NT Government and AFL partner with SUNS and Demons in the NT for the next four years

New NTG deal for Gold Coast and Melbourne in the NT

AFL Northern Territory (AFLNT) officially welcomes the Gold Coast SUNS Football Club and welcomes the return of the Melbourne Football Club to the Northern Territory for the next four years.
As part of the agreement announced today with the Northern Territory Government (NTG), the Gold Coast SUNS will play one Toyota AFL Premiership game in Darwin for four years starting in 2020, while Melbourne FC will return to Alice Springs for its seventh successive home game next year (the first being in 2014) and has also been locked in until at least 2024.
Further, the Demons will play a NAB AFLW game in Alice Springs for the next four years, while the SUNS' AFLW and female football affiliation with Darwin will continue to deepen off the back of player development opportunities and recruitment.

Key points

  • NTG invest in the elite game and NT talent pathways

  • Gold Coast to play an AFL game in Darwin for the next four years and commit to holding six AFLW spots for NT players from 2021

  • Melbourne to extend affiliation with Alice Springs and play AFL and AFLW games for the next four years

  • The long-term commitment by all parties will allow for better opportunities, particularly with aspiring NT talent as well as community and remote engagement programs

  • NGA clubs to remain in the NT and work closer with NT programs and footballers

  • Revamped NT Thunder Academy structure to provide more opportunities and align to AFL-clubs with aim to get more NT players on AFL and AFLW lists

  • See these two supporting documents showing the NT Talent Pathway Summary and the 2020 NT Talent calendar.

The long-term nature of the NTG and AFL games arrangement and the investment being made by both parties and the two clubs signifies a strong commitment to continue to grow Australian Football right across the Territory, while also being closely aligned to AFLNT's talent pathways structure and community agenda.
The NTG, along with AFLNT, recognises that more players in the elite system come from stronger foundations at the grassroots level particularly in remote communities and will continue to provide support towards developing and maintaining pathways for Territory footballers to the AFL and AFLW.

Subsequently, AFLNT has established two new roles to assist with these plans, and from 2020 a Coaching Manager and Club Development Manager will be appointed to assure long-term assistance for all local coaches and clubs across the Territory.
Minister for Tourism, Sport and Culture, Lauren Moss described the importance of football in the community.
“Footy is a way of life in the Territory, playing a key role in keeping young people on a positive path and supporting stronger communities.

“This new agreement with the AFL will see top-quality games continue to be played in both Darwin and Alice Springs over the next five years, providing a boost to the local economy as well as supporting strong grassroots footy and clear pathways for Territory players looking to make it at elite levels.

“Both clubs have committed to working with the community to ensure their presence in the NT provides outcomes for the community beyond the games themselves. Melbourne will continue their great work in Central Australia and the Gold Coast SUNS will roll out a series of grassroots focused football activities in the Top End.

“AFLNT’s new player pathways plan aligns with this new agreement and signals a new chapter for Territory footy. It will help uncover and develop talent across the Territory, giving aspiring young players more opportunities to play in the AFLW and AFL.

