AFL steps up expansion planning - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

AFL steps up expansion planning

By Roger Vaughan 07/04/2008 06:01:59 PM Comments (0)

The AFL may wear one season of a weekly bye to help ensure western Sydney are ready for their entry to the league.

The timing of the second Sydney team's entry into the league remains one of the most pressing questions for the league as work continues on expansion to 18 teams.

Later this month, the AFL will announce more details of the Gold Coast team, which is set for a 2011 debut.

While AFL chief Andrew Demetriou said some are "very bullish" about bringing in western Sydney at the same time, the league might put up with a 17-team competition for one year to give it a longer lead-in period.

The clubs have given the league strong support for the expansion concept, but would prefer a 16- or 18-team competition.

Asked if there could be one year where the fixture features a weekly bye, Demetriou replied: "could be - as it stands today, the Gold Coast is definitely ready and definitely coming in for 2011.

"Our assumption is that Sydney will be shortly after, but we're not ruling out that we might bring them in at the same time, because we've got to do some work on it.

"We would accept that it's a less mature market for a number of reasons, particularly from participation, talent, fan interest and the question is, `would we be bold enough to take the punt?'"

Whatever the timetable, Demetriou stressed the league wanted western Sydney in the league as soon as possible.

"The clubs all agreed that 16 or 18 are the preferable numbers, not 17, and the challenge that we all asked ourselves is `would we be bold enough, given we know 17 isn't a great number,'" he said.

"We know 2011 is the right time for the Gold Coast, would we consider western Sydney at the same time or shortly thereafter, not two or three years after.

"That's the work we're doing in the next six months ... there are a lot of people who are very bullish, but let's do the work first."

The league has also put together a draw for an 18-team competition, which features Saturday 5pm games and Monday night football.

But Demetriou said it also featured nothing shorter than six-day breaks for teams.

The league will start visiting teams over the next few weeks to discuss the vexing question of how the Gold Coast team will source their players.

But the AFL is confident that they have learnt from the mistakes of previous expansion teams and that there are enough good players available to form the new squad.

"All these things are learning from the past, we've got a much more structured, disciplined plan," he said.

"Are the players out there? One of the things we said to the clubs is next year, if we let them have five extra players each, they will find them - they all agreed with that."

The Gold Coast team's home ground remains another pressing problem for the league.

Demetriou said the AFL was having "ongoing dialogue" on several options, including the construction of a 22-24,000 seat stadium on the Gold Coast, "a bit like the Geelong model".

Whatever happens, some of the Gold Coast team's bigger-drawing games will be played at the `Gabba.

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