Northern Territory steps up push for AFL licence

Steve Larkin |

Nathan Buckley is part of a NT taskforce examining the feasibility of an AFL club in the territory.
Nathan Buckley is part of a NT taskforce examining the feasibility of an AFL club in the territory.

A Northern Territory club could join the AFL within a decade and play at a multi-purpose 20,000-capacity stadium in Darwin, NT powerbrokers say.

AFL greats Andrew McLeod and Nathan Buckley, and former AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou, have joined a NT taskforce examining the feasibility of an AFL club in the territory.

The taskforce on Thursday released a strategic business case estimating an AFL club would create 260 jobs and provide annual economic benefit of $116 million to the territory.

A Tasmanian team will enter the AFL in 2028 and the league’s hierarchy are yet to commit to further expansion.

But the NT taskforce is pushing its claims for a 20th licence should it become available, with the strategic business case saying a club could be formed in seven to 10 years.

“Territorians love their AFL and there’s no doubt that having a long-term plan to get a team in the AFL is the best way to ensure success,” NT Chief Minister Eva Lawler said.

“This process and the strategic business case is about making sure the NT is ready to make a bid for an AFL licence when one becomes available.”

The business case states an aspiration for a multi-purpose Darwin stadium as the club’s base.

Early planning for a stadium has started to give the territory government a roadmap, if it decided to proceed with the project.

“An AFL club in the NT will need to look to government at both a territory and federal level to provide financial support for operational requirements of the club and for the development of the required stadium infrastructure,” the business case stated.

“This will ensure a sustainable financial model is secured for the club.”

The business case, prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, detailed several possibilities for a NT club.

A new club based in Darwin was “the highest ranked option” and would likely be the most attractive to stakeholders.

“This option was deemed to result in the most significant benefits for the NT and was most likely to be attractive to the key project stakeholders (AFL, the NT government and the Australian government),” the business case said.

But other options including a northern Australian club playing games in Darwin, Alice Springs and Cairns, or relocating an existing club to the territory, “must be considered as the project advances”.

The business case forecast an annual funding gap of about $7.8m between the club’s expenses and revenues.

It noted the territory has the highest per capita participation rate in AFL across the country, with almost a fifth of the 250,000 population participating in the game either socially or competitively.

The territory, in an agreement expiring at the end of 2026, hosts three AFL games a year – Gold Coast play twice in Darwin, and Melbourne once in Alice Springs.