“AFL games help drive visitation, support our local businesses and boost the economy and we look forward to welcoming the Gold Coast SUNS and the Melbourne Demons back to the Territory in 2020.”
AFLNT CEO Stuart Totham said that football in the NT was taking a more holistic approach in the future.
“We are very appreciative of the Northern Territory Government, AFL, Gold Coast and Melbourne football clubs for working with us on a plan that not only covers  games here in the NT over the next four years but will deliver great community benefits and provide a boost to all the aspiring Territory footballers dreaming of making it the AFL and AFLW, while also driving growth in the game throughout the NT.
“At AFLNT, we are focused on increasing the number of AFL and AFLW players from the NT.  The long-term commitment by the NTG, AFL and clubs to NT football will give us a solid platform form which we can broaden and grow our current talent base and facilitate the growth in the presence of NT players at the elite level.
From the 2021 NAB AFLW season, the SUNS will reserve six spots on their AFLW list for NT players, assuring that the best Territory female footballers have an opportunity to perform at the elite level.
This sits in conjunction with the endorsement the AFL Commission gave for the men two weeks ago; that will see Darwin provisioned as a SUNS Academy zone, with the ability for the club to pre-sign players without having to work through the Draft bidding system and getting an increase to 10 players on their rookie list.
The SUNS have also indicated that they will select talented footballers from the NT for available NEAFL (male) and Super Series (female) spots on their playing list. Similarly, Melbourne will look to have VFL and VFLW playing possibilities for NT players.
Both clubs will look to build on the important role they play in the community by assisting AFLNT in the delivery of footy programs, as well as continuing to provide education and support to local coaches and professional development to AFLNT high-performance staff.
Along with the four other AFL clubs (Collingwood, Essendon, Geelong Cats, Hawthorn) who already have established Next Generation Academy (NGA) zones in the NT, Gold Coast, Melbourne and AFLNT are dedicated to unearthing the best football talent and providing them with every chance to succeed.
Andrew Dillon, the AFL's General Manager of Game Development said today's announcement aligned with the AFL's vision.
“The AFL thanks the NT Government for its support in sharing our vision of giving boys and girls the best opportunity of developing their footy in the Territory, along with helping bring AFL and AFLW matches to every state and territory across the country.”
Gold Coast SUNS CEO, Mark Evans echoed the same sentiment.  
“We are thrilled to have Darwin confirmed as a Gold Coast SUNS Talent Academy Zone and to highlight our commitment to the region and with thanks to the support of the NT Government and AFL we are pleased to announce that we will play AFL games in Darwin.
“We share AFLNT’s vision of increasing participation and seeing more Northern Territory talent on AFL and AFLW lists and to drive this we have committed to delivering programs and creating pathways to foster talent and develop people,” he said.
Melbourne Football Club CEO Gary Pert said the development of the local talent was a big focus for the club, with the hope of seeing young men and women representing the Demons in the future.
"It is important for supporters to appreciate that Alice Springs is a critical part of the club’s long-term strategy.
“Our players have really taken ownership of this game and truly believe it gives them a home ground advantage.
“Not only is the home game financially significant, but it is also our Next Generation Academy region, and the Club will continue to run community and development programs in an effort to find emerging talent," he said.
“A lot of work goes into creating these opportunities, and being able to first inspire the youth, before providing a talent pathway through the Academy, is something we’re really passionate about.
“Giving these kids a chance to reach their full potential is incredibly rewarding, and we’re excited to discover the next Territory-based superstar.
“It’s more than just a game of football for our players, coaches and staff. Our trip to the nation’s heartland allows us to immerse ourselves in the community and really give back.
“As we continue this work in 2020 and beyond, we’d like to acknowledge the Northern Territory Government for its ongoing support of the game and also allowing us to have such a positive impact in the community.
“We’re really proud of the meaningful contributions our club makes to this region of Central Australia, from grassing a red dirt oval in Santa Teresa to eradicating the eye disease Trachoma through our player-led education programs," he said.
Pert also said he was pleased to return the game the Demons previously played in Darwin to the MCG.
“Supporters have made it very clear to the club they would love to see the Darwin home game return to the MCG as soon as possible, so they can watch their team live and share in the excitement.
“This is something we have been working on with the AFL for quite some time. However, it was important the timing coincided with the opportunity to return the game to our traditional home, the MCG, rather than other alternatives."
A revamped NT Thunder Academy program from 2020 on will see an increase in games for both the Under 18 men and women as well as greater access to remote communities and better engagement with players from those areas.
Aspiring male and female players under 18 will be scouted by AFLNT's remote development managers in conjunction with community club coaches and AFL NGA representatives for the different areas, and for the first time those identified will be in direct contact with NT Thunder Academy coaches and support staff who will provide them with individual development plans.
This interim step will prepare them for the newly established intra-Territory NT Thunder Academy trials, and succeeding player camps before NT representation or NGA Academy selection is finalised. NT representation could mean selection for NT Thunder at NAB League and further call-ups to represent the Allies and national division 1 championships, while NGA Academy selection could lead to selection in the AFL's national Indigenous and multicultural programs, such as the Boomerangs/Woomeras or World Team/Medleys.
The introduction of the selection trials and camps will give further exposure to NT talent to perform in front of AFL and AFLW recruiting staff, particularly with the six NT-aligned AFL clubs to spend more time with players as part of the process.
And for the first time in more than 20 years, AFLNT will conduct dual-gender programs from under 12s right through to under 18s, as academy programs being run in the regions (Central Australia, Top End and Remote Areas). The program's curriculum is specially designed for each age group and will be replicated in each of the regional academies.
Aspiring NT umpires from all parts of the Territory will still be able to access the national umpires talent pathway and have opportunities at the state-league level.