I love rugby league.
Despite being raised in Canberra, my Queensland kin have ensured I continue to carry the flames of the Maroons and the Broncos.
I have also been a card-carrying Raiders member for a few years now.
I love the spectacle, the big hits, the silky footwork, flowing set piece plays and conversions from the sidelines.
However, rugby league has problems – and lots of them. This is the first of a five-part series on rugby league’s troubles from the perspective of a passionate rugby league fan, and (potentially crazy) ideas on how to solve them.
There was originally just going to be two, but as I reflected, my list of gripes grew to three, then four and then five. Indeed, as time goes on this may end up becoming a never-ending serial.
But I digress.
It is no secret that there has been significant controversy surrounding the NSW Government’s decision to knock down and rebuild the Sydney Football Stadium in an attempt to, well, make things nicer I guess?
Designers of the 80s and 90s in Australia had a strange thing with building stadiums that resembled dinner plates more so than dessert bowls, with the grandstands sitting well back from the field.
I suppose this rebuild is an attempt to rectify that. I understand it’s getting old, but why they have just not refurbished it is beyond me.
This points towards a broader issue regarding stadiums in rugby league. It baffles me as to why the NRL persists in having regular season games at Olympic Stadium, and indeed the SFS.
The place is huge – terrific for the grand final, State of Origin and other major sporting and music events. However, during the season, the Rabbitohs and the Bulldogs have to play in front of an NRL-reported 9000 fans (with everyone knowing it’s closer to 5000) in a cavern where any atmosphere that exists simply echoes between the empty stands until it whimpers out through the gaping roof.
It is also located in the middle of a giant complex, far from the original homes of the teams that now occupy it, with slow and meandering public transport if you’re trying to get there from anywhere other than the city.
Meanwhile, we have Leichhardt, Kogarah, Shark Park, Brooky and Penrith all pumping with atmosphere pretty much regardless of who’s playing, and it’s all happening in what are little more than neighbourhood parks.
The locations are perfect, even if their facilities are found wanting. I love that teams like the Sharks and Sea Eagles still primarily play out of suburban grounds (although the fact that Brookvale Oval remains the main ground for a professional sports team is a moderate disgrace – the place looks awful).
The NRL wants the glitz and glam of the NFL in the United States – the money, the big stadiums, the money, huge crowds, the money. But the market is simply not there, and it boils down basic economics of supply and demand.
New York city has two NFL teams and a metropolitan population of some 20 million people. The Jets and Giants share an 82,000 seat stadium and play eight home games a season each year.
That’s two teams, 16 games, 20 million people. Demand for the NFL is huge. Supply is limited. The Giants averaged 76,000 spectators at home last season, the Jets 1000 more than that, despite both having absolute garbage years.
So here is my idea, and many will not like this. Build a couple of 20,000-seat rectangular stadiums, with steep stands practically on top of the field.
Build one in the south and have the Sharks and Dragons share the home ground, with the Dragons also playing out of Wollongong.
If I had it my way, the new SFS would only have a capacity of 20,000. Expand Campbelltown Stadium and have the Tigers move out there permanently (I will have another article dedicated to relocating teams, so save your anger for that).
Penrith and Parramatta are doing just fine in terms of facilities and Manly, well, is a whole issue in and of itself. The end goal is to limit supply with smaller but higher quality grounds.
Then even when 4000 people turn up to watch St George Illawarra play the languishing Gold Coast Titans, the place still breathes a little. And don’t even consider having anything other than the big games at the Olympic Stadium.
Over the coming days I will also propose that the NRL stop selling its soul to gambling companies and Channel Nine, reduce and/or relocate teams, establish summer programs for players to limit future off-seasons becoming total train wrecks – and finally ending the annual contract circus.