Aussie rules in capital start of something big

Wellington City councillor John Morrison is confident next year's historic Anzac Day Aussie rules game in Wellington will be "bigger than we imagined".

The council, the AFL, and St Kilda Football Club are beavering away on plans to stage the code's first premiership game outside of Australia as part of a strategic long- term partnership.

Morrison, the council's sports and events portfolio leader, said talks were progressing well and he believed a contract to play games at Westpac Stadium would be signed within a month.

The proposal is for Melbourne club St Kilda to play one "home" game in Wellington next year, then two premiership games in each of 2014 and 2015.

The Sydney Swans were frontrunners as St Kilda's opponent next year, although the Brisbane Lions were also an option, Morrison said.

"Everyone's pretty confident that we'll be kicking off on Anzac Day next year. I think we can make it a terrific occasion and I think it will be bigger than we imagined.

"Anzac Day next year is a Thursday and if we're clever about how we present this, there's an opportunity for Australians to have a four-day weekend in Wellington - and obviously that's a big spend."

St Kilda chief executive Michael Nettlefold and AFL international development manager Tony Woods have visited Wellington twice and given Westpac the thumbs up as an AFL venue.

Morrison said there was no deadline to lock in the deal and none of the parties were "disagreeing violently over any one issue".

"Sure there's some financial issues to address but I would hope that within a month we would have a fully-fledged contract in place. From their point of view, it's a big move, it's a big gamble, it's their game and they're taking it offshore."

The AFL, which already has an office in Auckland, plans to hire two or three fulltime staff in Wellington to promote the sport in schools and the community.

The link between Wellington and St Kilda is based on the same model as the successful partnership between Hawthorn and the Tasmanian government.

"A lot of people are saying 'oh it should be a good one-off thing', but we're not looking at it as a one- off thing, we're looking at it as an ongoing relationship," Morrison said.

"It will either be a three or four- year term, initially, and then hopefully it will extend beyond that."

Plans for a pre-season game in Wellington next year are likely to be scrapped, with the AFL wanting to keep its powder dry for the real thing.

Morrison said next year's Anzac Day festivities would stretch beyond the sporting realm, with the defence forces on both sides of the Tasman keen to get involved.

"We work on the basis that the event money that we spend, we're looking for return into the city and it's based on a 20-1 formula. In other words if we spend $1, we would expect $20 or more into the city's economy. We're confident we'll reach that."

Sunday Star Times