Suburban grounds are not the answer

Brendon Waldron Roar Pro

By Brendon Waldron, Brendon Waldron is a Roar Pro


45 Have your say

    It’s been pointed out a lot this week that crowds were much better during week one of the finals a year ago. It’s true. They were way better. They make last week’s crowds look absolutely pathetic. It was embarrassing as a fan to watch those games. It was just sad.

    But is it a fair comparison? No. They were differnent teams in different places.

    Last year’s finals kicked off with 43,170 fans at Suncorp Stadium. Not a sellout (don’t blame me, though, I was there) but still a great crowd.

    The next day 25,592 turned up to GIO Stadium to watch the Raiders go down to the Sharks. They left disappointed, but they sold the place out and provided an excellent finals atmosphere.

    Later that night, 21,233 fans strolled through the gates of AAMI Park to see a great game between the Storm and the Cowboys. That crowd number could have been better, maybe there was an AFL game that day, I don’t know.

    But what I do know is we would have happily taken that number at Allianz on the weekend, as last year that’s also about what they got there the next day as 22,631 fans showed up to see the Panthers end the Bulldogs’ season.

    That’s still a half empty stadium, but for a Penrith home game pretty far from Penrith, it’s not bad. It also helped that Canterbury happen to have a few fans.

    Bryce Cartwright Penrith Panthers NRL Rugby League Finals 2017

    (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

    The Broncos will match last year’s crowd if not improve on it on Friday (if it’s not a sellout, you can blame me as I can’t be there), the Storm almost sold the place out on Saturday for Cam Smith’s milestone game, just as they did for the preliminary final in week three last year.

    The Raiders didn’t make it this far, but I’m sure they would have had a pretty full stadium doing that clap thing had the opportunity presented itself.

    I’m hoping the novelty of the Eels playing finals football for the first time in years brings fans through the turnstiles at ANZ Stadium.

    It probably won’t be enough to stop the place looking empty, but let’s play a hypothetical game where the Eels are playing this week’s game at their brand new stadium where it would be, I’d imagine the new Parra stadium would be on fire on Saturday.

    So what does all this tell us?

    Storm, Broncos, Raiders, Cowboys, Titans, Knights and Warriors are all one-town teams that would get to play finals in their home stadiums should they qualify (which is a long way off for some of those teams, but maybe one day…) and would all get pretty good to excellent crowds when doing so.

    Roosters, Bulldogs, Rabbitohs and Eels are all the Sydney teams that get to have actual home finals at their home stadiums of Allianz or ANZ and, except for the Roosters, all would get a pretty decent crowd (It’s just a shame a decent sized crowd still looks pretty sad on TV at ANZ).

    NRL Finals empty seats

    (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

    That leaves the Sea Eagles, Sharks, Dragons, Tigers and Panthers that all have to move their games.

    As we’ve seen, the home team in their home stadium tends to sell a lot of tickets and the teams that have to move from their suburban ground have a hard time bringing their fans with them.

    So the solution is obvious, right? Don’t make any teams move! Let them be a home team in their home ground that sells a lot of tickets! Surely that’s the answer!

    The first group I mentioned are all one-town teams and have fan bases that reflect that fact (which I often see as an excuse, that it’s weird somehow and a league with this many teams in one city is normal, but I’m saving that for another article).

    The Bulldogs are one of the most popular teams in the league, so are the Eels and Rabbitohs when they’re winning. Really it’s just the Roosters that have a proper stadium to themselves and nobody to fill it with (Seriously, where are they?).

    As for the suburban teams, the Dragons do OK, and are part of the reason they moved finals away from suburban grounds when a large number of fans were locked out of a finals game.

    But the reality is some teams just don’t draw. Teams like Manly and Cronulla, as we saw on the weekend. So why can’t those teams play at their home grounds?

    Because they suck. They’re bad and they’re small. Professional football should be played in stadiums all season, but that goes double for finals. 15,000 People standing on a hill might look better to some than 15,000 people in a half empty stadium, but only one of those has the potential to increase.

    And as we’ve seen, most of the teams that play in stadiums actually tend to fill them, at least when they’re playing well (not the Roosters, but most of them).

