Tasmania AFL bid: The JackJumpers‘ NBL success should convince footy to forge a partnership in Hobart

The ‘Last Push’ for a Tasmanian AFL team has begun and a partnership with the JackJumpers should be on the agenda, writes SHANNON GILL.

A partnership with the JackJumpers could be Tasmania’s ticket to an AFL team. Picture: Steve Bell/Getty Images
A partnership with the JackJumpers could be Tasmania’s ticket to an AFL team. Picture: Steve Bell/Getty Images

The Tasmania JackJumpers’ extraordinary debut has ended at the final hurdle, but its success could lead to a partnership with the proposed Tasmanian AFL team.

As the Tasmanian AFL Taskforce launched its ‘Last Push’ to win an AFL license this weekend, the concept of two teams living in harmony could eliminate many funding and facility headaches on the Apple Isle.

NBL owner Larry Kestleman recently told SEN radio that he is interested in the idea: “I think Tasmania deserves an AFL team, I think it would be great to have them play in the winter and us in the summer. I jokingly said to someone yesterday that they (the AFL) should come to us and have a chat about whether they call their team the JackJumpers and build it as a 12 months of the year proposition.”

The JackJumpers missed out on this year’s NBL crown but they remain the future of sport in Tasmania. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images
The JackJumpers missed out on this year’s NBL crown but they remain the future of sport in Tasmania. Picture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

It would be highly unlikely the AFL would countenance any kind of joint venture, but Kestleman might be on the money about an alliance – partly because the AFL have tried to do it before with NBL teams, partly because AFL clubs like Collingwood are finding that working with other sports is successful and because, most importantly, it helps solve the difficult equation of government funding.

Simon Gorr spent 18 years at the AFL, ending as its head of infrastructure. Today, he is director of Collab Projects, a firm advising on sports infrastructure. He was involved in all major stadiums and club training and administration centre developments at the AFL during that time.

He has long held the view that football and basketball should collaborate on training and administration centres, having spending countless hours on a plan for the Gold Coast Suns and their NBL counterpart the Gold Coast Blaze to live together back in the early 2010s.

“In my time an NBL team was the best fit of any sport to coexist with an AFL team and I still think that,” Gorr said. “With a basketball team having a relatively small roster, it means a basketball and a footy team could use training facilities side-by-side without any real impost.

“Knowing what AFL clubs want in facilities and understanding what NBL teams want, it’s all the same stuff. It’s a no-brainer that the two sports share one day.”

There is precedent at Collingwood and the GWS Giants, where Super Netball teams reside alongside the football teams. Collingwood find the facility needs of the netball squad to be similar to their football squads, but the preferred time of training to be different. It means there have been no issues with conflicting schedules.

Across the club players, coaches and administration staff are learning new things from the other sport and there is even the occasional cross-code training session. The one-club mentality has taken hold, even down to the footballers and netballers gathering to sing happy birthday to one another.

Collingwood and GWS’ netball teams show how sports can coexist. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty Images
Collingwood and GWS’ netball teams show how sports can coexist. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

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In the mid-2010s the then Melbourne Tigers NBL team had a temporary stint in North Melbourne’s Arden Street facility, but it was that perennial sporting problem region, the Gold Coast, where Gorr and the AFL saw a long-term cross-code opportunity and explored.

Back in 2011, when the Gold Coast won the bid for 2018 Commonwealth Games, the fledgling Suns’ staff and players were operating out of temporary tin sheds adjacent to Metricon Stadium and in desperate need of something permanent. But the optics of the Suns receiving more government funding after the construction of Metricon Stadium were difficult, so a plan was hatched.

With the need to construct indoor sporting facilities to hold the games and no obvious usage post-Games, the AFL explored the idea of converting some of those facilities into a full-time training administration centre with a key partner, then-NBL franchise the Gold Coast Blaze.

“The Blaze ideally wanted a playing stadium that they could control and base their training and admin from,” Gorr said. “There was a lot of infrastructure to be built for the Games, so we did the diligence and found that the Suns and Blaze sharing a training and administration centre would work.”

The Blaze were all ears and soon meetings were being held with all stakeholders about a future where Suns and Blaze players and staff would mix, while solving a headache for Games organisers who feared stadiums could become white elephants post-event. Plans for the joint centre were drawn up, while governments were lobbied to make it a reality.

However, the plan came unstuck in dramatic fashion, as Gorr recalls.

“We’d been working with the Blaze on this for probably six months,” he said. “But then the phone calls weren’t returned for a few weeks and we wondered what was going on. Then we read in the paper the owners had shut down the team!”

The Blaze went out of existence in July, 2012 and the Suns sharehouse arrangement was scuppered, but ultimately Federal Government funding for the Games saw a media centre built at Carrara that the Suns would have before and after the event, and today serves as their training and administration centre.

The Suns have continued to facilities they thought they would share with the Blaze. Picture: Chris Hyde/AFL Photos/via Getty Images
The Suns have continued to facilities they thought they would share with the Blaze. Picture: Chris Hyde/AFL Photos/via Getty Images

But it wasn’t the last time Gorr and the AFL would look at basketball as a partner for an AFL team.

“I’m a believer in the concept, and even think we should have made it work with St Kilda and Moorabbin,” he said.

When St Kilda moved back to Moorabbin Gorr held informal talks with the NBL’s Melbourne United and explored the feasibility of the two clubs partnering.

“Initial discussions were held, with the intention that a joint concept would attract greater government funding,” he continued. “But both the Saints and United were lukewarm about it so it didn’t progress any further than exploratory stage, which was a shame as it would have worked.”

As the ‘Last Push’ begins, former premier and chief political talisman for the AFL team Peter Gutwein said last week that the AFL needs to sit up and take notice of the JackJumpers success, noting the rise in junior basketball participation. He added that his one regret about his government’s work with the JackJumpers was that they didn’t invest enough.

“I’m kicking myself,” he said. “I should have built a bigger stadium.”

The JackJumpers currently have no permanent training and administration centre and Gutwein’s comments add further weight to the case for government to fill that need given the outrageous success of the debut NBL season. But a joint venture involving football and basketball would have even greater appeal, saving time and money for all parties.

Tasmania launches latest campaign for an AFL team. Picture: Supplied.
Tasmania launches latest campaign for an AFL team. Picture: Supplied.

With the knowledge of what has worked for Collingwood, Gorr is a firm believer that the AFL should seize the moment and revisit those old drawings of the proposed Suns-Blaze training as a decision on a Tasmania license looms.

“The landscape has changed since then with AFLW teams joining AFL teams,” he said. “But if designed right it would still work. And Tasmania could be right place at the right time, it makes sense, and it would save a lot of money.”