Leading AFL officials promise next year’s historic Anzac Day game in Wellington will be affordable and believe a sell-out at Westpac Stadium is not unrealistic.
While pen is yet to be put to paper, a wide-ranging deal between the AFL, St Kilda Football Club and Wellington City Council appears a formality after several months of talks.
AFL international development manager Tony Woods and St Kilda chief executive Michael Nettlefold depart Wellington this morning buoyant about the partnership after two days of meetings with council and stadium officials.
“We’ve established a strong base in Australia, we’re the No1 sport and that’s given us the confidence now to start to look outside of Australia,” Woods said.
“New Zealand, given our long history together and the partnerships we’ve shared on the world stage, has always been an obvious first choice for us to play footy here.”
St Kilda will play a promotional pre-season game in Wellington next year to whet the appetite before returning to play the first premiership game outside of Australia, on Anzac Day at Westpac Stadium.
From 2014 onwards there would be two premiership games played at the stadium each year.
Next year’s Anzac Day opponent will be one of the Sydney or Queensland teams. “If it’s a beautiful day like today in Wellington then let’s aim to fill the stadium,” Woods said.
“This is about opening up a two-way relationship and it’s only going to be successful if the Wellington community embrace it.
“We’re not coming here to take on union or league or dislodge them from their rightful spot as the No1 sports, we’re coming here with the belief that we can co-exist.
“It might not be as physical as rugby in some respects but in others it takes just as much courage to play. There’s some awesome athletes that are playing footy and already there’s been some New Zealanders that have made it through to the elite level of AFL. We also want the game to be affordable to Wellingtonians.”
Nettlefold said there was still plenty of work to do before a deal could be finalised but all parties were positive about that happening.
The AFL is planning to dispatch two or three full-time staff to work in Wellington, promoting the sport in schools and the community.
The link between St Kilda and Wellington is based on the successful relationship between Hawthorn and Tasmania and Nettlefold said the feeling was those clubs had stolen a march on their opposition.
“I was on radio the other day and the commentators, who are entrenched football people, said they can’t believe no one’s thought about this before,” Nettlefold said.
“We’d like St Kilda to become ultimately the team of choice for the people in Wellington, that’s going to be important to us and we’ll work very hard at that. We’re delivering a complete, 12-months-of-the-year package, not just a couple of events each year.”
The Anzac Day game will be played following the Essendon-Collingwood game at the MCG, which has a broadcast audience of 1.8 million.
– © Sam Worthington, Fairfax NZ News