AFL fixture in doubt as only half pay admission

DAVE BURGESS
Last updated 05:00 05/06/2014
AFL
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NO INTEREST SHOWN: Only a few hardy souls attend the AFL clash between St Kilda and Brisbane at Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

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Fewer than half the 13,285 people who attended this year's Anzac Day Aussie Rules match at Westpac Stadium paid for their tickets - a revelation that could put the future of the annual event in jeopardy.

It was understood just 6400 people paid face value for their tickets to watch St Kilda lose to Brisbane.

Wellington City Council was understood to have put about $600,000 of ratepayer money into promoting the game - equating to more than $90 for every ticket sold. The contribution included $400,000 from its Economic Development Fund, and $200,000 from another council funding stream.

Council policy was that every dollar spent on big-event promotion should give the city a $20 return. Deputy Mayor Justin Lester was cagey last night on whether next year's match - marking the centenary of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli - would take place.

"It's under review and hard questions are being asked about the return on investment to Wellington.

"It has the ability to be a centrepiece of next year's Anzac Day centenary celebrations, but a lot of work needs to be done."

The first Anzac Day Aussie Rules game was played at the stadium last year, after a deal brokered by former city councillor John Morrison and promoter John Dow. It attracted a crowd of 22,183 - of whom about 17,000 paid for their tickets.

But Lester said the council was not satisfied with either event.

"When it was introduced . . . it seems to have been a fairly clear case of over-promising and under-delivering. We want to change that. We have met with representatives from St Kilda and the AFL to make our concerns known and to review the situation."

The deal was believed to have included St Kilda playing an annual "home" game at Westpac Stadium through to 2018 - although there would be a review period after 2015, enabling all parties to determine whether further matches would go ahead.

St Kilda said the ticket sales figure for this year was inaccurate, but they did not supply an alternative number.

Morrison declined to comment yesterday. However, former deputy mayor Ian McKinnon said Morrison and Dow had put "considerable thought" into developing the initial plan to capture the imagination and support of the city.

"They also wished to ensure it was well promoted in Australia to attract a large number of visitors from across the Tasman.

"They then worked to their plan, monitoring the effectiveness of each stage, and seemed to have a very good relationship with the AFL leadership."

Councillor Jo Coughlan said she suspected several factors contributed to poor ticket sales this year.

"I expect officers to work through the reasons for low takeup, and of course it may be as simple as ‘second-year-syndrome', but we can't know that yet and it's not appropriate to guess at this stage."

St Kilda general manager of commercial products Ben Davies was more upbeat.

"Whilst the crowd was down compared to last year, we're still very positive about the result given the impact of the school and Easter holiday period [which coincided with Anzac Day].

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"The St Kilda Football Club is looking forward to being part of the Anzac centenary in Wellington next year."

- The Dominion Post

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