Lesson learnt – size does matter in A-League stadiums

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    Wanderers fans are expected to walk out at half time during their match against the Mariners. (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
    Vince Rugari

    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 Australian Associate Press

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    The Crowd Says (200)

    • March 13th 2013 @ 9:16am
      Titus said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:16am | ! Report

      The most important thing for me is the quality of the football and the surface of the pitch. If WSW or MVFC were playing poor football I wouldn’t be watching it just for the atmosphere.

      For me, I used to enjoy watching GCU when they were playing well as much as a WSW game.

    • March 13th 2013 @ 9:24am
      Winter is Coming said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:24am | ! Report

      This has been discussed so many times. I love Lang Park, so many memories and such a world class facility (except for the pitch in recent times!), however, i completely understand the point about needing a small 20k stadium to play in. A renovated Ballymore would be a viable option, but as has been suggested, who is going to foot the bill?

      The QRU was ever so close to securing a $100 million upgrade back when K Rudd was PM. But that all fell through, though it TECHNICALLY has been approved for an upgrade.

      The only current option is to turn Suncorp into our own little boutique stadium. Its an idea that is utilised in the MLS and probably elsewhere, but it involved artificially reducing the capacity through the use of sails, this is an idea that Roar GM Sean Dobson has been quoted as having a preference too.

    • March 13th 2013 @ 9:27am
      JohnL said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:27am | ! Report

      Just out of curiousity, which A-League clubs own / built the stadium they play out of?

      • March 13th 2013 @ 9:34am
        Winter is Coming said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:34am | ! Report

        None of them. Though AAMI Park is only a 30k capacity because MV said they would not lease it if it was only the original proposed 20k. If i remember correct.

        • March 13th 2013 @ 9:55am
          JohnL said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:55am | ! Report

          So in other words, all the A-League clubs are playing with the resources available and have very little control over what they would like to have. Until a club is in a position where they can build their own purpose built stadium, why is this topic being constantly rehashed?

          Yes, it would be great for all the clubs to play out of 20-30k seater stadiums like AAMI Park, but not all clubs or cities have those available. So again, why is this topic being discussed over and over and over and…….

          • March 13th 2013 @ 2:23pm
            Christo the Daddyo said | March 13th 2013 @ 2:23pm | ! Report


            • March 13th 2013 @ 8:47pm
              Ian Whitchurch said | March 13th 2013 @ 8:47pm | ! Report

              The clubs do not have the money.

              If it played its cards right, especially in conjunction with the other codes who use rectangular gounds, the League might.

      • Roar Guru

        March 13th 2013 @ 9:35am
        Fussball ist unser leben said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:35am | ! Report

        No A-league teams own their home stadiums.

        No teams in AFL own their home stadiums.

        No AUS teams in SuperRugby own their home stadiums.

        As far as I know, Cronulla is the only NRL team to own its own stadium …. but, with a Cronulla media conference scheduled for 10 a.m. today, there may not be a Cronulla NRL team to play on this stadium for some time.

        • March 13th 2013 @ 9:56am
          Paul said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:56am | ! Report

          In Australia, most top-tier sporting stadiums are owned by governments (local and state) or trusts (often enshrined in state law – more often the case with cricket grounds). They are leased by these authorities to clubs and governing bodies as required.

          • March 13th 2013 @ 10:07am
            Dave said | March 13th 2013 @ 10:07am | ! Report

            Can anyone confirm for me if the AFL will own a lot of stadiums in the future? I seem to recall reading somewhere that they were making payments to the government or something so that in 40 or 50 years time they would actually be the owners (or at least major shareholders) in Docklands and other stadiums?? Not sure if I am remembering right or not though. If true, this is one of the things I am most jealous about as someone with little interest in the other sports apart from football. God I’d love to see some proper long term planning AND action by the FFA.

            • Roar Guru

              March 13th 2013 @ 10:22am
              Fussball ist unser leben said | March 13th 2013 @ 10:22am | ! Report


              The AFL is scheduled to take ownership of Etihad Stadium/Docklands circa 2025.

              At all other stadiums, the AFL has long term leases.

              However, entrenched in property law is the common law principle that long term leases do NOT confer legal ownership rights.

              Also, if a tenant assists with capital improvements to a property, it does not confer legal ownership rights to that property.

              So, to answer your questions .. unless the AFL/AFL clubs actually purchase the stadiums from the relevant Government owners, they will always be tenants and have the normal property rights of any tenant.

              • March 13th 2013 @ 4:19pm
                Nathan of Perth said | March 13th 2013 @ 4:19pm | ! Report

                Well, in some cases other groups (WAFL with Subiaco Oval) have the leases, but yes, amounts to the same thing.