    As impossible as it may seem, we need to build the teams up to that level, professional teams in professional stadiums, not have a league of two halves. A league where some teams play in Stadiums and some don’t. It’s been a bad look for the game for years now.

    They don’t all need to be Suncorp, 1300 Smiles Stadium in Townsville also sucks. It really sucks. I’ve been there many times and it’s a hole. But it’s also the bare minimum for what a Suburban Stadium in the NRL should be and is lightyears ahead of some Sydney suburban grounds. It has seated stands on all four sides for a start. A bit too much hill for my liking, but it is what it is.

    Sure, the Cowboys don’t really have any other choice for finals matches apart from taking them to Brisbane, but the NRL is still happy for them to play there.

    So the answer is no, we can’t play finals at suburban grounds as it cheapens the product too much, but maybe a yes, if the place is good enough.

    I don’t want the league to turn into the AFL, where all the Sydney teams play out of two stadiums and don’t have a home anymore. In a perfect world, all teams should be able to play their home finals at their actual home stadium but for that to happen we need to:

    A) Build all the suburban grounds up to a point where calling it a ‘stadium’ is actually somewhat accurate, which is unlikely because the money isn’t there and/or they are in terrible locations to do that.

    B) We get NFL level ruthless with our stadium policy and relocate teams to cities that have decent stadiums, which is also unlikely because that would require the NRL to actually take a risk.

    None of those things are likely to happen anytime soon, so the game is probably going to continue on pretty much exactly the way it is for the near future.

    Is it ideal? Hell no. Sure beats going backwards, though.

    This is probably coming across as a little mean spirited and flies in face of the traditions of the game. “He hates the hill!” “He hates tradition!” “He hates the Roosters!” et cetera. But it’s true. Suburban grounds are for suburban footy. This is the National Rugby League. We have to stop trying to be both. Give me Friday night at Suncorp Stadium over Sunday afternoon at Leichhardt oval any day.

    Those Roosters crowds, man…

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    The Crowd Says (45)

    • September 14th 2017 @ 9:49am
      morley101 said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:49am | ! Report

      “Later that night, 21,233 fans strolled through the gates of AAMI Park to see a great game between the Storm and the Cowboys. That crowd number could have been better, maybe there was an AFL game that day, I don’t know.

      But what I do know is we would have happily taken that number at Allianz on the weekend,”

      Sorry the Roosters only go 21212 last weekend if only 23 other people turned up you would have been happy.
      This crowd was 2500 larger than the crowd in 2008 when the Roosters and Brisbane at Allianz on the first weekend
      of the finals.

      • September 14th 2017 @ 10:31am
        Deir-ba-zor said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:31am | ! Report

        The Roosters vs Broncos crowd was not the problem, all the other games were.

      • September 14th 2017 @ 10:35am
        Brendon Waldron said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:35am | ! Report

        Well I was mainly referring to the Manly and Cronulla games. My (obviously light hearted) jabs at the Roosters aside, I said teams playing in their own stadiums tend to draw at least a decent crowd, which the Roosters did. But Melbourne isn’t Sydney, the supposed heartland, and that Roosters crowd was still disappointing for a team second on the ladder and in the premiership betting, the place still looked pretty empty. Maybe they would have got 22,000 at Brookvale or Shark Park, but that’s still not great, and that’s all they’d ever get since it’s the maximum capacity of those places…

        • September 14th 2017 @ 5:04pm
          Chris Wright said | September 14th 2017 @ 5:04pm | ! Report

          I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned who were playing.
          The only teams that draw really big crowds are Canterbury, Parramatta, Souths, West Tigers and the Dragons.
          I might add the Roosters as they seem to be on the improve.
          So look at this year. Only Parramatta did well enough to make the finals and crowds are down.

          Manly, Penrith and Cronulla only get good crowds (even at home) when they a bolstered by travelling away fans from one of the above-mentioned clubs.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 6:29pm
          peeeko said | September 14th 2017 @ 6:29pm | ! Report

          it also depends who they are playing. penrith are 60km away from allianz and the cowboys would have provided less than 500 fans.

