“In the next week or two, that will open. We’ve hired the GM, and we’re close to finalising the recruitment of the business development manager. But that sends a strong message about our commitment to China and our long-term perspective.
“Their priorities, those two roles, will be how do we drive commercial partnerships, how do we drive broadcast partnerships, how do we drive government partnerships? So that’s encouraging, and they’ll play a critical role.”
The AFL already funds offices in New Zealand, the United States, Europe and South Africa, but believes its China move is particularly significant.
“We’ve spent a lot of last year working on our China strategy, and had good conversations with the commission, and got their support. So it was really the end of last year that we got approval from the commission to move forward with the China office.”
The AFL is also set to announce a historic Auskick session to be held next week in the Sydney suburb of Hurstville, with the clinic to be conducted entirely in Mandarin.
After two games between Gold Coast and Port Adelaide at Jiangwan Stadium, the Suns have been replaced by St Kilda, who have committed to take on the Power at the venue each season until 2021.
Stevenson said the AFL’s move into China was threefold: To grow the Indigenous game overseas, to connect with the 1.2 million Australians of Chinese descent, and to help increase revenue.
“The more we can drive revenue there, that allows us to invest in AFLW, Auskick and community football. And we’re all looking for new ways to drive revenue,” Stevenson said.
“I’m really proud that the game is break-even. We’re not taking away dollars from anywhere else to put on a game in China.
“That commercial revenue then allows us to invest in things that aren’t driving a commercial return.”
Stevenson said tickets for Sunday week’s match would be sold out in the coming days, with an approximate 50-50 attendance split between locals and visiting Australians.
“The turf’s looking good. The stadium’s looking good. We’ve got some more hospitality areas, some better food and beverage for people, and a range of other events that go on.”
The Saints haven’t completely ruled out a return to play games for premiership points in New Zealand but remain hamstrung by venue issues, with a redevelopment of Auckland’s Western Springs Stadium still up in the air.
Daniel is an Age sports reporter.