Canberra is the most logical option for the 20th AFL team


With a Tasmanian AFL license inescapable, the battle for the 20th AFL license intensifies.

Several regions have been touted for the coveted spot, with former AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou saying: “The most logical places might only be North Queensland, somewhere in WA, but most logically in slow”.

But one city continues to be unfairly ignored: Canberra.

Canberra is the only unrepresented city to regularly host multiple AFL men’s matches each year. No other city even comes close to being a logical destination for Team 20.

Andy thinks the NT makes the most sense, so let’s explore why Canberra makes more sense.

Demography

Numbers are boring, but they are important. Especially to determine what makes sense.

Canberra has twice the population of the NT – and three times the population of Darwin.

Although the offering covers the whole of the NT, it is important to focus on Darwin. The team would be based and play most of their matches in Darwin.

Similar to the Tasmanian bid, an NT team would share several games with the territory’s secondary city, but the two are polar opposites. Launceston (a city several times larger than Alice Springs) is only 200 kilometers from Hobart.

Alice Springs is 1500 kilometers from Darwin. Some fans can easily travel between Launceston and Hobart, but Darwin is well and truly alone.

Canberra-Queanbeyan has three times the population of Darwin – and another half of Darwin within an hour’s drive.

In terms of demographics, Canberra is the most logical option.

AFL fans

I know what you’re going to say next: ‘But nobody cares about the AFL in Canberra.’

Well, let’s be logical and look at the numbers.

Numbers of tipping.afl.com.au suggest Canberra may have four times as many AFL fans as Darwin.

No, seriously, listen to me.

Of the 290,310 participants on tipping.afl.com.au at the end of Round 5, the ACT had 2.5 times as many tipsters as the NT. If these figures were extrapolated to cities, Canberra would have just over four times as many registrants as Darwin.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/AFL Photos/Getty Images)

Tipping is not an absolute measure, but it is a large sample size that shows how interested a population is in a sport enough to be willing to devote part of their week to it. Note: the website was unable to provide official numbers, so here is my work.

Canberra also comes alive. More people for more games.

Canberra has hosted 54 AFL men’s games compared to Darwin’s 22. This year, Canberra will host four AFL men’s matches for the first time. Since the start of games in Canberra, Manuka Oval has hosted several games in 18 seasons, and three games including 13.

Darwin has only hosted several games in five seasons – and never more than two per season. It will be a big step towards a full-time team.

Canberra’s pre-Covid crowds were slightly higher than Marrara Oval, by 7%. But in years when the cities have hosted multiple games – something Darwin will have to do if it hosts a club – Canberra’s crowds have been 25 per cent larger.

AFL has more support in Canberra than Darwin, and more importantly, more room to grow.

Wider watershed

While an NT team has the potential to bring more professional football to Alice Springs, a Canberra team has the potential to bring professional football to Riverina-Murray – an Australian heartland more populated than the entire Territory of North.

Canberra has the capacity to host an AFL club on its own, but having a club on the doorstep of the Riverina offers the opportunity to bring more professional football to Wagga and Albury, and give back to an area that has given so much to the sport.

Southern New South Wales – including the ACT – had 40 players on AFL rosters in 2021. This is compared to the 18 players the NT had on AFL rosters in 2018. two figures would likely end up increasing with the inclusion of their own team, but the Northern Territory would remain more reliant on interstate talent.

The GWS dilemma

The common argument against a team from the capital is: “But the Giants depend on Canberra.”

That alone is one reason Canberra makes more sense than Darwin.

Gold Coast took Darwin as a secondary market, but no one is worried about Darwin losing to the Suns, as compared to Canberra it’s an insignificant market.

The Giants play three annual AFL men’s games in Canberra. But just as four games a year in Hobart doesn’t make North Melbourne Tasmania, three games in Manuka doesn’t make the Giants Canberra.

Giants' Josh Kelly celebrates kicking a goal

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

This was most evident in 2019. The Giants and Canberra Raiders – the city’s NRL team – played their respective Grand Finals a week apart. The city was a mosaic of lime green, abuzz for the Raiders. There was barely a speck of orange to be seen; the passion for the Giants was not there. Not as it would have been for a Canberra AFL team.

The Canberra-GWS relationship has been mutually beneficial, but one that both parties have gone beyond. Western Sydney is a huge market and alienating a fanbase by keeping a foothold in another market is preventing the Giants from becoming the juggernaut they promise to be.

The Northern Territory’s bid enjoys broad government support, which is the only area in which it is currently placed ahead of Canberra. The ACT government supports the AFL and would likely support a new AFL team, but is crippled by the territory’s current relationship with GWS.

The NT offer is popular. But just because it’s the strongest offer doesn’t mean it’s the best option. Just as Tasmania discovered in 2008, a popular campaign doesn’t matter if the AFL recognizes a better option for the league.

A Northern Territory team is a feel-good story. But based on demographics, proven accommodation capacity, existing AFL fans, room for growth and player retention, “most logically” it could only be Canberra.




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