On Anzac day this year, the Australian Football League (AFL) broke new ground by taking the Australian game to New Zealand. On April 25, for the first time a game of football was played beyond Australia’s shores for premiership points.
The atmosphere at Westpac stadium in Wellington was electric and the scheduled game between old foes, St Kilda and Sydney had been gaining steady momentum since it had been announced last year.
The stunning success of the game can be gauged from the fact that it drew over 22,000 people into the stadium, a figure that even local rugby clubs could only dream about. Local pubs, bars and restaurants reported strong business due to the screening of the two Anzac day games and the two teams received plenty of appreciative and friendly coverage from the New Zealand media.
In the lead up to the game, coaches of both teams had urged their players to live up to the hype in their efforts to present a great tribute to the fallen heroes of the two countries.
The trophy that was taken by the victorious Sydney Swans, was aptly named the Simpson-Henderson trophy, in the memory of two diggers who worked hard to carry wounded Australian and New Zealand soldiers on the back of their donkeys during the Gallipoli campaign.
However, it was not just about football in Wellington, but business as well. Exporting the game to New Zealand will provide Australia, the AFL and its clubs unique business and image building opportunities which could then be invested in improving player welfare and the game in general.
Both St Kilda and Sydney were exploring newer markets in an effort to increase their memberships and broaden their revenue bases and New Zealand was the right fit for the business models of the two clubs.
The Anzac Day game (which would now be held yearly) would help St Kilda in enhancing its revenue base. It would also bring along with it great opportunities for boosting trade and tourism between Australia and New Zealand.
The hype and success of the Anzac day game could well and truly lead up to the establishment of a proper AFL team from New Zealand in the future. This would help generate more revenue for the country’s entertainment sector and the government, as witnessed on April 25.
Similarly, the AFL’s growing presence in New Zealand would encourage the locals to take up the game and hence the AFL and the clubs could get more overseas players. This would add to the internationalization and diversity of the game in many ways.
Investing in New Zealand would also mean more members for the established clubs, hence better revenues for the clubs and more tourism for Australia.
The rise of Australian football in New Zealand heralds the start of a new era for the game and confirms the AFL Commission’s previous stance that it was taking international assignments of its clubs seriously.
St Kilda, Sydney, the AFL and New Zealand authorities should all be congratulated for living up to the hype by producing a well organized match of football which was a hard-fought game.