Lesson learnt – size does matter in A-League stadiums

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Western Sydney Wanderers' fan group. Photo AAP Image/Dean Lewins

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3,185. It was the difference between the attendance figures at the home games of Western Sydney Wanderers and Brisbane Roar on the weekend. The difference in atmosphere, however, was huge.

Tickets to Wanderland are the hottest in town. It’s partly due to the A-League new boys’ incredible on-field success but mostly because Parramatta Stadium is the perfect fit for everyone.

Having a home end like the Red and Black Bloc helps, and credit must go also to the fans that rocked up to those early fan forums and demanded it be the new club’s HQ.

Lyall Gorman listened and thank heavens he did, for Wanderers home matches have now become an example that needs to be followed.

The success of this club has verified a long-standing desire in the game for boutique stadiums in the A-League.

So back to Brisbane. There were 12,624 fans at the game against Melbourne Victory on Saturday – and 15,809 on hand to see Western Sydney cement their premiership favouritism 24 hours later.

Not much between them, really. Yet comparing the atmosphere at each is chalk and cheese.

People come away from Western Sydney games as if they have been part of some sort of religious experience.

Helping drive the buzz is the feeling of exclusivity, that you might miss out. On the other hand, there will always be plenty of unsold tickets at Roar games.

This is not just about Brisbane. It’s about stadiums that are too big for clubs.

And it speaks to the theory that the atmosphere at a sporting event directly correlates with the number of vacant seats in the building.

As the A-League enters a period of consolidation it is something that cannot be repeated enough. It’s elementary.

It is why as a general rule, Melbourne Victory games are just better at AAMI Park than in Docklands.

It is also why it’s easier to find yourself getting sucked into a game on television when the crowd has a part to play in the contest.

15,000 fans in a stadium with a capacity of 20,000 is infinitely better than the same amount in a cavernous 50,000-seater.

Apart from on special occasions, Suncorp Stadium will always manage to make a decent Brisbane crowd seem sparse and disconnected.

The club was extremely close to moving to Ballymore Stadium in the early years of the A-League but never did.

It is an old and dusty facility, but imagine a minor renovation and a crowd of 10,000 barmy Roar fans at Herston. It might be Wanderland-esque.

That is the argument pushed by fans in favour of a shift away from Lang Park, and after watching in real time the success of Western Sydney, it’s time to weigh up the pros and cons again.

Yes, crowds have to grow in the A-League. And they have been. But what has been behind the growth?

We are slowly appreciating that the unique atmosphere at football games is a trump card in the battle for hearts and minds.

To best leverage this opportunity we should be downsizing where appropriate and possible.

Vince Rugari is an Adelaide-born journalist who cut his teeth on the sporting graveyard of the Gold Coast. He fancies the round ball and the Sherrin, and used to be a handy leg-spin bowler before injury curtailed a baggy green push. A Port Adelaide fan by birth, he now is a sports reporter for The Cairns Post.
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