Monday, 4 March 2013

Geographical distribution of Australian sporting teams

Next weekend, the Bendigo Spirit will host the Townsville Fire in the final of the WNBL. I think having two "small market" teams in the final is terrific, and hopefully its a sign of things to come.

I have, on a few occasions, had discussions with people about Australia's cities. In particular, a few years ago there was a lot of talk about the projections for Australia's population over the next 40-100 years, with many sources (including the ABS) projecting that we could be at 40-50 million people by 2050.

I am firmly of the opinion, that expanding to this kind of number but maintaining our current pattern of huge proportions of our population being centralised in 5 cities (Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth), is less than ideal. It might be doable, but it will put huge strains on infrastructure, and more importantly, its pretty boring. I would like to think that if we're increasing our urban population (which seems unavoidable - rural vs urban is a different debate), then the way to do it is by growing the number of significant centres, not by growing those that are already big.

How to do this escapes me; I'm not an urban planner, and discussions I've had about how to shift industry/government sectors out of the capitals have left me convinced of that. However, one place I think is ripe for decentralisation is sport.

Taking a quick glance at the teams which compete in some of Australia's biggest sporting leagues (AFL, NRL, Super Rugby, domestic cricket (using BBL), A-League, W-League, NBL, WNBL, Netball and ABL), an overwhelming number of the teams are based in the five major cities. Of the 90 Australian teams competing in these leagues (the NRL, Super Rugby, A-League, NBL and Netball leagues include teams from New Zealand and/or South Africa), 70 come from one of the big five metros:

  • 22 in Sydney: Swans, Giants (AFL), Eels, Panthers, Roosters, Tigers, Dragons, Bulldogs, Sharks, Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles (NRL), Sixers, Thunder (BBL), Sydney United, Wanderers (both A-League and W-League), Waratahs (Super Rugby), Kings (NBL), Flames (WNBL), Blue Sox (ABL), Swifts (Netball)
  • 21 in Melbourne: Magpies, Blues, Bombers, Tigers, Kangaroos, Saints, Hawks, Bulldogs, Demons (AFL), Storm (NRL), Renegades, Stars (BBL), Victory (A-League and W-League), Heart (A-League), Rebels (Super Rugby), Tigers (NBL), Boomers, Rangers (WNBL), Aces (ABL), Phoenix (Netball)
  • 10 in Perth: Eagles, Dockers (AFL), Scorchers (BBL), Glory (A-League and W-League), Force (Super Rugby), Wildcats (NBL), Waves (WNBL), Heat (ABL), Fever (Netball)
  • 9 in Adelaide: Crows, Power (AFL), Strikers (BBL), Adelaide United (A-League and W-League), 36ers (NBL), Lightning (WNBL), Thunderbirds (Netball), Bite (ABL)
  • 8 in Brisbane: Lions (AFL), Broncos (NRL), Heat (BBL), Roar (A-League and W-League), Reds (Super Rugby), Bandits (ABL), Firebirds (Netball)

The others are split across smaller centres:

  • 5 in Canberra: Raiders (NRL), Brumbies (Super Rugby), Capitals (WNBL), Cavalry (ABL)
  • 3 in Newcastle: Knights (NRL), Jets (A-League and W-League)
  • 3 in Townsville: Cowboys (NRL), Crocodiles (NBL), Fire (WNBL)
  • 2 in Gold Coast: Suns (AFL), Titans (NRL)
  • Geelong Cats (AFL), although some of their games are played in Melbourne
  • Central Coast Mariners (A-League), based in Gosford
  • Wollongong Hawks (NBL)
  • Cairns Taipans (NBL)
  • Bendigo Spirit (WNBL)
  • Logan Thunder (WNBL)
  • Hobart Hurricanes (BBL)
A strong case can be made that a few of those cities could easily support more teams - Hobart, Gold Coast, Geelong, and Wollongong and Townsville have all had other teams in the past. The list of second-tier (by population) cities without teams is huge. The Sunshine Coast, Darwin, Toowoomba, Launceston, Albury and Ballarat are all bigger than Bendigo, and there are other large population centres without teams in central Queensland (Mackay, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Gladstone and Hervey Bay) Mandurah in WA, Coffs Harbour and Wagga Wagga in NSW, to name a few.

The recent trend has been to put new teams into Western Sydney, but if I were looking to expand or realign one of the smaller leagues, I'd be looking at these smaller centres where a team has a chance to be the only (or one of the only) games in town. Even the AFL and NRL would be wise to look that way, rather than to continue with half of their league in the one city.

It may be that the league most poised to go in this direction is the A-League, which has made some noise about moving to a promotion/relegation system. I would have thought this would necessitate adding quite a few new teams, and it could be that the success (from what I've seen) of their Central Coast franchise leads them to look at some of these new areas.

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