Following on from a new role at Latrobe University in Melbourne, Geoff Dickson has resigned from the AFL New Zealand Board after 12 years of outstanding service.
Geoff’s initial appointment to the AFL New Zealand Board in September 2005, saw him join fellow Directors, Andrew Davidson (Chairman), David Hogg, Steve Fury, Murray Jackson, Ian McWhinnie, Jim Lucy and Rob Malone (General Manager).
By August 2008, Geoff had 6 new Board Directors, a new CEO and a new dynamic for the organisation moving forward.
Geoff in conjunction with his board, commenced a drive to review and improve governance with the introduction of an annual Board Work Plan to ensure AFL New Zealand would be ready for opportunities when made available. The formation of a subcommittee for risk and finance, board succession planning, a delegated authority policy and constitutional review were all added elements to secure the organisations stability and future.
During 2008, Hawthorn Football provided a commitment to New Zealand driven through the development of a Memorandum of Understanding that would historically last for a six year period. An amazing achievement to secure a partnership with the 2008 AFL Premiers.
The development of the newly formed AFL KiwiKick Programme and the appointment of a second fulltime staff member, saw delivery to 38 New Zealand schools in its initial year. Geoff was reappointed by the AFL as a Director late in 2009 and then as Chair early the following year.
The AFL New Zealand Board as we witnessed a rapid expansion with the High Performance Programme including the development of a New Zealand Under 16 team to travel to Fiji and an Under 20 team to host a touring VAFA contingent. A third fulltime employee was engaged to assist with growth and expansion into the secondary school market following the Hawthorn FC push to identify and develop talent within New Zealand. The signing of Kurt Heatherley, now a senior listed player with the Hawthorn FC, was followed by a steady succession of International Scholarships secured with Melbourne FC, Greater Western Sydney, St Kilda and the Hawthorn Football Clubs.
The organisations success increased opportunities to engage with a growing list of quality partnerships. Kiwisport and increased investment from the Regional Sports Trusts and the AFL, provided continued growth in the organisations turnover showcased by a 40% increase for three consecutive years.
Geoff and fellow directors developed a new Strategic Plan in 2011/ 2012 , with a mission for Australian Football to become a New Zealand sport. Relationships with the AFL, Sport New Zealand, Regional Sport Trusts, New Zealand Secondary Schools Sports Council, College Sport and the Hawthorn Football Club continued to flourish and in 2012 the AFL Academy played the New Zealand Hawks in a one off match on Westpac Stadium Wellington.
This match, the stadium and a huge growth in participation from 20,000 to 28,000 on the preceding year, was of great interest to St Kilda FC and resulted in the early formation of a new partnership with a second AFL club.
A new events programme was developing alongside the High Performance Programme with AFL New Zealand Community Awards, AFL New Zealand High Performance Awards and the formation of the New Zealand Heritage Team all following soon after. Those selected represent both our domestic population as well as the 700,000 New Zealand born people making up the largest ethnic group living within Australia.
The Wellington 2013 ANZAC day match between St Kilda and Sydney was a landmark achievement for AFL in New Zealand. For the first time in a 140 year history, an AFL fixture was to be played at an International venue. 23,000 spectators witnessed the first AFL Premiership game in 140 years to be played outside of Australia and provided the perfect example of who will make up the future of the sport in New Zealand. Without the AFL’s confidence in AFLNZ, this match would likely not have happened. Over 5000 guests from Australia visited Wellington filling flights and hotels, providing the local economy with an estimated 9 million dollar cash injection as well as continued travel through New Zealand.
With the appointment of a Wellington co-ordinator as the organisations fourth fulltime staff member, the financial turnover of the organisation exceeded $1 million for the first time. In response to the commensurate complexity and risk, the board developed a Risk and Finance Sub-committee.
Sommet Sports, New Zealand’s only free-to-air sports channel, kicked off on televisions around the country in July 2013. In January 2014 Sommet Sports and SKY Sport announced the renewal of their international rights for the next three years.
St Kilda Football Club partnership and a commitment to play future games within New Zealand was supported by a growing list of initiatives. Joe Baker-Thomas became the Saints first International Scholarship signing signifying a growing interest in New Zealand’s talented athletes.
Early in 2014, and the NAB AFL preseason was witness to an amazing event as New Zealand born Kurt Heatherley making his first appearance for the Hawthorn Hawks alongside 13 premiership players. AFL in New Zealand also witnessed the Under 18 New Zealand Kahu become the first ever female AFL team to represent New Zealand.
13,500 spectators witnessed the return of St Kilda FC at Wellington ANZAC Day 2014, to play against the Brisbane Lions. AFL extended their broadcast platform in 2014 by appearing on New Zealand’s only free-to-air sports channel. To complement the established ‘freeview’ platform, ‘pay for view’ positioning was in place by June 2014.
The partnership with the St Kilda Football Club was supplemented by the signing of Giovanni Mountain Silbery. The 16 year old Aorere College student joins Joe Baker-Thomas as the Saints’ second International Scholarship signing continuing the growing interest in New Zealand’s talented athletes.
The partnerships and the access to community that is available through their support ensure that AFL KiwiKick could continue to grow with the programme now reaching 100,000 participants since its commencement.
In 2015, AFL powerhouse Carlton Football Club travelled to Wellington to join with St Kilda FC in participating in the 2015, 100 year commemorative ANZAC Day match. The formation of TVNZ’s new Duke Channel was certainly to facilitate a new broadcast deal was certainly one out of the box and a great team effort from the board.
The newly developed AFLNZ Premiership will provide coaching and athlete development opportunities, for the foreseeable future.
QBE Stadium, falling under the control of Auckland Stadiums has become the latest AFL ground to be developed within New Zealand. The new oval positioned alongside AFL New Zealand Head Office, has a magnificent surface and commenced hosting AFL New Zealand Youth Competitions as of October 2015.
The development of commercial partnerships has continued to grow under Geoff’s tenure. St Kilda FC and AV Jennings are not alone in providing financial support to our community programmes. Early in 2016, Foundation North signed a three year funding agreement with AFL New Zealand providing a six figure sum over that period. This fantastic support along with further funding initiatives with Pelorus and Infinity Trusts, provides balance and certainty to our long term strategies.
St Kilda Football Clubs desire to participate in AFL fixtures in New Zealand’s most populous centre, Auckland, has attracted the support of Regional Facilities Auckland and ongoing plans for the redevelopment of Western Springs Stadium.
The commencement of the AFLW League within Australia and the ground swell of support behind female participation, has prompted the AFL New Zealand Board with Geoff’s guidance, to throw its weight behind supporting this growth as one of the organisations major targets. The appointment of our fifth fulltime staff member in her position of Female Development manager, will assist in providing this future direction.
A twelve year commitment that deserves recognition and we wish him well in his future endeavours and congratulations on his appointment at Latrobe University in Melbourne.
With Geoff’s resignation, the AFL will appoint a new director and following this appointment, the AFLNZ board will select a new chairman.