NZ just step one for expansion-keen AFL

Sam Linert, 12/09/2012


The AFL hope their first overseas game for premiership points, in New Zealand next year, paves the way for matches around the world.

And they have left the door open to it eventually leading to a New Zealand-based AFL club.

St Kilda will play Sydney at Wellington’s 34,000-capacity Westpac Stadium on Anzac Day 2013, the first of what are planned to be annual fixtures on the shared holiday, hosted by the Saints.

The game will be played at 1740 AEST (1940 local), to follow the traditional Essendon-Collingwood MCG Anzac Day blockbuster.

Provided all parties are happy, the Saints will then host two Wellington games in each of 2014 and 2015, in a deal reportedly set to net the club about $1 million per year.

AFL chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan said the league was unashamedly targeting international expansion and hoped the NZ deal proved a trend-setter.

Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu has spoken this week about the prospect of home and away games being staged in China, while Richmond have been pushing for an exhibition match in India.

“We’ve certainly been unambiguous about our international plans, to look 10, 15, 20 years out,” McLachlan told reporters on Wednesday.

“I certainly hope it is (the first of several overseas ventures).

“… I wouldn’t be surprised if other deals, other international games, flow on the back of it.”

While NZ is an obvious first step, given its geographical and cultural closeness, McLachlan said there were no insurmountable barriers to going further afield.

“There are obviously logistical issues, but you have to be creative to solve those,” he said.

“You think about the rugby guys who travel to South Africa – that’s a terrible flight, the time zones are poor and people make it work.

“If you’ve got a vision, you’ve got to deal with the challenges.”

Asked about the prospect of increased NZ games and eventually a NZ-based club, McLachlan said it couldn’t be ruled out, but would depend on how well the initial visits worked.

“Whether it’s a team in 10 years, I’d love to think it was,” he said.

AFL chief executive Andrew Demetriou has said Australian Rules-mad Tasmania is the logical next location if the league expands to 19 clubs.

McLachlan wasn’t willing to speculate on whether Tasmania, already spurned in favour of Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney, might now be behind NZ in the AFL expansion queue.

“I think though, you’ve got to have an even number of teams, so 20 is as likely as 19,” he said.

St Kilda chief executive Michael Nettlefold and Wellington City Council Sports and Events Leader John Morrison said their deal should be mutually beneficial as a commercial and promotional venture.


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