Should the FFA have moved the Sydney derby?
Parramatta Stadium will host the inaugural Sydney derby on October 20
The FFA’s decision to keep the inaugural Sydney derby at Parramatta Stadium has brought howls of discontent from the city’s football community.
The feverish momentum that the A-League has generated throughout the Harbour City, first through the introduction of the Wanderers and secondly through Sydney FC’s signing of Alessandro Del Piero, has ballooned crowd expectations to over 50,000 for the derby.
As is so often is the case with football administration in this country, opinion was split yesterday over the FFA’s call.
Neither option is absolutely correct, and the FFA’s decision is a tough one.
If the FFA’s crystal ball could guarantee 50,000 fans or more, and a favourable deal could be struck with ANZ Stadium, it seems wrong to deny potentially more than 30,000 fans the opportunity to see the match.
On the other hand, a jam-packed Parramatta Stadium is an enticing prospect, and the atmosphere would be preferable to 30,000 in the cavernous ANZ.
Keeping the game at Parramatta Stadium also acts as an incentive for those intending to support the red-and-black half of the city to purchase memberships and give a season-long commitment to the club, rather than a one-off attendance.
A pulsating derby in front of a packed house also gives Western Sydney supporter groups the opportunity to build an affiliation with the stadium and build on the club’s fan culture.
It would be hard to argue that the A-League has had a better run-in to a season than this one, and both Sydney clubs would be within their right to expect consistently strong crowd figures throughout the season.
But those with a long enough memory will understand the disconnect involved in transferring hype and excitement into bums on seats.
Attracting 50,000 to a match between a side that would have had only one home game and a side that averaged 11,861 last season is a big ask, and the FFA would do well to exercise caution with Western Sydney at this point.
The competition’s Melbourne derbies last season provides us with an appropriate precedent. Both of the Victory’s home derbies were played at the 53,000-capacity Etihad Stadium last season.
A derby between the best-supported side in the competition in the Victory, who had often drawn over 30,000 in their history and who had also had the added boost of signing Harry Kewell that season, and a newly established Heart side who had had a year to build their fanbase, would be expected to push toward the 50,000 mark.
The actual figures? 39,909 for the first, and 32,321 for the second Melbourne derby.
Should the FFA be unable to guarantee a crowd of 45,000 at the absolute minimum, then this game should remain at Parramatta Stadium as originally intended.
Despite unmatched levels of optimism surrounding the city’s football community at the moment, FFA cannot provide that guarantee.
Many astute football commentators have expressed the need for a ‘softly softly’ approach with the Western Sydney Wanderers and the FFA have done the right thing in applying that approach here.
Let them build a foundation from the ground up in the way of a solid 10,000 to 15,000 membership base.
If and when that has been achieved, a more accurate projection on Sydney derby attendances can be obtained, and we can look at moving future derbies to ANZ Stadium.
But for now, Parramatta Stadium is the Wanderers’ home and that is where the game should stay.