it. How can Tasmanians be expected to support this team – when they are not even on their side? Four games, five games. At this point, who really cares?

All they are asking for is a team to love.

As everyone fights for themselves, who will fight for Tasmania?