Docklands Stadium (Etihad)

  • Dimensions 159.5m x 129.5m

The Docklands Stadium is a sports facility located within the city of Melbourne, Victoria. It was completed in 2000 at the cost of $460 million. The Stadium is the location of the headquarters of the Australian Football League, who will assume ownership of the stadium in 2025. It has an official capacity of 53,359.

The stadium was proposed as a replacement for the ageing Waverly Park, and was formerly announced in 1996.The AFL contributed $30 million from the 2001 Broadcast rights deal, and signed on for 25 years worth of matches, in order to own the stadium in 2025 for just $1.00.

The Original deal as written in the AFLs 1997 Annual Report can be found [here] and [here]

As part of the arrangement –

  • Docklands is entitled to a final if there are two or more finals in the first week, otherwise they must be compensated with extra matches the following year.
  • 46 games a year contracted until 2013, then 40 games a year until 2025
  • best endeavor clause requires at least 30 games to have a  potential crowd of at least 40,000 or more.
  • Stadium returns for crowds of 40,000 are believed to be about half that of a similar crowd at the MCG.
  • No third stadium can be built before 2025
  • The AFL and clubs receive 36% of match revenue.

The stadium opened for the 2000 AFL Season with the first match for premiership points being between Essendon and Port Adelaide in front of more than 43,000 fans.

The ground is home to five AFL clubs – Essendon, Carlton, North Melbourne, St Kilda and the Western Bulldogs. However as a practical matter, all Victorian clubs play at least one home game a year at the stadium.The record crowd for an AFL match at Docklands is 54,444 between St Kilda and Geelong in 2009. The lowest crowd for an AFL match at Docklands is 12,542 between the Western Bulldogs and Fremantle.

Club Stadium Arrangements

  • Carlton are contracted to play 6 games a year, deal ends in 2014. Etihad management aretrying to convince them to stay. Carlton recieved 2.5 million up front to move, however this has meant lower returns since. Carltons deal is apparently set to its gate reciepts.
  • Essendon are contracted to play 7 games a year, deal ends in 2025. Widely reputed to be the best deal of the docklands clubs.
  • St Kilda hasnt had a deal since 2008 and would like to play at the MCG.
  • North Melbourne may not have had a deal at Docklands since 2007.

North, St Kilda and the Bulldogs have complained for years that Docklands does not generate anywhere near the financial returns they expected. St Kilda demanded more games at the MCG and will move several games to New Zealand, North have relocated several games a year to Bellerive Oval in Tasmania, and the Bulldogs play a game a year in Darwin. Carlton are actively seeking to reduce the number of games played at the stadium.

Stadium management have explained that since Etihad recieves no government funding, the rent is higher than that expected at the MCG, limiting returns. Management also point out that scoreboard advertising at Docklands is paid to the AFL whereas at the MCG advertising is paid to the MCC.

In response to club and AFL concerns, a new deal was negotiated where all clubs recieve a guaranteed $100,000 per match.

On December 7, 2015, The Age reported that Geelong are unhappy being forced to play 2 games at Etihad saying that its not fair they have to pick up the slack for clubs playing games interstate, like Hawthorn, claiming it could cost the club between 1 and 1.5 million in 2016.

“We support taking the game around Australia and beyond,” said the former AFL commissioner. “We support games in Cairns and Darwin and Wellington and Launceston and Hobart, but we’ve developed a business model to play games at Geelong. And our clear preference for Melbourne games is the MCG.

“It’s like building your own house and being asked to rent for two weeks. Why two games at Etihad? Hawthorn play seven games at the MCG and four in Launceston where they’re paid a bundle. Good luck to them, they’ve done a great job but why are we being asked to pick up the tab?”

Soccer, Docklands and the AFL.

Stadium Management sided with the AFL in its dispute with Football Federation Australia citing the AFL as its major tenant with existing rights expected to be honored, and completely rubbishing the idea of being compullsorily required. Many in the soccer community blamed the absence of Docklands on the AFL, and perhaps the subsequent failure of the World Cup bid as well.

