St Kilda’s international push into New Zealand has ramped up again with the club pushing to play up to two games in Auckland in 2018.
A contingent of government, tourism and stadium officials from Auckland will hold talks with the Saints and the AFL in Melbourne later this month focusing on the proposed redevelopment of the city’s Western Springs Stadium into a boutique Test cricket and football venue.
With the AFL Commission having committed earlier this year to an international strategy involving China, India and NZ, St Kilda CEO Matt Finnis said his club was determined to reinvigorate its move into the secondary market.
“The club’s already taken steps to establish a market in New Zealand and we believe there’s a growing market for the game in Auckland. We’d be crazy not to see how we could be a part of that,” Finnis said.
“We’d like to think that can happen, assuming the stadium redevelopment proposal is successful. Auckland remains the commercial centre of New Zealand with AFL New Zealand based there and we’d have to really ramp up our development work in that area if this proposal is successful.”
Finnis said the Saints hope to play one pre-season and one home-and-away fixture in 2018 with ad view to scheduling two home-and-away games beyond that.
The forthcoming talks will involve Finnis and his team along with AFL executives Travis Auld and Simon Lethlean. While the AFL is not planning to help fund the Western Springs redevelopment — the venue is currently a speedway circuit — St Kilda and the league are looking at a funding arrangement under the game development part of the competition’s new funding model.
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The Wellington experiment was abandoned after crowds slipped from 22,546 at the 2013 match between St Kilda and Sydney – the first AFL game for premiership points on foreign soil — to the 12,125 that saw the Saints lose to Carlton in 2015, Mick Malthouse’s last win as an AFL coach.
After walking away from Wellington, which was worth an estimated $500,000, the club was this year scheduled a highly profitable and ultimately victorious early home game against Collingwood at the MCG. St Kilda is expected to request a similar fixture next year before its proposed foray into the more heavily populated NZ city.
Ameet Bains, the Saints chief operating officer who has put together the forthcoming Auckland talks, said: “The AFL’s obviously formulated an updated international strategy, for which they’re on the record as saying New Zealand’s a key focus area for them.
“It is part of the broader discussion of playing football in New Zealand.”
“The stumbling block in doing that any sooner is the construction of a stadium in Auckland that can accommodate AFL football in terms of the dimensions of the ground.”
The new stadium, which would hold about 23,000, is being strongly supported by Cricket New Zealand who currently have no suitable venue in Auckland, scheduling only Twenty20 games at the smaller circular ground adjoining Eden Park.
Saints chairman Peter Summers has continued to push the Saints case in New Zealand with club director Liz Dawson also sitting on the Cricket New Zealand board and the New Zealand Olympic Committee.
New Zealand-born Shane Savage played his 100th game on the weekend in the Saints’ win over Fremantle, while St Kilda have offered scholarships to youngsters Joe Baker-Thomas, Giovanni Mountain-Silbery and Barclay Miller in recent seasons.
Story – theage.com.au