The clubs would be looking to partner with the International Cricket Council to source a suitable ground, with the ICC planning a greater presence in the US and seeking to develop venues for Twenty20 matches. Two grounds have been identified as promising, one outside of San Francisco, the other near Los Angeles.
Essendon chief executive Xavier Campbell announced the California initiative at the Essendon FC Network launch at Crown. Coaching legend Kevin Sheedy, who coached both clubs, has long been a proponent of playing a game in America and still works for Essendon in an ambassadorial role.
The Bombers, who have been in discussions with GWS about the game for a couple of months, say that the game would help expose their sponsors to the American market.
While it is unclear what time the proposed California game would be played, GWS suggested that it could be played on a Friday night in California, which would be a Saturday afternoon in Australia – in effect, the west coast of the US is several hours ahead (and a day behind). Essendon has consulted with its fitness and conditioning staff about the impact of playing in the USA, with the view expressed that the team would need a week’s break following the game.
GWS’ interest in the match has been enhanced by the club’s two wealthy, Californian-based backers, who have contributed significant funds to the club after visiting Australia and becoming interested in AFL.
GWS chief executive David Matthews, who has been the major driver of the American concept, said he welcomed Essendon’s interest in the game, with other clubs having shown interest in partnering for the game.
“The major challenge is the venue,” Matthews said, confirming that there were two potential venues – which were identified by the ICC – outside of San Francisco and Los Angeles, though there were “six to eight” potential grounds scattered across the US.
Matthews and Campbell have been in discussions about the American game for a couple of months, which the Giants ideally felt could be played as soon as next year, though the project hinges on the confirmation of a venue.
Matthews pointed out that while the concept of playing in the US for premiership points might be viewed with scepticism in some quarters, the same was true of every idea or proposal that had expanded the game. “We’ve got a great game and we’ve got to show it.”
Sources said that the now traditional season opener between Carlton and Richmond effectively ruled those clubs out if the game was to be played in the days prior to the rest of round 1.
America would become the third country beyond Australian borders to host a game for premiership points, following New Zealand – where St Kilda played Sydney and Carlton – and the China game pioneered by Port Adelaide, for which the Saints are the home team. That game has been moved to Marvel Stadium in Melbourne this year due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.