Parramatta, Penrith And The Push For New Stadiums

As we get closer to a federal election we will see the promises flowing thick and fast from both sides as they try to buy votes. One thing I expect we will see come into focus is the way we manage sports stadiums in Sydney and how much money is being spent to keep older sporting facilities open for use.

There is already talk about rationalizing stadiums used by NRL clubs in Sydney and it will become a very tricky subject that the game really needs to focus on sooner rather than later. The NRL and its Sydney based clubs need to come together and formulate a plan that can put forward to various governments, otherwise they will find the decisions will be made for them.

I’ve said for some time that while it is nice to go and play at some suburban grounds, the way of the future is better stadiums with better facilities. There are some grounds that have a capacity of 20,000 that have a fantastic atmosphere when full. However, good luck buying food there or going to the toilet. Some stadiums you need to park miles away from and these days with games shown on television, people would rather stay at home than deal with all the costs and hassles of going to these old stadiums.

I believe Rugby League in Sydney needs to focus on having three main stadiums it uses. One based in the east, one based in the geographical center of Sydney and one in the far west of Sydney.

The Sydney Football Stadium is obviously the best stadium in the east of the city. It has been slowly upgraded little by little over recent years and there are plans in place to add more seating and possibly add a roof to the stadium. I think that would be a great idea for the SFS. I think people in the eastern suburbs would by much more likely to attend games in a climate controlled environment rather than now where you don’t get much good cover when it rains.

Just because of it location, the Sydney Football Stadium will always be a major piece of Sydney sports infrustructure. As a game we need to look to embrace that.

I have said before that I would like to see a brand new rectangular stadium built in or around Parramatta that is all but a clone of Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. Boost the capacity a little to 60,000 – 70,000 and make that stadium a true home for not only a number of NRL clubs but also for A League soccer teams.

Unless you have been to Suncorp Stadium you don’t understand how a good stadium design can boost your willingness to attend games. With not a bad seat in the entire ground and with an atmosphere that is still great even when it is only at half capacity, there is simply not a stadium like it in Sydney. You feel right on top of the action due to just the right slope on seating, it is the type of place that Sydney needs to best showcase Rugby League in this city.

I see no reason why a stadium like that, based at Parramatta couldn’t be used by the Eels, Bulldogs as well as the Tigers and Dragons at points during the season. I know the fans of some of those clubs will claim they don’t want to share a stadium with other teams, but most of them do anyway. Others will claim they don’t want to travel to Parramatta, but I bet if their team was playing in a great stadium with a great atmosphere, nothing would stop them from attending games there.

The thing that stands in the way of such a stadium being built is the Olympic Stadium based at Homebush. While ANZ Stadium as it is currently called is based in the perfect spot and with all the trandport links set up, it is not an idea venue for view any sport. Plans to spend $250 million to add moving seats at the northern and southern ends and bring them closer to the action while also adding a retractable roof to the stadium sound a bit like putting lipstick on a pig to me. Outside of gutting the stadium completely and building stands closer to the action, I can’t see how you could really make ANZ Stadium the stadium Sydney deserves. It would probably be cheaper to demolish ANZ Stadium and start all over again than give it all the upgrades it really needs.

Further west we have Penrith. The Panthers currently have a lot of plans for developments and upgrades to their club and a lot of government and private funding is being poured into that area. The Panthers have also put toegther plans for a brand new stadium to be based where Penrith Football Stadium currently stands, one that would also have a roof. In the Panthers favour is all the development money being poured into the club and surrounding areas, it really is starting to become an area with a lot of great things going on around it. Against them is the location, basically on the very edge of the Sydney region, as well as the fact that the Panthers are the only sporting club that really uses the stadium right now.

Obviously as a Panthers fan I would like to see the stadium upgraded, but I also see a big hole in this plan. Can you have no major sporting facilities between Parramatta and Penrith? Can you completely overlook the Blacktown area, an area which is far more centrally located in Sydneys west than Penrith is?

A few years ago the Penrith Panthers registered a few names that suggested they may be willing to drop the “Penrith” name and become more of a “Western Sydney” team. In many ways this was prudent, better to own those names and never need to use them than need those names and have to buy them off someone else. You have to wonder though is the club is hedging its bets a little just in case the government decides that Blacktown would be a better location for a new stadium rather than Penrith.

Any decision along those lines would be a blow to the Panthers. They make a lot of money before and after games as Panthers travel between their licenced club and the stadium which is just across the road. If the Panthers played games at a new stadium at Blacktown, that cash flow would simply be lost to the Panthers licenced club.

It all all pretty complex but this all needs to be sorted out for the games own good. While expansion towards a national competition is now back on the agenda NRL CEO David Smith made it clear that the spread of teams across Sydney also needs to be looked at.

I personally believe the days of Leichart Oval and Kogarah Oval are all but over. The Wests Tigers and St George/Illawarra Dragons can no longer expect various governments to tip money into various grounds they only use a couple of times a year. Win Stadium will always get funding as the Wollongong area will need a stadium of its own. The Dragons though have shown they can draw their fans to the Sydney Football Stadium and ANZ Stadium at Homebush over the years.

The same applies to the Wests Tigers who have moved games all over the place but that has got its fan base used to using the Sydney Fooball Stadium and ANZ Stadium at Homebush. These are two teams that will need to comprimise no matter what, whether by their own longer term plans, or by being forced as the government stops funding their current grounds.

Lets hope people at the NRL have some grand vision for the game in Sydney. As I’ve said, I think the game should concerntrate on having three main stadiums it uses and try to concentrate funding for upgrades and infrustructure on those three main facilities. The better the venues on offer, the more willing people will be to go out and attend games.

One thing is for sure, the games of people being happy to get their arse wet while sitting on a grass hill are long gone.

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