              • March 13th 2013 @ 8:48pm
                Ian Whitchurch said | March 13th 2013 @ 8:48pm | ! Report

                *giggles* You need a better lawyer, Fuss.

                Properly drafted contracts can over-ride both the things you mention.

              • Roar Guru

                March 13th 2013 @ 8:57pm
                Fussball ist unser leben said | March 13th 2013 @ 8:57pm | ! Report

                @Ian Whitchurch

                Can you cite 1 case where a superior court has validated the alleged contractual clauses that you are giggling about?

              • March 13th 2013 @ 9:39pm
                Ian Whitchurch said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:39pm | ! Report


                Irrelevant issue. Certain forms of property rights – google “clean stadium” if you want the details – can and do (and dont) trade hands in short- and long-term stadium rentals, depending on the contract.

                Likewise, the rights of the owners to, say, sell large blocks of seats to the games of the clubs playing there is also an issue with the specific contract.

                Then theres the whole issue of “we’ll rent, but only if you do *these* renovations’.

                Then we get catering and beer sales rights.

                And, finally, if you’re the only team in town, theres not a lot else the owners can do with a stadium complex if the club involved doesnt want to pay rent.

              • Roar Guru

                March 13th 2013 @ 9:55pm
                Fussball ist unser leben said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:55pm | ! Report

                @ Ian Whitchurch

                Everything you’ve said is common to all landowner/tenancy agreements.

                I’ve been involved in lease agreements where the owner agreed to pay for capital improvement in order to keep a trusted & long-standing tenant.

                “And, finally, if you’re the only team in town, theres not a lot else the owners can do with a stadium complex if the club involved doesnt want to pay rent.”

                What are you on about? It’s a basic principle of contract law that a party can claim damages for any material breach of the contract. In your scenario, if a tenant refused to pay rent, it is likely that the court will order the tenant to pay the full amount owing for the term of the contract. You can’t enter a contract & walk away from your obligations.

            • March 13th 2013 @ 10:43am
              JamesP said | March 13th 2013 @ 10:43am | ! Report

              The AFL is set to take over ownership of Etihad stadium on March 8, 2025. The major benefit of this will be controlling the costs/revenues so as not to sting the poorer clubs that play home games there (namely the Kangaroos and the Bulldogs). At present, both clubs need to draw approx 30,000 fans just to break even.

              The AFL also contributes to major stadium developments resulting in the clubs getting very favorable stadium deals – e.g. Gold Coast and Metricon Stadium, where they will make profits on just a 10k crowd.

              • March 13th 2013 @ 12:33pm
                Australian Rules said | March 13th 2013 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

                That’s right JamesP.

                The original date was for 2025 but it’s likely to happen sooner that – the AFL is actually ahead of its payment plan.

                I think that within 10 years, the AFL will make its last payment for Etihad Stadium and som will take ownership of a $1B asset. This is something which has been more than 50 years in the planning…starting with Waverley.

                As you say, the AFL’s contribution of $12M+ to Metricon Stadium (and others) meant that it could purchase the management rights to that stadium, vest those rights in the GC Suns, and enable that club to make a *profit* in its first year of trading…by the receipts from matches and other events such as concerts.

                Securing your own ground, by rights or attractive leasing terms, is the surest way to ensure a club’s future.

              • March 13th 2013 @ 12:43pm
                Nathan of Perth said | March 13th 2013 @ 12:43pm | ! Report

                Crazy they have to draw that much when you consider what the stadium management is raking in with the Medallion Club!

          • March 13th 2013 @ 11:10am
            Nathan of Perth said | March 13th 2013 @ 11:10am | ! Report

            And if you want to know WHY we get the governments to own and run stadium, google “Personal Seat License” or “Stadium Builders License”. Take a look at the new Santa Clara stadium.

            • March 15th 2013 @ 8:45am
              Kasey said | March 15th 2013 @ 8:45am | ! Report


              Can you explain PSLs a bit more please. As I understand it, if I’m a fan of the Gooberville Goobers NFL team and I want a season Ticket in their new Gooberville taxpayer funded stadium I might have to spend ~US$10k for a PSL which only confers on me the rights to purchase a season ticket for that seat alone. I may transfer the PSL as I would any other piece of property, but it seems a bit excessive to pay for the right to purchase a Season ticket (which will cost $US700-odd on top of the PSL) doesn’t it? As well as an Anglophile I am a bit of an Amero-phile when it comes to sport but still am yet to get my head around PSLs. cheers.

    • March 13th 2013 @ 9:46am
      Andrew said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:46am | ! Report

      I’m all for the Roar to trial some home games at Ballymore, however NOT until it is fully redeveloped (corporate facilities, nearby bar, improved public transport, upgraded grandstands etc). Unaware to most people, the QRU are still going ahead with their redevelopment plans, however they’ve had to change the original plan slightly to make it more feasible, the details of which should be released in the coming months.

