North Harbour Stadium becomes international sporting melting pot

17 May, 2018

In the next couple of years, a traditional rectangular rugby field could turn into an AFL oval and a Baseball diamond, as an Auckland stadium adapts to a changing society.

 

When North Harbour Stadium in Albany opened in 1997, North Harbour Rugby was the anchor tenant but, 21 years later, New Zealand’s national sport was joined by some imports in the form of football, Australian Rules and baseball as the Auckland Council-owned stadium opened the doors to developing sports.

Regional Facilities Auckland (RFA) took over the management of the stadium three years ago and RFA’s director of venue development strategy, Paul Nisbet, said levels of use increased at the stadium with the development of facilities suitable for high performance and community clubs across a range of codes.

“The opportunities for a wide and diverse range of sports at QBE Stadium is reflective of population growth on the Shore and the diversity of this population,” Nisbet said.

Baseball New Zealand chief executive officer Ryan Flynn said the North Shore was one of the sport’s fastest growing areas, with demographics suitable for even further growth in the next five to 10 years.

The region would also be home to New Zealand’s future Australia Baseball League (ABL) franchise.

The Australia Baseball League is looking to expand from six to eight teams next season, and a New Zealand side is in the running to join the competition.

An aerial view of North Harbour Stadium during construction in 1996.

An aerial view of North Harbour Stadium during construction in 1996.

North Harbour Stadium would be reconfigured to accommodate a baseball diamond and it would be the biggest venue in the ABL.

“We’re quite pleased with the visionary plans they [Regional Facilities Auckland] have for North Harbour Stadium that include a high performance centre shared with the likes of New Zealand Football, North Harbour Rugby and AFL New Zealand.

“With the facilities that already exist, and others that are in the planning stages today, we think this will be a baseball hub that will rival any in the entire region including any in the existing Australian league, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the direction we are heading with such great partners,” Flynn said.

Cam Vale, the chief executive officer of Baseball Australia, was in New Zealand in April to meet with Baseball New Zealand and checked out the North Harbour Stadium site.

Vale acknowledged Auckland was right the fit for the direction of the league.

“There is the diversity of the population in Auckland and our push with the ABL is about Australia and New Zealand, but also our reach into Asia, particularly Japan, Korea and Taiwan,” he said.

Flynn said when baseball was first taking hold in New Zealand one obstacle was getting councils to understand the dimensions of a full-size baseball diamond.

“But most councils understand how big these diamonds are now, and take into account the size of the outfield area when mapping out the locations of future club facilities,” Flynn said.

“I think in some regions it has been more of a struggle than others, but in our hub, which remains Auckland, we are quite pleased overall with the number of baseball diamonds that have been built or improved in recent years.

“There still exists room for improvement, of course, as clubs like North Shore City Baseball Club are without a permanent home right now and other major clubs like Howick Pakuranga are in dire need of proper drainage on what would be considered by many of us impressive facilities, but we view these issues as short-term problems.”

Another international influence at North Harbour Stadium is Australian Rules.

The entire nine-round AFL New Zealand Premiership contested between four teams made up of players from around the country is played out of the one venue.

AFL club St Kilda is in discussions to have a base at some level at North Harbour Stadium.

A hybrid turf facility behind the east stand at the stadium, which features an artificial turf layer which allows grass to grow through from underneath, was opened last year, and the oval is of such a size that an Australian AFL pre-season fixture could be played on it in the future.

Paul Nisbet said RFA is working closely with AFL in Australia and is in on-going discussions with St Kilda for the club to have a permanent presence at some level at the stadium.

 

 

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