Contributed by: Brett NortheyWorld Footy News is aimed primarily at the game outside of Australia, but the expansion of Australian Rules within the country plays an important role in the likely future of the sport.
Australian Rules football has slowly begun to spread around the world, particularly gaining momentum in the last decade. This is due to many factors, such as large numbers of expatriate Australians living overseas, the internet allowing people to organise leagues, and pay television beaming the game to people's homes.
Another important factor is the increased presence of the AFL as Australia's number one football league. The AFL was formed from the powerful Victorian Football League, by drawing in clubs from the existing heartland states of Western Australia and South Australia, expanding into Queensland, and the Sydney Swans being strengthened. The increased profile, particularly on television, saw a great deal of money come into the sport. Increased revenue was vital as many VFL clubs were struggling financially, as the league was already becoming a defacto national league (in terms of the country's best players being drawn in by generous salaries). Some of the new funds have been used to help the game beyond Australia, but primarily it is being pumped into winning the hearts and minds of Queenslanders and the people of New South Wales.
So the battle between Australian Rules, Rugby League, Rugby Union and soccer continues. If Australian Rules were to become the dominant sport in Queensland and NSW, the amount of money brought into the game would be staggering. Furthermore, less would be needed to be spent developing those regions (at least as a proportion of the total money in the game). Imagine the gains that could be made outside of Australia if the millions currently spent in the northern states was available for international development and promotion.
Two key battle grounds are western Sydney and Queensland's Gold Coast (or the greater south-east Queensland region, SEQ). There is currently great debate as to whether a new National Rugby League side should be formed on the Gold Coast (2007 is now the likely launch), and there is also talk of a Rugby Union Super 12 side. Some argue that if either code strikes now, it can win the battle for the area forever. It is certainly a critical point in the history of the sports, as all seek to expand at the same time as SEQ grows at a tremendous rate, thanks largely to a population shift from the southern states.
The two Rugby codes' decisions may well be influenced by what they perceive the AFL's intentions to be. It is common knowledge that several Melbourne based clubs continue to struggle despite additional AFL money, in what is a crowded Victorian market. Many believe it is only a matter of time before a club can no longer trade without a merger or relocation - they currently exist by the goodwill of the AFL. Is it for this reason that the AFL has asked that the redevelopment of Cararra Oval (the Brisbane Lions' old ground before moving to the Gabba) make allowance for Australian Rules games to be held there? And there are now AFL clubs actively discussing playing some premiership matches there in 2006, when the MCG will be unavailable at the start of the season due to the Commonwealth Games. Meanwhile the Southport Sharks, playing in the Queensland AFL, continue to seek an AFL licence.
Will the AFL make a move? Will the opportunity be lost, or is winning the Gold Coast an inevitability? Only time will tell, but the sooner Australian football completes its rise in Australia, the sooner its attention will turn more fully overseas.
World Footy News