Swans, Saints set for NZ

SYDNEY has emerged at the top of Wellington City Council’s wish-list to play St Kilda next season in what would be the AFL’s first match for premiership points outside Australia.
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AFL chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan yesterday said a deal to stage the Anzac Day clash at Westpac Stadium had yet to be clinched, but Wellington City Council sports and events portfolio leader John Morrison told The Saturday Age he expected the fine print, such as advertising and beer rights, to be settled within three weeks.

Morrison also revealed his preference was for the Swans to take on the Saints. The Brisbane Lions had also been considered. ”It’s up to the AFL, of course, but we certainly believe the Sydney Swans are the hot favourites,” Morrison said. ”From our point of view, we would certainly like it because Sydney has good access to Wellington. From our bigger picture point of view, we hope we can get as many Australians as possible from St Kilda and the Sydney Swans and the AFL, and there are also many Australians that are in New Zealand, not just Wellington. We are aiming for a full house.”

The AFL had hoped to finalise an agreement with Wellington City Council by late July. ”It’s more likely than not, but the deal is not done,” McLachlan said. ”St Kilda are working with all the relevant parties over there. We are very supportive of it.”

In a letter to club members this week, Saints chief executive Michael Nettlefold, understood to have held talks with the Swans, said he hoped to formally announce details ”in the near future”.

Morrison said the Saints could play as many as three matches in Wellington in 2014. The match would be broadcast after the traditional clash between Collingwood and Essendon at the MCG. The AFL would be hopeful of attracting a capacity crowd of 35,000, having yesterday revealed attendances this season had slipped three per cent up to round 20, compared to the same time last season.

The analysis showed while attendances had fallen in Victoria, a rise had been recorded in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia. ”This was always expected for us. I guess what we have to do now is [think] to what extent should we be recalibrating,” McLachlan said.

Comparing 2010, the final year of the 16-team competition, to now, the AFL identified four trends that had an impact on crowd figures.

There were fewer traditional fixtures, that is matches involving the 16 clubs before expansion, while average attendance had been ”on track” this season until Port Adelaide’s recent decline. The birth of Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney had also affected the situation. The redevelopment of Simonds Stadium in Geelong and the SCG, reducing capacity, was another factor, while Brisbane had recorded a drop of 32 per cent in attendance from 2010 to 2011. But the Lions had worked to stabilise that figure. ”We have to define success under a new paradigm. We have two smaller teams going in,” McLachlan said.

”If we take all the Gold Coast and GWS games out, our average crowds are the same. Therefore, the strength of the existing 16 clubs is the same.”

McLachlan said there was a ”positive correlation” between live television broadcasts, the number of which has increased under the new broadcast rights deal, and attendance, and pointed to the marquee timeslot of Friday night. He said the average television audience on Channel Seven and Fox Sports on this night was up 43 per cent, while attendance had grown 16 per cent.

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