Adelaide Oval the saviour of Port, South Aussie footy?
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“Wanna go to the footy at Adelaide Oval this Sunday?” read the text message from a friend last week. “I don’t give a shit about the two teams, but it’ll be good to see footy at the Oval,” it continued. “Then we can stay in the city for some pints” – the final drawcard.
That friend eventually bailed (Father’s Day commitments), but there was no shortage of interest in going to see Port Adelaide host the Melbourne Demons, 17th versus 13th, at the first ever AFL match at Adelaide Oval on Sunday.
So what would otherwise have been an insignificant final round dead rubber between two of the worst performing teams of 2011, played at a faraway stadium that would have been lucky to get near Port’s home crowd average of 20,912, suddenly become a historical encounter; providing a glimpse into the future.
In the end, 29,340 spent their Father’s Day afternoon in the spring sun at the Oval, where Port and the Adelaide Crows are due to play their home games from 2014, at the revamped 50,000-capacity stadium.
30,000 was suggested as the pass mark in the build up to the game, and although the crowd fell just 660 short, it was still 8428 up on Port’s average and significantly more than what would have been had the game stayed at AAMI Stadium.
And remember to factor Father’s Day into the equation. For every family that’s keen to incorporate an afternoon at the footy into their festivities, there’s a family with unchangeable rituals elsewhere, or that stubborn uncle who won’t budge from the couch. Then factor in the Royal Adelaide Show, into its first weekend. And don’t forget; it was a dead rubber between two also rans.
Just short of 30,000, yes, but still a pass.
Adelaide Oval does have the potential to be the saviour of the stagnating South Australian footy scene, and particularly the wayward Port Adelaide.
Like in Melbourne and so many examples around the world, the city move is a necessity to help draw regular crowds. Adelaide Oval, within walking distance from the CBD, is the perfect spot.
While some traditionalists fought against the redevelopment – particularly the cricket fraternity, bemoaning Aussie Rules’ muscling in on their ground – the fact remains that the location and ground is too good to be used for just state league cricket and footy, one Test match, and the odd one-day and Twenty20 international per year. It’s wasted at present – and has been for far too long.
City stadiums are winners because transportation infrastructure is already geared towards getting large masses of people into and out of the city with ease, catering to most surrounding areas.
Then there’s the extra temptation of combing it with other activities – pints at pubs, cafes, movies, nightclubs, or whatever takes your fancy. In Adelaide Oval’s case, there’s both the CBD and North Adelaide for pre- and post-match options.
It’s quite a contrast to the current home of South Australian football; over 30 minutes from the city centre and further away for those in the east. AAMI Stadium is the antithesis of what modern sporting stadiums should provide – parking is limited, traffic in and especially out of the area is painful, there’s little else to see or do around it, it’s too isolated and far away for most in Adelaide, and small crowds in such a large stadium make for a barren, soulless experience.
As football attendance habits changed and fans became more discerning, crowds inevitably fell for the already vulnerable Port, from their tenuous supporter base.
Why commit to the painful experience of getting to AAMI when matches are often live and in HD at home? Why rule out a whole afternoon in traffic when you can instead watch at the local pub?
My generation and younger don’t have the commitment of previous generations, to rule out an hour and more before and after the game to get to the ground. We want the ability to go to the footy but also keep the option of going to a movie, pub or cafe before and after. It’s our impatience. City grounds cater for that.
Ground maximisation in Melbourne led to the record crowds the AFL currently boasts. There’s no reason why it can’t have a similarly positive effect in Adelaide.
For Port it opens the door to expand its fan base, growing beyond its Port Adelaide roots. Port’s problems are numerous and inherent, and while they will benefit financially from the city move, growing their supporter base is much more important to their sustainability.
While some claim the Crows will only hammer home their advantage in the city, as the club for all South Australians – much like Collingwood and co have done at the expense of Melbourne and North Melbourne (see here) – it’s the first step of Port’s push for hearts and minds; as the alternative club for South Aussies. It’ll be difficult, but it’s a start.
Then there is the neutral factor. The easier it is to get to the ground, the more likely footy fans will take up the option of getting their live action fix on a weekly basis.
With the stadium in the city, why couldn’t non-Port fans pop down to the Oval for some footy after work on a Friday evening, combing it with their usual post-work festivities? It’s a realistic option, certainly much more so than the dull drive to AAMI.
Even if they aren’t Port fans or members, they will contribute to the club’s coffers; a chance for South Aussies, so antagonistic toward the other club, to actually help support both clubs.
Yes, the novelty will eventually wear off once Adelaide Oval is hosting weekly AFL action. But new attendance habits could develop, and new fans potentially won over. It’s a move the AFL and Port needed to make.
On Sunday Port claimed a rousing eight-point victory to avoid the wooden spoon and open their account at the Oval. It was a fitting result.
The AFL desperately needs the Adelaide Oval move to work; it needs two clubs in South Australia. The move to the Oval needs to be the catalyst for the growth of Port’s supporter base.
After its first test, the signs are positive.
Follow Adrian on twitter @AdrianMusolino
Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.
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