Australian Rules football has a long and successful history in Australia. Around the world the game has been much slower to take hold, but is now clearly doing so in several countries, with over 20 others starting to show promise too. The United States is one nation where the game has gone beyond the tenuous year to year situation in which an exodus of expat Australians could see the game disappear. But behind all the growth in the last 10 years, for any given city it usually (but not always) takes a keen Aussie to get the game started. Many such fledgling clubs start brightly but what next? In some cases they will become powerhouse clubs, the foundation from which large metro leagues emerge and support strong sides competing in interstate leagues. But in other cases they will slowly fade away. In hindsight we can look back and speculate where a club went wrong, or just wonder what could have been. No one knows in advance.
Aussie Rules has grown steadily in the US since first getting off the ground in 1996. It is easy to overlook how recently the game has been recently in that country. The sport's current strength is individual clubs scattered around the US, but increasingly the clubs are developing social reduced player number "metro" leagues to support the game. Now it appears the next step in growth could be in the college system, the corner-stone of US professional sport.
Salt Lake City, in Utah, has made some attempts at getting an Aussie Rules side together since 2003 but so far there has been no resulting game time. With a recent Arizona influence, hopes are up not only for a full side but also a metro league.
The long awaited exhibition match between the AFL's North Melbourne and an undetermined AFL side, now planned for the 2006 Australia Week Festival in Los Angeles, California, appears to be firming. Several aborted attempts have been made in recent years to get this off the ground, but a story this week in the Herald Sun suggests the match is increasingly likely to go ahead.
One of the big stories of international Aussie Rules in 2004 was the news that the USAFL had signed a three year broadcast deal with new company All Sports Television Network. The agreement involved ASTN recording and broadcasting selected US Footy matches on free to air television in the United States. There had been an expectation that the All-Star East versus West games in Dallas in May would have been telecast by now, and the delay is causing considerable disquiet in the US Australian football community. World Footy News discussed the current situation with the USAFL's Scott Hunt.
For the second year running the premier Aussie Rules leagues from Canada and the United States will meet head on when the Mid-American AFL send a side north to play an Ontario AFL selection in Toronto, Canada.
The 2005 US Western Regionals, a main focus of the season for US clubs not part of the MAAFL or EAFL, has seen the Denver Bulldogs again stamp their authority on American Aussie Rules footy. They've also released footage of their demonstration game at an Arena Football League match.
The Ontario Australian Football League in Canada's east has been that country's stronghold of Aussie Rules for the past 17 years. Based on the playing numbers and teams, it appears as though that region has stabilised for now. What is encouraging is the continued work to expand the number of clubs in the fledgling footy provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.
In the few short years that Aussie Rules has been played in the United States, one thing has been consistent - change. Each season sees new formulas tried to speed the spread of the game, or at least consolidate the impressive gains so far. 2005 has seen the emergence of the Eastern AFL (possibly described as a merger of the NEAFL and SEAFL, or an expansion of the NEAFL). The East coast will be hoping this new league can go on to rival the successful Mid-American AFL (MAAFL). But for many of the western US sides, a two part regional tournament will be their focus in 2005, with trips to Denver and Canada on the cards.
James Brunmeier, of University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire and the Milwaukee Bombers, started playing Aussie Rules in 2003. Since then he has rapidly developed as a player, making the US Revolution national squad and winning the 2005 Macquarie University Australian Football Scholarship to attend Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.