    • Roar Guru

      September 14th 2017 @ 9:58am
      Nat said | September 14th 2017 @ 9:58am | ! Report

      Agree. It seems Sydney-siders no longer see the NRL finals as an event. History shows the standard of footy lifts and like last weekend they can very close hard fought games. It’s not about the refs – that’s 20/20 hindsight. I don’t believe it is everyone taking it in from home because of the amount of social BBQ’s and Pizza nights planned around the footy and 90% of eyes are glued to the big screen at the pubs. I absolutely appreciate the cost and trouble for some families and that’s fair enough but if 2 Qld teams can attract 82k fans to a GF in 2015, surely the members and fans can organise themselves to support their teams. Hopefully the Parra faithful can get behind their team because those Cowboys fans will be traveling down again (at a cost of approx $1000ea + hotel, tix, food etc).

    • September 14th 2017 @ 10:24am
      clipper said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:24am | ! Report

      I think it’s just cruel to league fans (not to mention that poor, solitary fan) to have that photo of empty sets highlighted in at least 4 articles this week.

    • September 14th 2017 @ 11:14am
      Big Daddy said | September 14th 2017 @ 11:14am | ! Report

      You are right about one thing.
      Sydney teams don’t draw unless they are winning.
      It tells you a lot about Sydney rugby league fans.
      The other thing is if the NRL want to showcase the game as an international sport we certainly don’t do it from second rate stadiums.
      Unfortunately Sydney has only 2 stadiums that are up to scratch.
      That’s the way it will be unless the clubs get off their bums and do something about it.

      • September 14th 2017 @ 12:40pm
        Chui said | September 14th 2017 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

        What would you have the clubs do?

        Fund the renovations themselves?

        • September 14th 2017 @ 12:52pm
          Sydneysider said | September 14th 2017 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

          The answer is foreign investment. Cronulla Sharks actually own their home ground so they have the possibility on improving the seating and the stadium.

          Brookvale is owned by the local council is a dump of a ground.

          The only way any of these local grounds will get improvements is via private equity.

          • September 14th 2017 @ 1:24pm
            Chui said | September 14th 2017 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

            What return does a foreign entity get from investing in building grandstands? Naming rights?

            Which stands in Australia have been re-built with foreign investment? Genuine question.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 1:10pm
          Marco said | September 14th 2017 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

          Yes, with help from the NRL. It seems that the majority of fans want to give up on the big stadiums and revert to being a suburban competition again. Wave the white flag and give the premium sport title to the AFL.
          If it’s going to be that way, then the clubs and the NRL better get cracking and do up the suburban grounds.
          Good luck with that. I think the NRL have other ideas.

          • September 14th 2017 @ 1:19pm
            Sydneysider said | September 14th 2017 @ 1:19pm | ! Report

            “Wave the white flag and give the premium sport title to the AFL.”

            It’s not waving any white flag, it’s actually having “home stadiums” for each club, just like other clubs have around the world in various other sports.

            • September 14th 2017 @ 1:43pm
              valhalla said | September 14th 2017 @ 1:43pm | ! Report

              the new frontier of bashing australian rules football …… clubs dont have home grounds and therefore cannot be taken seriously

              • September 14th 2017 @ 5:28pm
                Sydneysider said | September 14th 2017 @ 5:28pm | ! Report

                Works well for AFL in Melbourne, doesn’t work for NRL clubs in Sydney. That’s what I’m saying and it shows in the crowds at the SFS and Homebush.

                Sydney is a different city to Melbourne.

              • September 14th 2017 @ 10:05pm
                AR said | September 14th 2017 @ 10:05pm | ! Report

                See also:
                AFL clubs in Sydney, Perth, Adelaide…

        • September 14th 2017 @ 5:07pm
          Chris Wright said | September 14th 2017 @ 5:07pm | ! Report

          Actually No. The new TV agreement has enough money in it for the NRL to annually hand out $20milion to lets say the premiers for ground improvements. FYI the new Western Stand at Win Stadium Wollongong came in at a cost of $20million. So lets say that was in this year Cronulla could be building a 6,000 seat stand right now.

