When sports administrators want to expand their game, naturally the first places they head to are major cities. But after teams are parachuted in to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, why do we always ignore Tasmania?
The Big Bash League has placed a team in Hobart, and home games for the Hurricanes are always big spectacles. The success of having a cricket team in Tasmania shows that expanding into the island can be successful. None of the football codes, however, have shown any interest in doing so.
The island is an AFL state, and crowds tend to flock to games whenever they are taken there. Despite this, the AFL has prioritised Sydney, Brisbane and the Gold Coast – reaching into NRL heartlands, rather than rewarding AFL fans.
Melbourne has a population of about 4.5 million, and supports 9 AFL teams. These teams also face competition for crowds from rugby league, rugby union and soccer, yet are still successful. Surely a team for the 0.5 million Tasmanians would also be a success, especially since there is no competition from other football codes?
The A-League could be a prime candidate to give Tasmanians a team to follow. There are currently only 10 teams in the competition, but an appetite for expansion is there. Soccer in Australia has also been successful in regional centres – just look at the Central Coast Mariners. There is also already a team in Wellington, so the travel would not be an issue.
The NRL is also very expansion minded, and is keen to exploit rugby union’s abandonment of Perth. They should explore the prospect of having a Tasmanian team at the same time. Given that games in Sydney are often watched by 15,000 or fewer people, how much worse could the figures be in Tasmania?
The state is generally mad for AFL, but if people are given a choice between supporting whoever happens to be in town occasionally from one sport and their own team in another, it should be possible to draw crowds.
Even rugby union could get in on the action. The project of expansion in Super Rugby in Australia may have failed, but that doesn’t mean grassroots expansion can’t still happen. Putting an NRC team in Hobart could be a good way to build up interest in the 15 man code.
The Melbourne Rebels could also rebrand as the Southern Rebels and share home games with Tasmania. Additionally, Rugby Australia is launching a bid for the 2027 World Cup, and if it is successful some pool games could also be played in Tasmania.
Tasmania is often forgotten by sports administrators, but it shouldn’t be. Professional teams are viable in regional centres like Newcastle, Canberra, the Central Coast and North Queensland. Why would Tasmania be any different?