Geelong is confident that the AFL will schedule at least one more game at Skilled Stadium each season after receiving federal government funding yesterday for lighting that will allow night football to be played at the venue from 2013.
Club and city are also expecting that other codes and sports will be drawn to the venue once competition at night or late afternoon is possible and the capacity of the ground is increased by almost 5000 to 34,500.
With the Melbourne football market, in particular, crowded with nine AFL teams, two A-League teams, the NRL's Melbourne Storm and rugby's Melbourne Rebels, it's said the chance to build a stronger profile in Victoria's second city will appeal.
The bid for one of cricket's T20 licences was lost last year, local officials maintain, because of the lack of lights, a problem that was becoming more acute by the year for the Cats.
Locked into early afternoon starts on Saturday or Sunday, the club's argument for more home games has been weakened in the eyes of the AFL which, to accommodate its television rights holders, will start games at nine different times next year.
The Cats played seven of their 11 home games at Skilled this year, not without incident. The match against Melbourne in late July finished in twilight, meaning that it was not only Dean Bailey who thought it a dark affair. Bailey was sacked as Melbourne coach 24 hours later. The following match, against Gold Coast, was brought forward by 30 minutes to avoid a similarly late conclusion.
"Under the new start times for next year, we can only fit into three of them and there is some doubt about the third, which is the 2.45pm starts on Sundays. Next year. . . Saturday and Sunday afternoons are our only option," Geelong chief executive Brian Cook said.
The money for the lighting, and a new scoreboard, is part of a larger $44 million redevelopment that has the Cats finalising a deal for a training venue in nearby Armstrong Creek.
While the prospect of more visits to Victoria's second city is hardly going to excite its AFL rivals -- the Cats have lost once at the ground in four years -- Cook says Geelong is preparing to create a second training ground in the expectation that other codes will eventually use the stadium.
The A-League's Melbourne Heart, for instance, has connections to the Geelong area and sees that some of its growth will come from regional Victoria.
"It had to come for the AFL but for the region as well," Cook said.
"When the City of Greater Geelong, for instance, tries to get the Storm down there, or Melbourne Heart or the Rebels, the difficulty they have is the lack of lights and therefore scheduling issues . . . This will be a real boost for a lot of people . . . not just the footy club. But understanding that, we realised there is going to be more use of the grass and we'd need to train elsewhere some of the time."
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