Why should state governments subsidise AFL matches?

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Tonight in the AFL, Melbourne will play their home game against West Coast at TIO Stadium in Darwin (pictured above). Why would Melbourne choose to play a home game over three thousand kilometres from their own ground and fans? Why, to get on the end of some easy money from the Northern Territory government of course.

Over the last two decades the monstrously-rich AFL has encouraged struggling Victorian clubs to play home matches in far flung locations in return for money from state and territory governments. It’s a win-win for the AFL. It helps grow the game in untapped markets and allows problem clubs to pick up much needed funds.

Hawthorn’s agreement with the Tasmanian government is often held up as an example for other clubs to follow. In return for playing home games in Launceston the Tasmanian government divides up $4.5 million between Hawthorn and North Melbourne (who play home matches in Hobart). In return for playing home games in Alice Springs and Darwin, NT Tourism became a ‘Platinum Plus’ sponsor of Melbourne. Other clubs have played matches in Cairns, Canberra and even Wellington.

Of course, as I wrote in The Spectator last year, governments always justify spending money on elite sport on the basis of the supposed economic gains the event brings. But this rarely stacks up. The soccer World Cup in Brazil cost Brazilian taxpayers a gargantuan $US 15 to 20 billion. Time estimated it brought in only $500 million in tourist spending. Organisers of the Asian Cup soccer tournament held in Australia earlier this year claimed it added ‘a million dollars a day’ to the Australian economy. It’s a pity it only went for 23 days because it cost taxpayers over $60 million.

It is immoral for the government to spend money on elite sport. This is especially the case in the Northern Territory where so many Territorians live in acute deprivation. The real reason governments become involved in elite sport is because it is popular with voters and politicians wish to cash in on some of the reflected glory.

The AFL is the fourth best attended sporting league in the world and it is predicted that its next television rights deal – up for renewal in 2017 – could be worth as much as $2 billion. If they wish to hold games in non-traditional locations such as Darwin, Alice Springs, Launceston or Timbuktu they should pay for it themselves.

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