Reach for the stars - update from AFLNT CEO Stu Totham

Stu Totham CEO 770_May_2019

Football in the NT is an integral part of Territory life with a little over 20% of the NT population engaged in our sport. Those of us who are custodians of this great game feel a deep commitment to look after it and to better it where we can. 

The AFLNT vison for NT Footy is; “through access to football, unite and inspire the Northern Territory community”. It’s a bold vision, but it’s one we believe in at AFLNT and work towards every day. 

For us to achieve this vision, it will take clear strategy, execution and importantly the engagement and participation of all of our stakeholders.

Our new five-year strategy, which will see us through to 2023, has five key pillars; sustainability, football talent, growth, engagement and community impact.

We need to have a vibrant and sustainable network of clubs, facilities and leagues throughout the NT to ensure we grow the game and provide opportunities for people to get involved no matter where they are. The recent footy forums we’ve held in Gove, Katherine, Alice Spring, Tiwi and Tennant Creek reiterated the need for inclusion in decision making about local football.  

The forums held in each region have allowed us to hear from communities directly and to develop plans for local football in partnership with these communities that are unique to the regions with the specific aim to improve our engagement and to grow the game and its infrastructure across all NT communities. 

Our Statewide Facilities Framework completed an independent audit of all 130 grounds across the NT that we access to play footy, and it highlighted that approximately $217 million is needed to lift them to ‘AFL Preferred Facility Guidelines’ standard. That’s money that needs to be invested in oval lighting, change rooms, shade structures, public seating, oval surface and amenities.

As such, it’s imperative that we keep having an open dialogue with the NT Government and others so that our facilities can keep up with our growth.  

The NTFL is our most significant community competition with over 110,000 people coming through the turnstiles across all venues during the wet season. This scale demands a focus on its own and through initiatives like our NTFL fan survey and club president forums we are developing a clear picture of the health of the competition and the key areas that need to be addressed to ensure it has a strong future.  

These include the continued investment in facilities, innovative competition structures and fixtures, club governance, game affordability and working closely with clubs to improve the behaviour of players, officials, and supporters to ensure we are creating a positive, engaging environment and atmosphere at the footy.

A critical component of our football infrastructure is our team of umpires.  Without whom, we have no game.  We have recently completed a strategy that aims to improve the recruitment, retention, development and quality of umpiring throughout the NT. We look forward to rolling this out and tracking the results as we worked hard to support the NT umpiring fraternity. 

Our five-year strategy also highlights that we want to see more of our players on AFL and AFLW lists. We will be focusing on increasing the exposure of our talent to AFL clubs, continually developing our programs and honing in on coach development. We will also be ensuring that our two flagship NT Thunder teams are resourced and run in a most professional manner and playing at the highest level possible; to expose and develop our players.

We also have a keen focus on the growth of football participation and access to our game for people of all ages and abilities.  This will be achieved through improved facilities, as well as our actions in embracing diversity and expanding programs to ensure that we are reaching all potential participants throughout the NT.

A further pillar of our strategy speaks to the impact football has on a community. Footy has a unique opportunity to positively influence the communities in which it is played. Through a network of remote and regional football development managers, AFLNT runs football across 11 communities in the NT.

The connection and programs conducted at the Michael Long Learning and Leadership Centre here in Darwin are growing. We will have 350 students from all over the NT come through the Centre and participate in the “Make your Mark Leadership” or the “Employment Pathways” programs in 2019; this is up from 237 in 2018. However, we note that 80% of these children are from the top part of the NT.

And so we believe that the development of an MLLLC type facility in Alice Springs and the establishment of a “satellite campus” in Tenant Creek is vital to ensuring all Territory kids get the opportunity to access this important program along with other complimentary AFLNT programs.

The performance of our community programs and measuring their impact is paramount to us at AFLNT. It is critical to achieving our goals that we know our areas of influence and that our programs are regularly evaluated so that we understand what’s working well and what we need to improve on. To this end, we have engaged Deloitte Access Economics to complete a “Social Return on Investment” exercise for our programs, which will determine an exact value on the impact they are having in the community. This exciting project has been underway for 12 months and is expected to be complete mid-2019.

And there is one more aspirational project that has been on our agenda since October last year. The AFL Team Scoping Project is an essential piece of work that will shape the future direction of the game in the NT.  

The focus of this project is to determine whether the NT or Northern Australia can sustain an AFL team at some stage in the future. The project will look at the opportunities, the challenges, potential club structure and most importantly the pathway to getting a team operating out of the NT.

The actions out of this report will be a crucial driver of our strategy across all areas moving forward. It’s an exciting piece of work that is being supported by the Northern Territory Government and the AFL, and I look forward to sharing the outcomes of the report later in the year.

Our vision and all we set out to achieve at AFLNT cannot be done unless we engage in a meaningful way with all of our stakeholders; both internal and external, and how well we do this is pivotal to the successful execution of our strategy.  

On behalf of all of us here at AFLNT, we extend a big thank you to all our stakeholders (clubs, umpires, volunteers, government, sponsors, staff, board, players, officials) for your continued support of football in the Northern Territory. There are plenty of things to be proud of and equally as many opportunities for us to work hard together and to make the game better and foster its growth into the future.

Our strategy is set. AFLNT has a talented, capable team in place and the focus is clear. It’s now time to execute and get things done.