Fair dinkum. Aussie Rules coming to Wellington
Wellington is in the boxseat to host the first AFL competition game outside Australia, perhaps as soon as next year, as St Kilda search for a home away from home.
The Melbourne club is exploring the possibility of playing "home" games at Westpac Stadium and, with encouragement from the AFL, are in talks with Wellington City Council about developing a relationship similar to Hawthorn's deal with the Tasmanian Government.
Hawthorn is turning a tidy profit playing four "home" games in Launceston each year and council sports and events portfolio leader John Morrison sees potential for a mutually beneficial arrangement between Wellington and St Kilda.
Morrison and businessman John Dow – a key figure behind Wellington hosting three pre-season AFL games between 1998 and 2001 – have accepted an invitation to attend the Anzac Day blockbuster between Collingwood and Essendon at the MCG next week.
Morrison hoped "two or three major meetings" in Melbourne would advance already-positive discussions towards St Kilda "hosting" an Anzac Day game in Wellington next year. It would mark the first time a competition game has been played outside Australia.
"We've got both the AFL and St Kilda looking at a proposition," Morrison said.
"It's still got a fair way to travel but we've had positive talks about St Kilda being associated with Wellington and looking to play up to two, maybe even three, major club games against opposition like Collingwood, Essendon or whoever.
"So the two factors make it pretty interesting, that we've got a club who wishes to be in partnership with us and we've got the governing body. We're talking about this partnership arrangement kicking off next year with an Anzac Day game here. I think that's a particularly good marketing ploy."
The AFL is widely regarded as the most successful sporting organisation in Australasia and has expanded aggressively, with teams now based on the Gold Coast and west Sydney.
The AFL's recently completed five-year plan includes the desire to contest competition games outside Australia within that period.
Former New Zealand cricketer Morrison admitted he was unsure how much of an appetite existed among Wellingtonians to watch AFL.
But given that St Kilda boast 40,000 members, of which an average 5000 travel to each away game, Morrison said there was reason for optimism that a big crowd could be attracted.
"We're looking for another iconic Wellington sporting event and this could be quite unique.
"The potential is to start with 10,000 Aussies coming into town and there's a lot of other fans around New Zealand. There's still question marks around how the money is split up but the good thing is they are very serious and so are we."
St Kilda and AFL officials visited Wellington in January to hold meetings and watched a trial game at Westpac Stadium between an AIS-AFL side and the New Zealand Hawks.
"They brought a big delegation over and amongst other things were interested in seeing how the dimensions at the stadium worked," Morrison said. "It's encouraging and I think it's bloody fantastic when the biggest sporting outfit, easily in Australasia, has sat down with us and made a decision that, yes, they'd like to do this."
St Kilda chief executive Michael Nettlefold couldn't be reached for comment yesterday, but in March told The Age newspaper that the club "see an opportunity to build player talent pathways for local talent to play AFL and potentially play games for premiership points in Wellington in the future".
St Kilda are fifth on the AFL ladder after three rounds and have a roster that includes stars in Nick Riewoldt and Nick Dal Santo.
The Dominion Post