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Should the AFL continue expansion?

Tasmania will be the 19th team.

The AFL is looking to expand its competition for the first time since 2012, when the Greater Western Sydney Giants (GWS) made their debut. It has now handed out its 19th licence and is possibly looking at a 20th.

But questions remain about whether the AFL should expand to a 20-team competition, and if so, which locations are worthy of new AFL sides?

One reason why people have been against further expansion in the AFL is due to the most recent expansion sides –  the Gold Coast Suns and GWS – not having lived up to the expectation placed on them. Both teams entered the AFL in the early 2010s with the purpose of targeting rugby league-based areas.

But despite joining the league in 2011, the Gold Coast Suns are yet to qualify for finals, with their highest placed finish being 12th place in both the 2014 and 2022 seasons respectively.

On the other hand, GWS have been significantly more successful on the ground, playing three preliminary finals and one Grand Final in 2019 where they lost to the Richmond Tigers by 89 points. However, the Giants are currently facing problems off the ground, with fan attendance causing concern.

GWS averaged 6,103 fans  in their six home games at the Giants Stadium in 2022, which comes despite the venue having a capacity of 23,500. More worryingly, the Giants averaged a higher attendance when they played home games in Canberra at Manuka Oval. In the four games GWS played there, they brought in an average crowd of 9,804 people.

To combat these struggles, suggestions have been made to relocate these two existing clubs instead of offering licences to new teams.

When determining what location deserves a new football team, the most obvious answer to many is Tasmania. The state had been in talks about getting a team into the AFL for years, having been beaten out of a licence by sides like Port Adelaide, Gold Coast and GWS in the past. But on 3 May 2023, Tasmania was finally awarded the 19th AFL licence.

Although this has been seen as a win within the AFL community, Tasmanian resident Steve Price told upstart that he believes there are varying views when it comes to the bid for a Tasmanian licence and the proposed stadium.

“I am for it in the sense that I’m not 100% sure it will work, but I’m positive about it,” Price said.

“I think most Tasmanians are for an AFL side, but when it comes down to the stadium, there is a lot of opposition and a lot of mixed opinions.”

This is in reference to the new stadium that was required in order for Tasmania’s bid for a licence to be accepted. The stadium will cost an estimated $750 million, with many seeing it as unnecessary.

Hobart currently has Blundstone Arena which is situated about ten minutes from the CBD and can hold around 20,000 people. Price and many other Tasmanians believe that the new stadium isn’t required, and that Blundstone is suitable enough for an AFL side.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” he said.

“I just don’t understand it, and I think it’s a ridiculous requirement, to be honest. Blundstone is good enough for actual test matches but it’s not good enough for the AFL?”

The new side will join the competition for the start of the 2028 AFL Premiership season.

With Tasmania being successful in their attempt of getting a team in the AFL, talks have moved towards a 20th side. Many options have been discussed, with locations like Canberra, Darwin, and even Joondalup (a suburb of Perth) being thrown forward.

However, in March this year it was reported that the South Australian National Football League’s (SANFL) team Norwood were preparing a bid to become the AFL’s 20th team.

If this were to be the case, Adelaide would become the second city after Melbourne to have three or more teams in the AFL. South Australia is seen as a very suitable location for a third AFL side despite only being the fifth most populated city in the nation, as it’s the second biggest football state in the nation.

However, Dave Barrowcliff, admin for the Norwood football club supporters group on Facebook, tells upstart that rumours surrounding a proposed bid from Norwood are false.

“It’s not true,” Barrowcliff said.

“I’ve heard from the CEO of the Norwood Football Club, but I actually do the Saturday morning sports show on our local radio station. I interviewed the CEO of the Norwood Football Club the week before Gather Round and Norwood Football Club had not entered into looking into joining the AFL.”

Despite bid from Norwood being rumoured to be false, it begs the question of whether Norwood could make the move from SANFL to the AFL?

Norwood are the second most successful team in the league’s history, trailing only Port Adelaide who currently have an AFL team. And unlike Tasmania, Norwood wouldn’t require the construction of a new stadium thanks to the recently renovated Adelaide Oval. Norwood’s own oval would also be serviceable in the league, and it was used by the AFL earlier this year during Gather Round.

Despite this, Barrowcliff is against the idea of Norwood joining the AFL.

“It would change the dynamics of the football team that I support. I won’t speak for anyone about Port Power and the Port Magpies, but surely they wouldn’t like it because it has changed the dynamic of their club,” he said

“If Norwood became an AFL team, then all of a sudden I’m not following the SANFL anymore, I would be following the AFL.”

With Tasmania joining the AFL, it won’t be long until the league welcomes its 20th team. However, it remains to be seen whether South Australia will be in the running for that final licence.

Article: Campbell Leo is a Bachelor of Media and Communications (journalism) student at La Trobe University.

Photo: “blundestonearena240422″ by caneshuga available HERE and used under a Creative Commons License. This photo has been modified.

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