|Operator||Carlton Football Club|
|1998 → 1999||Western Bulldogs|
Prior to a partial redevelopment the ground had a capacity of 35,000, making the ground the third largest Australian rules football venue in Melbourne after the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Docklands Stadium. Its current capacity is unknown by most people since two stands were removed and replaced with an indoor training facility and administration building, although Austadiums lists the capacity of the stadium at around 22,000 and The Age lists the capacity at 15,000.
It is a historic venue, having been the home ground of the Carlton Football Club since the formation of the VFL/AFL in 1897. It has the second oldest grandstand associated with the VFL/AFL competition.
Princes Park was first used in 1897 by the Carlton Football Club, during the inaugural season of the AFL/VFL. The club went on to win 673 of its 962 VFL/AFL games at the venue.
The Alderman Gardiner Stand was designed in 1903 and completed in stages between 1909 and 1913. The mostly iron stand with original cast iron columns remains the second oldest to be associated with the VFL/AFL competition.
The Robert Heatley Stand was officially opened by Alderman Sir William Brunton on Saturday, 7 May 1932.
The ground became known as Optus Oval in November 1993 due to a naming rights deal with telecommunications company Optus.
Work on the Legends Stand began in 1995 and was completed for opening on 25 April 1997. The roof, with its curved modern structure, ensured that the oval was now enclosed with a roof all the way around its circumference.
The first naming rights deal lapsed at the end of the 2005 season, and Optus declined to renew, citing the ground's lower profile now that AFL matches were no longer played there. In April 2006, it was announced that the naming rights for the stadium had once again been awarded, this time for a two-year term, during which the stadium was known as MC Labour Park.
In 2005, it was decided to discontinue the use of the ground for AFL home and away games. A farewell AFL game was played at Princes Park on Saturday 21 May 2005. The game was contested between Carlton and Melbourne. It was the last of the suburban grounds in Melbourne to be used in the AFL. The result was an 18-point win to Melbourne.
In 2005, the ground hosted matches from the Australian Football Multicultural Cup as well as finals for the 2005 Australian Football International Cup.
In January 2006, Graham Smorgon, ex-president of the Carlton Football Club, prepared a A$67 million redevelopment proposal involving the demolition of most of the stands, returning much of the ground to parkland and the establishment of club training facilities and community centre. On 7 June 2006 it was announced that Visy Park would receive a A$15.7m redevelopment to provide the Carlton Football Club with elite training and administration facilities. The proposed redevelopment will provide state-of-the-art facilities exclusively for Carlton, including:
- Gymnasium, weights and stretch areas
- 4-lane, 25-metre indoor heated pool
- Medical offices and rehabilitation/treatment areas
- Football Administration offices
- Lecture theatre and meeting rooms
- Change room facilities
From the 2015 season, the ground will be known as Ikon Park.
Tenants of the ground for VFL/AFL home matches have been:
- Carlton: the ground was Carlton's primary home ground continuously from 1897 until 2004, except in 2002 when it played only four games at the ground. A single farewell match was also staged at the venue in 2005. The ground has been Carlton's training, social and administrative base continuously since 1897, remaining as such after the club stopped playing games there.
- South Melbourne: used the ground as its home during 1942 and 1943, owing to its usual home ground at Lake Oval being used for military purposes during World War II.
- Fitzroy: shared the ground with Carlton from 1967 until 1969 following its departure from the Brunswick Street Oval.
- Hawthorn: following its departure from Glenferrie Oval, Hawthorn used the ground as its primary home ground for sixteen years from 1974 until 1989. Then from 1990 until 1991, the club split its home games approximately evenly between Princes Park and Waverley Park, before moving permanently to Waverley Park in 1992.
- Fitzroy: after leaving Junction Oval and Victoria Park, Fitzroy spent a second stint at Princes Park, using it as its primary home ground from 1987 until 1993, before moving to Western Oval seeking better rental terms.
- Western Bulldogs: after leaving Western Oval, used the ground as its primary home ground for three seasons from 1997 until 1999.
- Neutral venue: following Fitzroy's departure in 1994, an existing arrangement between Carlton and the AFL still required eighteen matches to be played there during the year; consequently, Fitzroy and the MCG's four co-tenants (Essendon, Richmond, Melbourne and North Melbourne) were each forced to play one or two home games at Optus Oval to make up the balance, including Fitzroy's last ever home game in the AFL. The practice ended in 1997 when the Western Bulldogs moved their home games to the venue. A similar arrangement occurred in 2002, when Carlton played only four games at the ground, forcing five neutral games to be staged at the ground to meet the new contractual minimum of nine.
The ground hosted VFA/VFL Grand Finals on and off between 1990 and 2007. Until 2010, it was the home ground of the newly created VFL reserves side of the Collingwood Football Club, which is ironic considering that Collingwood and Carlton are bitter rivals in the AFL. The Northern Blues, Carlton's VFL-affiliate, presently splits its home games between Princes Park and Preston City Oval; and Carlton has continued to play some pre-season and practice matches at the ground since it stopped playing premiership matches there.
The venue's most notable alternative use was as a cricket ground. The ground has hosted seven first-class cricket matches, including three Sheffield Shield games, and two List A matches. Until 2000, the ground was the home of the Carlton Cricket Club in the Victorian Premier/District Cricket competition; in 2000, the club moved to the No. 1 Oval in the wider Princes Park area to enable the football club unlimited access to the venue for year-round training.
Other sports, including soccer, boxing and rugby, have also been played there. The ground was also host to a production of the opera Aida.
For the 2006 NRL season onwards, Visy Park was also the administrative headquarters for the Melbourne Storm rugby league club. The club relocated to the temporary home while plans were being made for the construction of a new purpose-built rectangular stadium next to the then-current Melbourne Storm home ground, Olympic Park Stadium.
The appointment of Richard Pratt as President had renewed speculation that it may again be used by the Carlton Football Club as a home ground in the future. This is unlikely to happen as Pratt stood down as President in June 2008 and died in April 2009, and two of the six stands have been demolished to make way for a $15.7m elite training venue. In 2009 Carlton CEO Greg Swann publicly declared Carlton's intention to play home games at Visy Park again in the wake of poor financial returns at Etihad Stadium