The AFL’s decision to schedule a series of eight potentially low-drawing matches for Tasmania in 2023 has been described as “crap” by a former premier, as talks over the state’s own licence drag on.
- Hawthorn will play North Melbourne, Adelaide, West Coast and the Western Bulldogs at York Park, and North Melbourne will take on Port Adelaide, Greater Western Sydney, Melbourne and Gold Coast at Bellerive Oval
- Labor leader Rebecca White questioned the economic return for the state’s investment, saying the AFL “hasn’t done us any favours with that fixture”
- AFL attendance in Tasmania has fallen away significantly in recent years following a peak in 2016, but support in Tasmania is still similar to other mainland states
The Tasmanian government this year extended its estimated $5 million-per-season sponsorship arrangement with Hawthorn by another 12 months, while the Spirit of Tasmania’s deal with North Melbourne remains until 2025.
As part of the deals, both clubs play four home matches per season in the state, but they have long faced criticism over Tasmania only receiving matches that were likely to be commercially unviable if played in Melbourne.
The AFL released its 2023 fixture over the weekend.
Hawthorn will play North Melbourne, Adelaide, West Coast and the Western Bulldogs at York Park, and North Melbourne will take on Port Adelaide, Greater Western Sydney, Melbourne and Gold Coast at Bellerive Oval.
Former premier Peter Gutwein was heavily involved in the AFL bid before his sudden resignation in April, including first floating a proposed stadium for the Hobart waterfront in his state of the state address.
On social media, he described the schedule for Tasmania as “crap”.
“Should send this lot back so they can have another go,” Mr Gutwein wrote, referring to the eight matches.
Labor leader Rebecca White questioned the economic return for the state’s investment, particularly in relation to the Hawthorn deal.
“I have to say, the AFL certainly hasn’t done us any favours with that fixture,” she said.
“Given that the northern games really are about events activation in the winter months to stimulate the northern economy, some of those fixtures for the north really are a bit of a let-down.”
Federal Liberal MPs oppose stadium
AFL attendance in Tasmania has fallen away significantly in recent years following a peak in 2016 when Bellerive Oval averaged 15,649 and York Park averaged 13,855.
These figures were helped by North hosting Richmond and Sydney in Hobart, and Hawthorn playing Carlton and St Kilda in Launceston.
Since then, the vast majority of matches have involved lower-drawing clubs.
The average crowd at Bellerive Oval dropped to 5,402 in 2021 and 7,140 in 2022, while York Park averaged 8,765 in 2021, but this rebounded to 12,060 in 2022 driven by strong crowds for matches involving Sydney, Western Bulldogs and Brisbane.
Despite crowd figures dropping, support for the AFL in Tasmania is similar to other mainland states.
A 2021 AFL fans survey showed 42 per cent of the Tasmanian population were “core” fans of the sport, compared with 47 per cent in Victoria, 45 per cent in South Australia and 44 per cent in Western Australia – and far above the 25 per cent in Queensland and 23 per cent in NSW.
Mr Gutwein has remained out of the public debate since his resignation but has become increasingly vocal on social media, including slamming the federal Liberals over their stance on the stadium.
Almost every federal Tasmanian Liberal MP – including senators Jonathon Duniam and Claire Chandler, and lower house members Bridget Archer and Gavin Pearce – have expressed opposition to the need for a stadium.
Statewide polling of 2,500 Tasmanians in October found 67 per cent were opposed to the stadium, 16 per cent in favour, and the rest neutral.
The question led with the proposed $750 million price tag, which could have partially impacted the result.
Despite appearing to struggle to gain broad public support, senior Tasmanian minister Guy Barnett said the cabinet was fully supportive of the stadium.
“The government’s made it very clear, and the premier, that we support the proposal, that’s why we’re doing the feasibility study, that work is underway and will be made available in due course,” he said.
“We are united as a government.”
The Tasmanian government has an in-principle commercial agreement with the AFL, whose CEO Gillon McLachlan believed the Tasmanian public would come around to the stadium idea.
A final feasibility study is due to be released in early 2023.