The first professional match played by the Australian Football League (AFL) on Chinese soil was littered with “never been done before” challenges. The Kapersky Cup Shanghai Showdown between the Melbourne Demons and the Brisbane Lions in Shanghai last October was part of Down Under’s contribution – as an Australian Cultural Event – to the then ongoing Expo 2010.
The one-day sporting event, sponsored by AFL, Kaspersky, Woodside and the city of Melbourne, took six months to prepare. Top of the to-do list was the hunt for a suitable playing field. The Jiangwan Stadium in Yang Pu District was the only one large enough to fit the dimensions of an Australian football pitch. But before the temporary goalposts and other modifications were started, the organisers needed to secure the permission of the local authorities.
“At that time, any large gatherings of more than 2,000 people outside the designated Expo site were not permitted,” says Peter Kinnane, managing director of Off-Site Connections, which was chosen to help put the event together. “We had to adhere to the strict Expo security measures to receive permission for the showdown to take place.”
Custom-fitting the stadium
Modifying the stadium not only to fit the requirements of Australian football but also to cater to the needs of spectators was a big challenge. The 1.5-metre holes for each of the four goalposts had to be dug manually to ensure that water pipes under the pitch were not disturbed, and to ensure that the posts could be removed later and the holes filled in, restoring the ground to its original state.
For the football oval boundary line and logos on the ground, special paint and machinery were needed. “This had never been attempted in Shanghai before, so we had to import and fly in everything for this purpose,” says Kinnane, adding that the grass itself was specially maintained for six weeks leading up to the event to ensure a high-quality grass surface during the AFL game.
As Jiangwan Stadium does not have a players’ lounge, the adjacent basketball court was transformed into one and another area was prepared for the players to use during half time.
At the game
The match between the Melbourne Demons and Brisbane Lions was the first AFL game to be broadcast live across two Chinese stations – ICS and SMG, and the live feed had to fit into the local programming without disrupting the duration of the game. A broadcast truck with specific technical requirements had be parked outside the stadium.
“A detailed brief needed to be given,” recalls Kinnane, “to explain the format of the Australian football game, length of playtime and half-time requirements.”
A pre-game VIP lunch was organised at a nearby Chinese restaurant for 300 AFL officials, local officials, partners and sponsors. “This was an opportunity for AFL to introduce the sport and the event to all attendees, while creating a platform for business connections to be made and official relationships to be created,” Kinnane says.
By the time the match was ready to start, approximately 8,000 spectators were gathered in the stands located in the two best sections of the stadium. On the football ground, 400 sponsors and their guests were ushered toward the special tents, which were outfitted with comfortable seating and catered by Radisson Hotel.
Also on the ground, an audio system and a giant LED screen were set up for the benefit of the spectators and the sponsors. At half time, public school children from Shanghai’s Auskick Programme came out on the field for a demonstration of their practice drills.
Kinnane says that the visual transformation of the stadium “was impressive. The event was a huge success. The thrill of the game and the outcome of the last-minute score made the day even more exciting and memorable,” he adds.
Event: Kapersky Cup, Shanghai Showdown
Venue: Jiangwan Stadium, Yang Pu District, Shanghai
Date: October 17, 2010
Number of participants: 8,000 spectators, 400 sponsors and guests and 300 VIPs
Organisers: Australian Football League and Off-Site Connections