Saints replace Suns in AFL’s China match

St Kilda’s Seb Ross (left) and Port Adelaide’s Ollie Wines are looking ahead to their China venture.Chasing funding and fans, St Kilda has replaced Gold Coast as Port Adelaide’s opponent for the AFL’s annual match in Shanghai.
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The Saints have committed to the Chinese venture for the next three years, giving up a home fixture to do so.

The match will be staged later than the previous two iterations, on Sunday June 2 as part of round 11 and preceding both clubs’ byes in order to allow for the travel demands.

Hopes are high that after two dubiously attended fixtures, both won easily by Port Adelaide, the Saints’ involvement can breathe life into the fledging match.

“China is not a short-term strategy … we’re really pleased that St Kilda have made this decision,” AFL executive Travis Auld said.

Neither Auld, Port Adelaide chief executive Keith Thomas or Saints counterpart Finnis could or would give figures as to either their financial underwriting or returns from their involvement in the match.

But Finnis said it was a “significant” injection from the deal, which the Saints would aim to leverage opportunities for its sponsors – and to improve crowds.

“There’s the commercial outcome but it’s also a chance to grow our fanbase,” he said.

“There are so many Chinese international students in Melbourne. Monash University, one of our performance partners, has 10,000 Chinese students in its own right.

“It starts to differentiate our football club in a very competitive market.”

The Saints are no stranger to international AFL fixtures, having played three matches in Wellington for three losses between 2013 and 2015.

The club clarified the China match didn’t mean the end for their aspirations to play matches in New Zealand, which hung on finding “a suitable venue in Auckland”.

Auld said St Kilda were the only Victorian club to signal interest in participating in the fixture.

After a brouhaha between Port and the Suns over Gold Coast’s right to wear its home jumper, Thomas said those issues had already been ironed out with the Saints.

“When we first started thinking about China we were quite unsure about what was important and what wasn’t important. We knew the colour red was very significant in the Chinese culture. But it’s not that significant,” he said.

“We have no issue at all with St Kilda having the home guernsey. We’ll design our own guernsey for the occasion … with just a subtle reference to China.”

A Victorian Government representative also tabled the idea of a women’s match in China, catching Auld on the hop.

“This is the first time I’ve thought about it … but we love the idea of expanding the game,” Auld said.