Windy Wellington is putting on its best weather and giving the annual AFL Anzac Day game an unlikely boost it desperately needs.
While Saturday’s match between St Kilda and Carlton is unlikely to top the crowd of 22,000 for the first of these games two years ago, it should pass last year’s 13,000.
The game is being played this year in the afternoon, not at night, and a patch of perfect autumn weather should encourage plenty of walk-up ticket sales.
That would be a decent outcome for the AFL and the Saints, given the poor leadup to this year’s third edition.
In marketing terms, it has been the ultimate hard sell.
The fact the weather can be a clear factor in the attendance shows far the Saints have to go.
Officials are scheduled to review the ambitious five-year New Zealand plan after this match and they’ll have plenty to discuss.
That fewer AFL games are being broadcast into rugby-mad New Zealand this season was not a great start.
St Kilda and Carlton are not exactly the AFL’s form teams, either.
St Kilda started the season widely tipped to win the wooden spoon and Carlton officially are rebuilding after losing their first three games.
Then Saints captain Nick Riewoldt and Carlton star Chris Judd – easily the opposing clubs’ highest-profile players – were ruled out through injury.
But Saints operating officer Ameet Bains argues losing Judd and Riewoldt only hurts to a small degree.
“The fact the decisions were made on both those guys pretty late in the week, I don’t think would have altered too many plans,” Bains said.
“It (the lack of a top team) makes it a little bit more difficult.
“But in this early stage, when the local audience is really familiarising themselves with the game, the opponent makes a difference – but it’s not as critical as it might be in years to come.”
The Wellington Anzac Day game is the centrepiece of St Kilda’s campaign to build a solid supporter base in New Zealand.
The Saints are pleased with progress and want to expand.
They also have a training camp in NZ and could play a pre-season game as well.
“There’s certainly potential to have pre-season games sooner rather than later,” Bains said.
“Based on the experience we’ve had so far, we’d love to build this into something more permanent and really build our connection engagement with Wellington and New Zealand.”
But Saints chief executive Matt Finnis emphasises their strategy for the land of the long white cloud is a long game.
“There’s no doubt it’s a long-tem play – it’s not dissimilar to the work the AFL is doing on the Gold Coast and in greater western Sydney – probably the latter, rather than the former,” he told AAP.
“You’re really trying to grow an audience to support the game, let alone the team.”