      It would be ludicrous at best for the Roar to build a stadium which they potentially could out-grow in 10 years. Until such a time that Ballymore is an option for a few trial games, I think the club should further look into the idea of reducing the capacity of Suncorp though the use of a canopy-type set of sails. Add to this the installation of synthetic turf, Suncorp would be a perfect place to watch football.

      • March 13th 2013 @ 9:58am
        Paul said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:58am | ! Report

        Perhaps consider moving lower-drawing games, such as Phoenix, to Ballymore or even playing a few on the Gold Coast or Townsville, (FFA peace offerring perhaps???). If there are sufficient stadia, consider Cairns or Toowoomba.

    • March 13th 2013 @ 9:50am
      Towser said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:50am | ! Report

      It is stating the “Bleeding obvious”(small boutique stadiums) as Matt pointed out & Roarsome explained why in Brisbane its diffiicult to shift from Suncorp. But its only part of the overall “Atmosphere equation” as pointed out below.
      Ideally in Brisbane Ballymore is the right size,but even if its location wasn’t less than ideal,its facilities are antiquated at best.
      Unless the Bakries bought it & modernised it or built a new stadium(In the sticks probably due to cost) ,Suncorp is it in Brisbane.
      From what I’ve experienced with the Bakries so far I doubt whether there will be much loosening of the purse strings.
      If we get a proper training facility & an academy that will be it.
      In Brisbane as it stands we either have to cop it on the chin,stick with Suncorp & try to keep building crowds or STFU about it,only the Bakries can change that as stated above.
      Not only try to build crowds ,but develop a genuine football atmosphere.
      This article completely overlooks a major difference ,between Sydneys West & Brisbane & its nothing to do with stadium size.
      The West already has a football culture developed over 3 or more generations of post war migration. It reflected itself in the amount of semi professional clubs in the area be they ethnic or district. Underlying that was strong support for overseas football clubs & International teams.
      In my experience having lived in both places,Brisbane had that diluted ten times,so its unfair to compare the atmosphere created by WSW’s crowds with the Roar’s. Believe me it aggravates me at times to be honest to see our active support in comparison to clubs like the Wanderers & also Victorys(which tapped into the same support as WSW’s but in the whole of the city of Melbourne) but the Den & its little brother RCC are trying & will get there eventually.However its nowhere near as inherently part of the DNA of Brisbane football crowds as it is with the two clubs mentioned in particular.


    • March 13th 2013 @ 9:55am
      brisvegas said | March 13th 2013 @ 9:55am | ! Report

      I think the Roar should close off the upper tiers for games . I don’t know why people want to go and watch a game up in the clouds anyway, but, hey, we all have our quirks.

      Ballymore is about the best size, but it isn’t a great place to go to watch a game, and not so easy to get to and the residents of the suburb hate crowds, and it’s too far from the pubs on Hale St, which is a great place to go pre-game. It’d need a considerable upgrade as well, with cover all around to save us from this interminable rain.

      Otherwise you’d need to build a new stadium. I recall there was some talk of that soon after the Bakries took over – but there was a lot of talk when the Bakries took over – about building a football only stadium near Ipswich.

      However, I’ve been to a lot of Roar games where the atmosphere has been good, and noisy (though not of RBB or Victory proportions). Strangely, it always seems to be a lot quieter on telly.

      • March 13th 2013 @ 10:18am
        Muzza said | March 13th 2013 @ 10:18am | ! Report

        Just in case you were not aware, the upper tiers are closed off to general ticket sales for Brisbane Roar matches. The people you see in the “upper tier” in the Eastern Grandstand are Suncorp Stadium members, who have that seat for all matches played at the ground, irrespective of the code. For the cost of that seat, it certainly is not just “sit where you want”. And the pubs are on Caxton Street, not Hale Street (the only thing Hale Street is famous for is traffic jams!), If they were ever to play A-League at Ballymore, there are definitely closer pubs and bars, but granted, none are within walking or stumbling distance.

        • March 13th 2013 @ 12:32pm
          Brisvegas said | March 13th 2013 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

          I didn’t know the top tiers were limited to members. That’d make it difficult to close it off on match day.

          Yes, Caxton St. My bad. Nice little precinct that one. Hale St is the road to the bridge isn’t it. I’ve only been to Ballymore once – to see the women play.

          • March 13th 2013 @ 12:44pm
            Nathan of Perth said | March 13th 2013 @ 12:44pm | ! Report

            Top Tier on one side belong to Suncorp Stadium Memberships, you could tarp the other side but it would look pretty odd. I suppose when you pay between $1,500 and $3,000 per person for a reserved seat, you don’t like being shifted…

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