Rugby Leagues Position In The Patchwork Quilt Of Sports Venues In Sydney

Today it has been announced that the Sydney Cricket Ground will be upgraded with funding from the Australian Federal Government of $50 million, the NSW State Government tipping in $86 million and the SGC Trust itself spending $50 million as well.

This will see the venues capacity boosted from 45,758 to 48,000.

Wait, what? That works out to be just under $83,000 per additional seat! How blood ridiculous!

It makes me think about the scatter gun approach Rugby League has taken to upgrading its own facilities. So many millions of dollars have been wasted on so many different venues, none of which are still anywhere near up to the standards they should be at.

There is no long term strategy in regards to where the NRL wants to permanently base teams in Sydney. There is no long term plan for which venues will get funding to becomes the world class facilities that the game needs. The sad thing is, Rugby League has no one else to blame but itself for this situation.

Right now only the Sydney Roosters, Parramatta Eels and Penrith Panthers have permanent, long term home stadiums that they will not be moving from any time in the medium or even long term.

The West Tigers and St George/Illawarra Dragons have at least two “home” stadiums they use as well as moving bigger games to ANZ Stadium or the SFS.

The Canterbury Bulldogs currently play out of ANZ Stadium, but recently opened a tax payer funded training facility at the dilapidated Belmore Oval. A place the club has said they want to get back up to NRL standards again, courtesy of the tax payer, as if ANYONE wants to travel to Belmore to watch games!

You have the Manly Sea Eagles who want funding to upgrade their stadium, leaving aside it being impossible to get to and having no parking. They have talked about possibly moving the club if they don’t get a stadium upgrade.

Then you have the poor old Cronulla Sharks who are so busy servicing debt that they don’t know how long they will be around, let alone if they will be playing at Shark Park long term.

It is one great big giant mess and it doesn’t have to be that way.

I would like to see the NRL sit down and formulate a long term strategy for where it wants every NRL club playing in Sydney, not just over the next few seasons, but 20 years from now.

They need to look at fully servicing the Campbelltown area with a full time team. They need to look at what venues they want to invest their product in, and in tern look at getting funding for those venues so that Rugby League fans can attend games at stadiums that are comfortable and give the best spectator experience.

The NRL should look to team up with the Football Federation of Australia (Soccer) and Australian Rugby Union and all three sports sit down and talk about strategic plans for facilities from the biggest stadiums, down to local playing fields.

All three sports have the same requirements in that they require a rectangular field. The goal posts and field markings change, but that is it. Across all three sports, spectators and players require the exact same things.

Being able to lobby the government for funding as a group, and with a long term strategy, would benefit all three sports. They are all trying to target the same areas anyway, but without a coordinated approach. That makes it very difficult to get anything done.

I would like to see Sydney end up with a rectangular stadium with a capacity of between 35-40,000 based near the geographical center of the Sydney population.

To me, Parramatta Stadium ticks a lot of boxes and gives you a great base to build upon. With the right amount of commitment from three sports, a number of full time tenants and the right amount of funding, you could turn Parramatta Stadium into a smaller version of Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.

Imagine a 35,000 seat version of Suncorp Stadium based at Parramatta. It would become the home of the Parramatta Eels and Canterbury Bulldogs in the NRL as well as being home to a western Sydney A League team, meaning it would be used 12 months of the year.

This venue would be the perfect size to host Rugby League Internationals as well as bigger games involving western Sydney teams such as the West Tigers and Penrith Panthers. It could host smaller scale Soccer and Rugby Union internationals as well.

I can’t see a down side to this type of commitment from the game of Rugby League, Soccer, Rugby Union, or the tax payer, who would be asked to fund all of this.

The alternative is to look at building a brand new stadium that would need a bigger commitment from all three sports and that would probably require the game to completely abandon a few venues around Sydney.

That would see a stadium built at say Homebush Bay with the Canterbury Bulldogs and South Sydney Rabbitohs committing to the venue. A promise that the Parramatta Eels would not require any stadium upgrades as they would play their biggest games at this new stadium, and a similar commitment from the St George/Illawarra Dragons and the West Tigers (Who would have to finally give up Leichhardt Oval and commit to Campbelltown and the new stadium).

This will all horrify the traditionalists, but I don’t really care. Right now we are seeing so many millons of tax payers money being pissed away on venues that, even after having tens of millions of dollars spent on them, are still not up to any reasonable standard!

Plenty of people say to me “The reason Rugby League teams in Sydney don’t get huge crowds is because they are not marketed well”. That is a misconception.

These days all sporting venues are in competition with HD TV and a generally busier lifestyle. The competition Rugby League is up against is television coverage, your own lounge chair, beers from your own fridge and pizza!

To get people to go to the football, and come back time and time again, you have to provide a very good experience. It is not good enough any more to offer a grass hill at an out of the way suburban ground with no parking what so ever. You cant ask a supporter to invest money in a night out to watch your team play, and then offer them a facility that is poor.

When you look at stadiums in other cities and the experience they provide, Sydney is locked in a completely different era to those places. A stadium such as Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, Skilled Park on the Gold Coast or AAMI Park in Melbourne, these are venues that are so good that fans attending games just want to come back and watch anything at the stadium, they don’t care what sport it is!

There are Super League teams in England with stadiums better than those at Manly, Cronulla, Balmain, St George and Penrith. How ridiculous is that! In fact St Helens has just completed construction on a brand new venue, and while it only has a capacity of 18,000 it leaves anything in the above mentioned areas for dead.

If Rugby League in Sydney wants to provide a good enough experience to keep fans coming back, it will need to provide venues that are up to today’s standards. For all the talk about how great traditional old venues are, the fact is that newer stadiums go beyond drawing in just the die hard fans, and because of that they draw in bigger attendance numbers.

Not too long ago Rugby League in Sydney used to have a match of round that it would hold at the SCG. They did this because it allowed people to go to a top class venue that had a big capacity. It allowed as many people to attend a big game and in the most comfortable environment possible.

This should be what is provided every single week to Sydney based NRL fans, and the simple fact is, it’s not.

We need to get funding for NRL venues, but we need to concentrate that funding into only a select few venues that will host regular games over a long term basis. Not just throw money at old ruins so we can play the occasional game at grounds our parents used to go to in a very different area.

Time moves on…

If the SCG can spend $186 million to add a few extra seats, I don’t think it is beyond reason to think that Rugby League, Soccer and Rugby Union could get together the money to have a rectangular football stadium in the geographical heart of Sydney that would become the home of a number of different clubs as well as hosting international.

Sound pie in the sky?

Well keep in mind that for the price of the $186 million upgrade the SCG will undergo for Cricket and AFL alone, you could have constructed Skilled Stadium on the Gold Coast and had a spare $26 million to spend. I’m sure that would be enough to buy a few extra seats as well…

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