WESTS Group chief executive Phil Gardner wants to stage more international sporting and entertainment events at EnergyAustralia Stadium in the next 10 years as the ground blossoms into a world-class arena capable of hosting Asian Cup and World Cup soccer matches.
Football Federation Australia has grand plans to bring the 2015 Asian Cup and 2018 World Cup down under and Gardner does not want to see Newcastle excluded.
Under the new lease agreement between the Knights and the Hunter International Sports Centre Trust, Wests will manage the stadium until the end of 2017 and the Knights will continue as major tenants.
FIFA, soccer's international governing body, requires Australia to provide nine to 12 grounds with a 40,000 minimum capacity to have any chance of hosting an Asian Cup or World Cup.
NSW Premier Morris Iemma and Treasurer Michael Costa, the Minister for the Hunter, indicated earlier this month their vision for EnergyAustralia Stadium to be one of those venues.
Redevelopment began on the western grandstand in December to increase stadium seating capacity to 33,000 and to bring facilities in line with those in the $30 million Andrew Johns Stand on the opposite side.
Further State and Federal Government funding would allow for an increase to the capacity required to host World Cup and Asian Cup matches, and Australia's qualifying games in the lead-up to either tournament.
"That's the major driver of the stadium. If you talk to the Premier or the Treasurer and other people in Government, they're talking about those sort of things to showcase Australia to the rest of the world," Gardner said.
"If we can get a World Cup, that would be a real turning-stone for Australia on the world stage and we want to be a part of that . . . that's probably more of a driver than the Knights and the Jets, to get the stadium to a standard so those sort of events can be held here."
Apart from finals, the Knights play 12 National Rugby League games each year and the Jets, through a sub-lease agreement with the Knights, play a minimum 10 home games each A-League season, but Wests want the ground to be utilised more often.
Gardner hoped to attract international soccer and other sporting contests such as Super 14 rugby union, Big Day Out-style festivals, and major musical acts that usually play in Sydney or the Hunter Valley vineyards.
He and Knights counterpart Steve Burraston are in the throes of restructuring the business agreement between the two organisations, primarily to clarify how Wests fund the Knights, but also to ensure a better deal for the Jets.
"The end result for both of us is to get a competitive Knights team on the park, but also to have a stadium redeveloped over a period of time that is a centrepiece for Newcastle that attracts a whole lot of new events into the city and acts as an income-generator," he said.
"That will be something Newcastle and the Hunter can be truly proud of because we see this area as being the key part of Hawkesbury to the Queensland border. The Knights are the key team in that, as the Jets are the Jets are an important part of the stadium's overall success.
"We also want to see other events there Super 14, Test events, and I know [Jets' owner] Con Constantine has spoken to me many times about bringing international sides in here to play friendlies against the Jets.
"We always knew in 2005 that the roll-over of the licence management [lease] agreement for EnergyAustralia Stadium would be a watershed for change.
"Part of that management agreement is to ensure all other users of the stadium are treated fairly, and that is quite clear. We take the responsibility to be a fair broker in that situation and to look after the interests of our community, and that important asset which is EnergyAustralia Stadium, and we're going to do that to the best of our ability."
Gardner believed the Wests Group's expertise in catering, staffing, marketing and event management made them the ideal keepers of the keys.
But he said the group, whose flagship Western Suburbs Leagues Club is only a stone's throw away from the ground, stood to make no financial gain.
"There is no return in this for Wests. It actually costs us money, getting involved with the stadium, because we have to absorb our overhead costs," he said.
"I don't think people understand what a great job this State Government Michael Costa and all our local members have been doing fighting out there to get funding for this stadium.
"This stadium is going to be something great for this community. It will allow us to attract international events and events that we never thought we'd have here.
"We see ourselves as doing our part in that, but everyone has to feel that they're being treated fairly in this process and that's part of what we're going to do."