Long-term plan for Darwin AFL team at potential new stadium
Northern Territory could be in line for an AFL team in the future, and TIO Stadium may not be the home base of a new Darwin-based club.
It’s believed discussions have commenced between the AFL, AFLNT and the NT Government to base a club in the Top End of Australia.
NT News has reported the NT Government funded a scoping study, and while results are in the initial stages, it’s understood a timeline focuses on 2030 and beyond to base a team in Darwin.
While TIO Stadium would seem the logical choice of stadium for an AFL team, it’s believed a new boutique stadium on the perimeter of Darwin has been closely considered.
The proposed new stadium would be a multipurpose facility, capable of hosting all of the football codes, cricket and international sport, and would boast a capacity of at least double of TIO’s 12,500.
Located within the Marrara Sporting Complex, about 20 minutes from the city centre, TIO Stadium is the current home of Australian Football in Darwin, hosting one AFL match for premiership points each year.
The Gold Coast Suns will play a home game in Darwin for at least the next four years after a deal between the AFL club and the NT Government was announced in October, replacing the Melbourne Football Club, who had hosted matches at the venue for the past decade. The Suns take on St Kilda in round 13 on Saturday, June 13, while the Demons will continue to play in Alice Springs.
AFL games in Darwin have averaged 10,292 over the past five years. However, a Darwin-based team featuring local talent would no doubt attract larger attendances. In 2003, Adam Goodes led an ATSIC Chairman's All-Stars team to victory over Carlton in front of a sell-out crowd of 17,500. A similar game the previous year attracted the same numbers through the gates.
It’s believed the AFL wants a stand-alone club based out of Darwin, complete with a core group of local players who are born, bred and raised on the art of Territory footy, as oppose to relocating an existing team.
It's likely a new club would also play some of their home games at TIO Traeger Park Oval in Alice Springs - a ground that currently hosts one AFL fixture per year.
NT Thunder, who were formed in 2008 and played in the NEAFL with home games at TIO Stadium, were wound up at the end of last season, with AFLNT revealing it could no longer justify keeping the club afloat.
Annual running costs for an AFL team would exceed $50 million per year with a portion of the money to be provided by the AFL in line with other successful bids and government, while private sponsorship will play a big part in the project.
The professional sporting market in Australia is cluttered and the AFL’s two most recent expansion sides – Gold Coast Suns (2011) and GWS Giants (2012) – are yet to find their feet from both a financial and attendance perspective.
It’s likely if and when expansion next occurs for the AFL, Tasmania would be first on the agenda, with Darwin to follow, taking the competition to 20 teams. Tasmania has long campaigned to join the national competition and a taskforce was formed in mid-2019 with the intent of gaining an AFL licence. Both Hawthorn (UTAS Stadium) and North Melbourne (Blundstone Arena) currently play some home games in the state.
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