As finals were approaching, NRL fans expected a massive increase in Sydney crowds, with teams from the city having featured in all of the top-ten lowest crowds throughout the season.
So how did it go? Panthers vs Warriors had 17,168 turn out, while the Sharks vs Panthers match saw 19,211.
Compare that to Richmond vs Hawthorn attracting 91,446 and Melbourne vs Hawthorne featuring a crowd of 90,152.
The reason behind these low crowds is that the NRL is relying on fans from two fan bases to travel a long distance in peak-hour Friday night traffic. The MCG, on the other hand, is in a convenient location, with transport options surrounding.
I realise that the NRL wants to play every finals game in 30,000-plus seat stadiums, however with the current set-up in Sydney, there is no way to achieve a decent crowd for a suburban team like the Sharks or the Panthers at Allianz or ANZ Stadiums.
The solution is building a 40,000-seat stadium in Liverpool, rather than upgrading ANZ Stadium.
Homebush is hard to access at all times. Building a stadium at Liverpool would allow a home for the Wests Tigers and the Bulldogs, while the Sharks and Dragons could also use this stadium for a finals base – it’s much more convenient than travelling into the city on a Friday night.
As of next year, the Panthers will have the new 30,000-seat Western Sydney Stadium instead of taking games to ANZ Stadium – there’s one problem solved.
In the meantime, teams that don’t have a convenient, large stadium in proximity should play at the ground they have been playing (and winning) at all year.
This is the solution that the fans want – this is what will draw the crowds.