ST KILDA needs to look beyond its heartland and embrace new frontiers as it rebuilds and pushes to keep up with the competition's big spenders, according to new chief executive Matt Finnis.
Finnis is 10 days into his new role as the Saints' chief, a job billed in the pre-season as one of football’s biggest challenges, and the on-field rebuild could hardly have started better under new coach Alan Richardson.
Off-field however, there is much work to be done as the club looks at ways to have a presence at past homes Moorabbin and the Junction Oval as well as its current training centre in Seaford.
In Wellington this week as the Saints prepare for their second Anzac Day game in New Zealand, Finnis said he expected fans would be supportive of the club's expansion both at home and abroad.
"The club is in a rebuilding phase in a football sense and we need to rebuild the club in a broader sense," Finnis said.
"A club like St Kilda hasn't had the drawing power of Collingwood or Hawthorn or the financial strength of the West Coast Eagles.
"[We need to] drive revenues into our football department to make sure we can continue to keep up with the big spenders in football.
"If that means trying new things and opening up new horizons, then that's something fans support."
In contrast to opposition clubs, St Kilda was forced to reduce its football department spending in 2014 on the way to an operating loss of $1,198,587.
The move into New Zealand appears to be a profitable one, with the club making as much revenue from one game in Wellington last year as it did playing eight games at Etihad Stadium.
As the first match in a new five-year deal approaches on Friday, Finnis said the New Zealand venture was a long-term project aimed at building both the AFL and St Kilda across the Tasman.
"The dream is that AFL becomes a regular feature on the sporting calendar in New Zealand … and that St Kilda is New Zealand's number one team," he said.
"It's terrific that St Kilda is the first team to say 'we want to play a regular overseas game and we want to do it in New Zealand'.
"We've got a pretty bold target by 2018 – we'd like to think we could have up to 10,000 New Zealand-based members of the club in some form.
"That gives you a sense that we're serious about it."
On the home front, Finnis said the Saints should be ambitious about having multiple presences across the bayside area from Port Melbourne to Portsea, which they have staked as their heartland.
The 39-year-old said an involvement at Moorabbin, the Junction Oval and Seaford would be reasonable.
"Maybe I'm greedy, but I'd like to think we could have a presence in all those places," he said.
"Your training and your administration needs to be in one place. I'm not suggesting separating that out.
"I am saying though that a footy club is a broad church. It is very multi-faceted in terms of the way it works.
"We can walk and chew gum at the same time and really embed ourselves in those communities. It's the heartland."
Over nine years as chief executive of the AFL Players Association, Finnis said he gained an appreciation for how "the truly great clubs" are able to work within the confines of the draft and salary cap and have sustained success.
"That real clarity of vision that they have to relentlessly achieve that goal is something I've really admired at clubs like Hawthorn and Geelong and the Sydney Swans," he said.
Despite a 3-2 record as the AFL's surprise packet so far this season, Finnis said no one at St Kilda was getting carried away with the club's on-field fortunes in what still shapes as a significant rebuild.
"We're going to have those inconsistencies, we're going to lose to Adelaide by a lot and then come out and beat a top-four team in Essendon," he said.
"Those sorts of things are inevitable with a young side, but you've got to be really heartened by that clear sense of direction, which is coming from Alan and the clear sense of belief that instils in the players."I can only imagine how satisfying it is for the guys who put the work in over the pre-season."