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AFL seals purchase of Etihad Stadium

THE AFL will take control of Etihad Stadium next month under a deal worth up to $200 million struck today.

But the league’s plans to clear the way for a better playing surface and improved gate returns faces one last hurdle, with global popstar Justin Bieber scheduled to play at the venue on March 10.

League stakeholders have previously expressed concern over the playing surface following major concerts.

The league will likely honour existing bookings once it takes charge of the venue in November, but rock concerts during the pre-season and season may be a thing of the past.

The venue – one of Melbourne’s top major events venues – has struggled since it opened in 2000 with its playing surface.

It has hosted events from U2 to Robbie Williams, the Big Bash to UFC.

In 2010 the AFLPA blasted the condition of the ground in the wake of an AC/DC concert.

In a statement today, AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said: “Owning Etihad Stadium enables the AFL to continue to strengthen the financial health of several of our Victorian clubs, develop an asset for our whole industry, and commit to being a serious stakeholder in the future of the Docklands precinct.

“Stadiums are a vital piece of community and public infrastructure that bring city precincts alive.

“The AFL will continue to operate Etihad Stadium as a multi-purpose entertainment venue hosting AFL matches, other sports, concerts and a broad range of entertainment options.
“Our commitment as owners of Etihad Stadium is to work with government to provide a stadium experience for our fans equal to the best in the world, as well as explore how we can help improve the stadium’s relationship to Docklands and the city.”

St Kilda chief executive Matt Finnis said: “This acquisition will provide a significant financial boost for tenant clubs, and is an investment in the future of our game.

“Etihad Stadium is a fantastic place to play and watch football – but it’s no secret the economics of the stadium deal have operated as a significant handbrake on the progress of our club for many years.

“As a primary tenant club, we now look forward to working closely with the AFL to improve arrangements for the Saints, our players, members and fans via enhancing the facilities and re-engineering the match returns.

“Well done to all involved at AFL House in getting this deal done for clubs and fans.”

Essendon chief marketing officer Justin Rodski said: “This is a great outcome for the AFL industry.

“The AFL can now not only provide a better financial outcome for the clubs but also drive investment in upgrading the entire precinct to ensure Etihad Stadium remains a world class venue for many years to come.”

The Etihad buyout comes after 15 months of negotiations and is likely to result in major upgrades to the 54,000-capacity ground, which opened in 2000.

It is also expected to boost gate returns for the ground’s tenants clubs, the Western Bulldogs, Carlton, St Kilda and North Melbourne.

The stadium was scheduled to be transferred to the AFL in 2025 under a deal with the ground’s consortium of owners, but McLachlan had made clear his desire to bring the takeover forward.

The AFL is expected to formally take over the stadium’s ownership and management in early November.

Etihad Airways will continue to hold the stadium’s naming rights until 2019 when it will have options to extend the agreement.

The stadium hosted 46 home-and-away matches during the 2016 AFL season, representing more than 20 per cent of the league’s total match-day attendances.

Collingwood president Eddie McGuire had previously flagged the possibility of demolishing Etihad and building a $1 billion new AFL venue in the shadow of the MCG to take over the mantle of Melbourne’s second stadium.

But McLachlan has said he believed the Docklands ground is a strong asset which will benefit from improvements.

North Melbourne chief executive Carl Dilena said today: “Today’s announcement is good news for tenant clubs, including North Melbourne.

“We look forward to sitting down with the AFL in due course to determine the detail of what this means for the Club.

“It’s too early to estimate the positive financial or fan experience impacts this will deliver for the competition, but we are excited about the AFL’s plans for the stadium and the surrounding precinct.”

Last month the Herald Sun revealed “significant movement” in talks between league chiefs and the consortium that operates the Docklands ground.

“Really what we want to do is make it better, spend money in the stadium for our supporters and our fans and also our tenant deals for our clubs so they make some money,” McLachlan told 3AW last month.

The AFL is planning a $300 million revamp of Etihad Stadium, including a new waterside gateway, open-air bars, restaurants, parks and a running track, as revealed by the Herald Sun ­earlier this year.

McLachlan confirmed the venue would continue to be a multi-purpose stadium, hosting AFL games as well as a range of other sports, concerts and entertainment options.

“It was the commission’s view an early purchase far exceeded any perceived advantage in waiting until 2025 when the stadium rights fell to AFL automatically,” an AFL statement said.

Original article – Michael Warner, staff writers, AAP, Herald Sun

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