AFLNT releases feasibility study into AFL team in the Northern Territory

AFL Northern Territory (AFLNT), in conjunction with the Northern Territory Government and AFL, has released a feasibility study into the creation of an AFL team based in the Northern Territory. 

The Northern Territory Government provided funding for AFLNT to commission Bastion EBA to complete the study in 2019. The report aims to identify what AFLNT and the NT football community need to achieve to champion and best position the NT for an AFL licence, should one become available. 

Through extensive research and interviews with stakeholders across the AFL, the Northern Territory and Australian Governments, Aboriginal Land Councils and numerous local councils and businesses, the report determines that the project has uncovered a unique opportunity to review this expansion differently. The potential of an AFL team based out of the NT to affect social and community change is immense and is worthy of further exploration.

The Territory's most viable strategy for achieving an AFL team is via an unconventional model, which emphasises social impact as the core. Prioritising social impact would be unprecedented in Australian sport, and possibly in global professional sport.

The research behind this study demonstrates that the Northern Territory community has a unique affection for Australian football, highlighted by the Territory having the highest per capita participation rate for Australian football of any state / territory. The game is also instrumental in addressing some of the Territory’s greatest social challenges. 

The report recommends that targeting an AFL team in the Territory is a positive aspiration that will further inspire and enable AFLNT to progress football in the Territory. The report also enables AFLNT to understand what steps need to be taken towards obtaining an AFLW license, should one become available, either in conjunction with or separate to an AFL team.

A working group was established to be part of the study led by Bastion, which included senior AFL executives Tanya Hosch, Rob Auld and representatives from AFLNT. The report was then endorsed by the AFLNT board before being made public.

Head of AFLNT, Stuart Totham, said: “This is an important study that helps us understand what the Northern Territory needs to do to be in the best possible position to secure an AFL license, should that opportunity ever arise.

“Regardless of the eventual outcome regarding the awarding of a license, it is critical that the aspiration towards it and the resultant plans, strategies and actions taken provide real and ongoing benefit, for both the game of Australian rules and most importantly, the people and communities in the NT.

“The unconventional model emphasises social impact as a core component of being able to drive sufficient revenue to have an AFL team in the Territory. This is indicative of the role football plays in the Territory, as the game has the capacity to have such a significant, positive impact on the community.

“Australian football is by far the number one sport in the Territory. There is incredible passion for the game and while we are not counting on an AFL team being based in the Northern Territory, we have a much deeper understanding of the requirements and challenges associated with bringing more AFL football to the Territory.”

Northern Territory Chief Minister, The Hon Michael Gunner, said: “Territorians love their footy and we produce some of the AFL’s most exciting players who have been lighting up the competition for years. We deserve our own team. The social benefits of having a team in the NT would be significant for the Territory and the sport.

“This study is just the start of a complex journey and it could be many years before a license for a new team is awarded. It’s important we’re ready when that time comes.

“To this end, we can also announce the establishment of a taskforce to drive the NT’s desire of winning an AFL licence when the time comes. Mr Sean Bowden, Chair of ALFNT, will chair the inaugural taskforce.”

Chair of the AFLNT Board, Sean Bowden, said: “In the Territory our game reaches from the Tiwi Islands, to Darwin, from Wadeye to Arnhem Land, south to Katherine, Tennant Creek and Central Australia. AFL football links every community in the Northern Territory and we are bound together through our participation in and love of the game.  

“We know that establishing the key components for an AFL team will be a great challenge, but I am confident that we will meet the challenge when the time is right. 

“As a community we can take inspiration from the brilliance and determination of the players who have made the AFL their own away from their home. When the time comes it would be fantastic to unite and harness that brilliance under Territory colours.

“It is an enormous privilege to Chair the Taskforce that has been established by the Chief Minister and I thank Michael Gunner, Gill McLachlan and the AFL Commission led by Richard Goyder for the confidence shown in AFLNT to lead this this process.”

AFL Executive General Manager of Game Development and General Counsel, Andrew Dillon, said: “Australian football has long been a major part of the Northern Territory. Many of the game’s greatest players have come from there, and participation levels show how important the game is to so many Territorians.

“The AFL supports the study, which outlines what the Northern Territory needs to do to put itself in a position to apply for a license.  

“The study’s findings give the Northern Territory a positive aspiration to work towards that will have a positive impact on the game and society there, regardless of whether a license becomes available. The study also enables the AFL to factor the Northern Territory into future license considerations, should an appropriate opportunity arise.”

The study comprises comprehensive analysis and findings, potential direct and indirect benefits, as well as considerations associated with having an AFL team in the Territory. Key issues to be addressed include:

•    Team benefits (Social Impact, Economic Impact, Civic Pride, Revenue Drivers, Football Impact)
•    Community benefits
•    Player considerations (Player retention, Talent, List and concessions, Indigenous representation, Travel, High performance)
•    Team location
•    Stadium
•    License availability
•    Government support
•    Funding and revenue
•    Commercial requirements
•    Corporate social responsibility

Recommendations to support the aspiration to champion and best position the NT for an AFL licence, should one become available, including the establishment of a steering committee to lobby and progress the Territory’s claim for an AFL team, as well as a number of strategic actions and a timeline to build the case.

AFLNT’s AFL Team Feasibility Study can be viewed here