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AFL expansion to continue?

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Although slightly off the topic of international Aussie Rules, the AFL's plans for expanding the game in Australia play a role in their global vision. Overall the AFL has downplayed its international ambitions, making it clear that the states of New South Wales and Queensland are its priorities in the short to medium term. As such it is very much relevant to international footy that Australian Rules continues its successful push into those states, ultimately generating more resources, and freeing up existing ones, for global development.

Growing the Aussie Rules base in Australia ensures that the game has a healthy future from which to assist international development. Furthermore, the greater the numbers involved in Australia, the more support international leagues will find within Australia, and a greater percentage of future expatriate Australians who will have the passion for the game to get involved when overseas.

From this point of view it is very pleasing to see that the AFL is positioning itself to take advantage of the rapid population growth that continues in south-east Queensland. With millions of dollars being poured into developing footy in the state, it seems obvious to locate a second Queensland club in the Gold Coast region. Although there is no public timetable to have an AFL club based there, the AFL has moved to ensure that Carrara Oval is available for top level footy. Formerly the home of the Brisbane Bears/Lions, before their move to the Gabba ground in Brisbane itself, the Gold Coast facility would be the obvious venue for a future south east Queensland side. It appeared possible that the oval would be lost to the game, as the Gold Coast City Council were considering re-developing it into a rectangular configuration to suit sports such as Rugby League and Union. The AFL has now offered to contribute AU$1 million to bring the stadium up to AFL standard, and is planning on scheduling several games per year there. It is clear that the Gold Coast City Council expect that a future AFL club is likely. Whether that will be with a new licence being offered, or a relocation of an existing club, remains to be seen. Given the AFL's public relations disaster when Brisbane and Fitzroy merged, it's extremely unlikely that any club would be forced into a move, so a new licence or a lifeline of a re-location are the best bets.

Adding to the urgency of the "battle for SE Queensland" is the recent announcement by the Australian National Rugby League that the Gold Coast will join the NRL in 2007. With a population divided in loyalties, having a national competition team located there will draw a lot of fans, so the AFL may need to act quickly to capitalise on its investments. The Gold Coast's bid defeated those from NSW's Central Coast and Wellington in New Zealand. The team is expected to play at Carrara until a new 25,000-seat ground is built in nearby Robina, around 2008.

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AFL expansion to continue? | 2 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
AFL expansion to continue?
Authored by: Sean Finlayson on Sunday, August 28 2005 @ 10:04 pm ACST
Queensland and NSW are certainly a tough nut to crack. The AFL's latest census figures on football participation show a real problem with participation in these states which represent nearly half of the country's population, are growing rapidly and which suffer from heavy competition with other codes (league and union) which are well established. By comparison with other states, the participation in all levels of AFL is negligable in NSW. This state is the last piece of the puzzle that is the national competition.

Many people also forget that Sydney was the first interstate team, and they have made little relative impact over their 24 years playing there, yet when they first went there it was almost a given that with a population that big they were bound to be sustainable. For encouragement, the AFL often makes comparisons are made with the crowds of the Sydney Swans (averaging about 31,000 in 2005) and the average crowd of rugby league games (about 16,500 in 2005). This is not a true reflection of the participation rate for the code. These crowds are spread between about 11 NSW teams. As well as this, the AFL ignores the popularity of Union in NSW, which attracts average crowds of 30,000 to Super 12s and Internationals. As well as this, it must be considered that other interstate AFL teams from less populous states easily draw bigger crowds. Considering that Rugby League is most popular in NSW and Rugby Union is very popular also, even during Sydney's successful seasons, the AFL has been languishing in a distant third place, possibly even eclipsed by soccer. Not only do the Sydney Swans need to sustain success for many more seasons (possible multiple premierships like the Brisbane Lions) before people even start to take notice, but to maintain an icon player like Tony Lockett or big "bad" Barry Hall who represents the physical nature of our game. This is a big ask, since Barry only has a few playing seasons left in him. Unfortunately a second team, even if successful, is not going to help, especially considering the Swans early financial and support woes. If the AFL thinks that by sending big Barry Hall out to a few schools, they'll kickstart junior development in NSW, then they are wrong. Most kids would not even recognise him in the streets.

From my experience, people in Sydney (and to a lesser extent, Queensland) don't take a football code seriously unless it is played elsewhere in the world. Maybe it is like some sort of sense of security that they are not watching or supporting a dud. The AFL needs to take notice of the popularity of international Union and League in Sydney, and maintain a focus on international footy as a catalyst for getting Sydney people interested. Perhaps if big Barry Hall took his International Rules guernsey out with him to schools, some of that instinctive drive to play for your country might inspire some NSW kids to get into footy. The sad tale is that he has to play a compromised game of Gaelic football against Ireland, which although great for footy, won't be the real deal until we're kicking the oval ball. Noone could really take this as seriously as a kid dreaming to play union for the Wallabies against other sides that live and breathe the same game.

I think that if the AFL staged made a World Cup in 2011, or whenever, in Sydney a reality, with the right amount of promotion, they would get people turning up in droves, and a whole new generation of kids would grow up dreaming of "taking a screamer", kicking the winning goal after the siren from 50 metres out for their country. In my opinion, the AFL's focus on development of NSW is a lost cause. This would instantly achieve the same effect as wasting many millions of dollars and another 25 years on local development and the Swans at the expense of the game internationally. Unfortunately the AFL's stance represents the sort of backward, narrow and parochial atitude that will be it's downfall. Only sites like this one, and people like Ron Barassi who have spent some time coming to grips with the reality of football in Sydney (and put so much focus on grassroots international football), hold a glimmer of hope for AFL being a truly national - and international game.

By the way, the comment about visitors is interesting. Recently one of the cast of the popular US television series "Lost", which features Australia heavily was recently quoted as saying what he didn't like about Australia is that they don't play "football" (soccer) and that instead all people are interested in is rugby. Many people like this who visit Australia only see Sydney, and get little exposure to the Australian game, so there is little opportunity for them to spread the word.

AFL expansion to continue?
Authored by: Brett Northey on Monday, August 29 2005 @ 10:46 am ACST
Trouble is if the AFL staged a World Cup in 2011 with a full Australian side it would still trounce everyone else and perhaps make the tournament look a bit silly. Although it seems to be a long way off, we need to be patient. I'd like to see an All-Australian amateur side introduced at some stage but not sure when. I don't believe there are any plans to do that soon.

The AFL are well aware that the Sydney market has yet to be successfully captured to any extent. There are many reasons. Maybe it includes the lack of international dimension - it could only help.

Here's an article from a few months back in which Demetriou discusses the challenges:

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,12796761%255E2722,00.html

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Brett Northey - Co-founder of WFN, Chief Editor and Editor for North America and Africa