The structure of the Sydney clubs is another key to maximising the growth of the game. Once the Sharks are relocated to Perth and the new stadium structure in Sydney is complete, quite simply, suburban grounds are dead at NRL level. Sydney crowds have not increased over last 20 odd years because the suburban grounds have maxed out, that is why the crowds are only 10,000 – 15,000, there has been no room to grow and honestly the suburban grounds experience fades quite quickly for fans. The experience at new stadia is just on another level and draws more casual fans to attend more games throughout the year. Playing out of the stadiums forces the clubs to work harder at drawing in crowds, this is evident as I read last year the eels since having moved to Bankwest, have started working with the Vietnamese community in the area to help draw in new support base to games, having a positive impact on crowd numbers and helping to embrace new backgrounds to the game, which is great to see.
With this the clubs must align to one of the 3 grounds for their home games, this helps to simplify the travel for fans to attend games, knowing all home games throughout the year will be at 1 ground and any other away game against a Sydney club will be played at either 1 of the 3 grounds. This is important, case in point, the dragons for 2019 had 5 home grounds and their average attendance for home games was under 10,000. For a club with a large fan base, granted though have been terrible on the field, to only be getting 9 odd thousand to games is not good enough.
As a side note, it also shows just how poorly the dragons are run, man’s it’s frustrating, in all honestly, they should be one of the biggest clubs in Australian sport, but that’s another story, ‘boys club’.
Consolidating all your home games to one stadium makes it easy for supporters to organise their yearly schedule to attend games, overtime making the process second nature for them, which is what you want, making the thought process and action of attending games to be as easy as possible. This is important when games can either be played Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday.
This simplicity helps fans become accustom to only having to worry about 1 ground (3 for Sydney base club away games) in Sydney, with all having access to upgraded public transport, so over the years helping to build on this simplified normalisation allowing to build on crowd numbers over the years and decades where games get to a point where people don’t want to miss out on attending and becomes an environment people just want to be a part of, similar to what the AFL has done since changing to their stadia structure in the late 90’s. Their crowds have slowly built over the 20-25 years to where seeing these 60 – 90 thousand crowds for games between Melbourne based teams are becoming the norm year on year. This simplicity is evident in different models as witnessed in the EPL and NFL where in the EPL each teams Stadium is situated right in town making for easy access while in the NFL it’s as simple as it gets, where you know each season your team’s home games will be played on a Sunday at the same stadium, except for maybe they might get one Thursday or Monday night game.
The exciting thing is the supporters are there in Sydney to draw big number crowds. It’s just you must have the right infrastructure and methods to mobilise the people, fostering an environment that will continue to grow over the years and decades. Rugby league especially in Sydney is about tribalism, its major asset. In the past, this has been associated with suburban grounds, but we need to reinvent how we view and display our tribalism for our clubs by socially conditioning to using the state of the art stadiums as destinations to create a new age form of tribal atmosphere, one that creates a more exciting environment and is efficient at bringing in more people to games.
South Sydney are the case study here, since Russell Crowe took over, he realised from the beginning playing at Stadium Australia was firstly and most importantly the best financial decision for the club (increased corporate hospitality/networking opportunities), but it also gave the fans a designated home for the season, they have conditioned their supporters to the stadium experience. Strategic financial decisions like this allows South’s to turn a profit each year, something no other Sydney club can attest too but maybe the roosters. What we need is for all the Sydney clubs to work together in creating this new age tribalism to help each other out, essentially seen as, on the field we are enemies, but off it, realising where partners that need each other to grow, so establishing strong links here is vital for the Sydney clubs to make the new stadia plan work. This collaborative scheme between clubs will expand their membership/supporter bases by converting new and casual fans, opening to increases in revenue streams to potentially turn the clubs into profitable businesses.
At the end of the day, the actual game/product of rugby league viewed at these new stadiums is an awesome experience, one of it not the best in world sport, and in front of large crowds, it is the ultimate. It also creates better games because the players feed off the large crowds, and to put it simply, I just feel the game deserves this recognition to be playing in purpose built stadia and in front of large crowds. It also increases TV viewers as watching games with large crowds in purpose built stadia is aesthetically more appealing to the viewer and makes it an even more appealing product to sell to national and international broadcasters, meaning more money into the game.