      • September 14th 2017 @ 6:30pm
        peeeko said | September 14th 2017 @ 6:30pm | ! Report

        how well do you think cowboys and storm crowds be if they have bad years?

    • September 14th 2017 @ 11:29am
      Fred said | September 14th 2017 @ 11:29am | ! Report

      The SFS is probably the worst place on earth for Penrith v Manly. May as well have been in Tasmania. I was actually impressed that Penrith v Manly at the SFS got the crowd it did.

      All the ‘woe is NRL’ articles based on last week’s attendances are a joke. If the Dragons, Bulldogs, Tigers or Eels had been playing in Sydney last weekend, the crowd average would have been totally different.

      Sydney has a unique history and geography. A mix of suburban grounds and bigger stadiums is the best option for Sydney. Sydney is not Melbourne or Brisbane. It needs its big stadiums and it needs way to improve attendance at them. But it also needs its Leichhardts, its Campbelltowns, its Shark Parks, its Penriths and its Brookies.

      • September 14th 2017 @ 3:35pm
        steve said | September 14th 2017 @ 3:35pm | ! Report

        Sydney needs to ditch at least 3 teams to start with before anything else.

        • September 14th 2017 @ 4:47pm
          Fred said | September 14th 2017 @ 4:47pm | ! Report


          Did ditching Norths boost Manly’s crowds?

          Would ditching Manly boost the Titans crowds?

          Cutting Sydney teams will achieve nothing but turn off existing fans.

          PS many fans of ‘Sydney’ clubs don’t live in Sydney. Just like probably 95% of Manchester United fans aren’t from Manchester.

          • September 14th 2017 @ 5:05pm
            Tom G said | September 14th 2017 @ 5:05pm | ! Report

            Precisely! The logic is too flawed for words. Killing off a club to suit a ridiculous stadium policy is just about as dumb as it gets. The NRL acts like the owners the game rather than just its curators.

        • September 15th 2017 @ 1:27am
          realist said | September 15th 2017 @ 1:27am | ! Report

          Yeah lets ditch all teams we don’t like…………..ditch any of the Sydney teams & you watch how the NRL: will go downhill!

    • September 14th 2017 @ 11:59am
      AGordon said | September 14th 2017 @ 11:59am | ! Report


      The NRL needs to come up with a “tradition” for playing games in Sydney. I think the NRL should play as many minor round games in the ‘burbs, take games on the road, etc, but avoid the big, hard to fill stadiums, unless there are contractual reasons for going there. This would bring the footie to the masses, but also avoid the ugly look of stadiums 20% full.

      Come finals time, ALL Sydney games, except the GF, are based at a ground that will hold 40,000 and no more. A revamped SFS is the obvious choice and would ONLY be used for finals or “big” games, thus taking away any home ground advantage to sides like Easts. It would also go back to the “good old days” when all finals were played at the SCG. Once Sydney club spectators get used to the idea, they’ll turn up, exactly as they did years ago to the SCG.

      I also think you need to be careful when comparing apples and oranges. That’s what you’re doing when you compare the NRL with the American NFL. The latter is ONLY chasing the almighty dollar and will go to any length to get it, eg the San Diego Chargers are now the Los Angeles Chargers, simply because the owner managed to get a city to build him a stadium for free. Oakland looks like moving to Las Vegas for exactly the same reason.The NFL is also truly a national sport over there whereas NRL has obvious competition across the States and Territories. We do not have the population, money, viewing audience, etc to go down this path, just yet.

      • September 15th 2017 @ 3:21am
        Jeff Morris said | September 15th 2017 @ 3:21am | ! Report

        Good points about the NFL. If anything the NRL would have more in common with NCAA football. American universities play in a wide mix of stadia, most located on or near their campus and certainly their local community. Some play in massive 100,000 seat monster stadiums, while others play in a wide range of stadiums from sharing with NFL teams to small, old school on campus venues. Not one size fits all by any means, and the NCAA is huge both in large cities like Los Angeles, which has multiple teams, to small, almost rural places like Lincoln Nebraska, and everywhere in between. The point is, a mix of different types of venues can and does work for them.