St Kilda’s chances of playing a match in New Zealand next season are up in the air, with the time frame surrounding the Saints’ first match in Auckland to be shaped this month by council planning.
St Kilda hope to resume their trans-Tasman presence, which began with an annual Anzac Day game in Wellington between 2013 and 2015.
The Saints have since flagged their interest in playing a home game in Auckland, and had initially hoped to lock it in this year or in 2019. No matches were scheduled for 2018, and next season now looks no guarantee.
The reason for the uncertainty is that the proposed AFL venue in Auckland – Western Springs Stadium – requires funding for a reconfiguration that would allow the ground to host sports including cricket and football.
The venue can currently be used as a speedway, with a plan for speedway to finish at the venue next March.
But a timeframe on conversion to a ground fit for AFL games is dependent on funding, which is being discussed in Auckland Council’s budget and planning consultation period, which began late last month and runs until March 28. The process is built around developing a 10-year budget for Auckland, as well as planning for what the city will look like in 2050.
“We can’t give a target year but we are committed to working with AFL and St Kilda on a venue option for Auckland fixtures,” Nisbet told The Age.
“We will know more once we have worked through the planning and council funding process.
“As signalled previously, speedway activity is scheduled to end at Western Springs in March 2019. It is our intention to re-purpose Western Springs, and an oval facility which caters for cricket and other sports such as AFL is our preferred option.
“This strategy was approved in 2015 by Auckland Council, with the funding to be considered in the current Auckland Council long-term planning process. We are continuing to talk through timing and venue requirements with the AFL and St Kilda and are working towards being able to host AFL fixtures in Auckland in the near future.”
The Saints have continued to maintain a presence in New Zealand even without playing games there, continuing to hold preseason training camps in the country. St Kilda have also had a handful of Kiwi international scholarship players on their books in recent seasons.
Dashing Saints half-back Shane Savage was born in New Zealand, moving to Australia as a boy.
The club’s chief executive Matt Finnis told the AFL website last year that New Zealand had untapped potential as an AFL market.
“We certainly still consider that as a potential secondary market, which hasn’t been given the full opportunity to reveal the strength that that can have yet,” Finnis said.
The Saints lost all three of their games in Wellington. The first, against Sydney, drew 22,546, but the next two games drew significantly less: 13,409 and 12,125. The matches were the first home and away games to be played outside Australia, followed by last year’s game in Shanghai between Port Adelaide and Gold Coast, who will again meet in China this year.
St Kilda are just weeks away from moving their headquarters back to Moorabbin after seven years in Seaford.
The Saints used Launceston as a secondary market in the first half of last decade.
Story – www.smh.com.au