This is covered in more detail here.

In May 2015, tensions flared again briefly when SYDNEY FC branded the AFL “a disgrace” for refusing to allow Etihad Stadium to host the A-League grand final, forcing it to be played at the 30,000-capacity AAMI Park.

Sydney CEO Tony Pignata said the AFL must be “scared” of football not to have agreed to move the Bulldogs-Dockers game.

“I’m disappointed that agreement couldn’t be reached between FFA and the AFL to use Etihad Stadium,” Pignata said. “I’m from Melbourne, I follow AFL and enjoy the footy — just as a lot of the fans who go to the game will be AFL followers.

“But I just don’t know what the AFL are scared of, really it’s a disgrace that they wouldn’t agree to move the Bulldogs game. AAMI Park is a great venue from a footballing purists’ point of view, it’ll be packed to the rafters and a great atmosphere.

“But we have 12,000 members, and only a quarter of them will be able to get tickets — they’re really angry and understandably so. I’ve had loads of messages via social media and it’s very unfair that almost three-quarters of our members can’t get a ticket.”

Naming rights issues

Initially the rights to Docklands were sold to Colonial Mutual for 32.5 million over ten years. When Colonial was bought by the Commonwealth Bank, those rights were sold to Telstra for $50 million. Colonial Stadium became Telstra Dome.

In 2009, Etihad Airways paid $25 million for the naming rights to the stadium, triggering legal action by the AFL as this conflicted with its major sponsor, Qantas. The AFL said that its contract gave it veto rights over naming rights sponsorship, and threatened to not allow its various arms to refer to the stadium as Etihad. That legal action is detailed here. The situation was settled out of court, and the deal was renewed in 2012 until 2019.

Surface issues

There have been some issues raised over the condition of the surface, particularly after an ACDC concert in the preseason of 2010. As a result of the concerns, and amidst the threat of player boycotts, the AFL forced the stadium management to ensure that no concerts were held in the preseason. That deal expired in the 2013 preseason, and its notable that concerns are already being expressed about the surface again.

Retractable roof Issues

During a game between North Melbourne and Geelong in round 2, 2013, an unexpected period of rain raised the ire of both coaches when the stadium roof remained open. It has emerged that the for occupational health and safety reasons the stadium roof cannot be closed while people are inside the stadium, and the AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou is on record as saying that the roof will remain open unless rain is forecast or its a night match.

Early buyout of the stadium

Several prominent AFL persons have suggested that the AFL buyout the remainder of its Docklands contract. The idea first surfaced in 2011 after the AFL signed a record broadcasting contract for 1.25 billion, but has seen a renewed push in recent times. The AFL is understood to be resisting the push as the stadiums current owners want $250 million for the last 12 years of the contract.

According to the Age in August, 2015  the AFL  held a series of talks with tenant clubs, broadcast partners and sponsors with a view to transforming its Docklands home into a wider sporting and entertainment precinct.


The AFL contributed $30 million from broadcast revenue, and signed a lengthy contract in order to take ownership in 2025 for just $1.00.

Upon completion Channel 7 took control of the Stadium, before selling out for $330 million in 2006 to a consortium consisting of National Australia Bank Group’s staff super fund and industry funds such as Retail Employees Superannuation Trust, Western Australia’s Westscheme and South Australia’s Statewide, and managed by a joint entity of Mirvac/Leighton Holdings – Melbourne Stadiums Limited.

In the 4 years leading up to 2011, it reported $60 million in losses and paid no dividends to its owners.


In November 2015, the Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle predicted that Etihad Stadium would be bulldozed in 20 years time, saying

“In the time-frame you’re talking, Etihad Stadium will disappear,” Doyle told radio station 3AW. “It’s a great idea for another stadium close to the city, but I would have thought that’s one of the things that cuts off Docklands from the city.

“I don’t mind a stadium in the Docklands, it’s just we can look down and see Western Park, it’s down towards Bolte Bridge.

“There’s room down there to put an AFL-sized ground and it doesn’t block off the city from Docklands.”


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