Usually, this is the time of year when people are enjoying the start of their preferred football code’s season – or looking forward to the finals in the case of the A-League – and the most common type of article is one concerning the season ahead.
I wrote one such article just last week. But this weekend includes a different kind of contest, one that relates to a very important facet of sport that has been approached in the wrong way.
In recent times there have been a number of discussions centred around sports stadia policy.
The NSW government is planning on doing something about two of the major sports grounds in Sydney, though what form this will take changes on a too-frequent basis, with NRL teams considering whether to centralise their games to play at the shiny new facilities.
The Queensland government is suggesting that they aren’t that fussed about spending taxpayer money on the facilities themselves aside from minor improvements and increased transport funding.
Meanwhile the AFL has announced that the grand final will continue to be held at the MCG until the 2050s.
The new A-League expansion clubs are gathering funds to build their own boutique stadia after spending a few years at whatever ground is convenient or not.
While the discussion surrounding these topics has been vigorous, there is something that is lacking from such discussions: that is, to put it bluntly, that every single sports ground is terrible, no matter how great they are.
That may seem to be an oxymoron, but there isn’t a single unnecessary luxury that an architect can include that will take away from the fact that they are just awful places.
That’s not to say that some aren’t better than others but the main thrust of the argument is that there is fundamentally no such thing as a ‘good’ stadium.
I am fortunate enough to have been to a number of great sports grounds around Australia and the world.
I’ve seen the AFL grand final at the MCG, the Super Rugby final at ANZ Stadium, Test cricket at the SCG, football at Parramatta Stadium, rugby league at Penrith, American football at MetLife Stadium, basketball at the Boston Garden, US minor league baseball and ice hockey at smaller arenas and Florentine football in, well, Florence.
I have seen the highest level of sport being played as well as the lowest amateur level. No matter what, the arena is always garbage.
That’s not to say a terrible venue means that what you experience in a place isn’t great.
Some of the best live music I’ve heard has been in a place where I’m glad the dingy lighting meant that I couldn’t see what it was making each step a little difficult.
The great sporting moments I’ve experienced had less to do with the venue than I do with the foreign policy of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A great moment is a great moment regardless of the venue. And no matter what amazing upgrades are done to a stadium, it’ll still have all the terrible things stadia entail.
No matter whether it’s a sell-out or half full, a stadium will never have enough toilets.
The simple reason for this is that everyone is going to want to go at the same time: during a break in play.
If they were to build a stadium that didn’t have a line at every bathroom it would be one where every seat is a toilet. While that may be attractive to some people, I certainly wouldn’t want to be around someone that interested in such an arrangement.
As such, this is a problem that can be somewhat mitigated, but will be ever-present no matter what the attendance is.
Speaking of crowds, getting to a sporting venue is always a hassle, wherever you’re heading to or coming from.
The roads are always clogged, the parking expensive, public transport packed or not all that convenient for the stadium itself, or else a walk through the city where there never seems to be a convenient route to take.
But at least you can time arriving to your own tastes so that you can avoid most people arriving at the last minute.
Once the match is over, that’s when the problems really begin. Getting away from the crowds after a match is never easy.
The car park becomes, well, an angrier car park. The public transport is even more packed and crossing the street is hampered by the hundreds of people trying to get through in the eight seconds the green man gives you.
Although this is more of an external issue, let’s head back inside for what problems the interior of a stadium will always have.
Like the music venues I mentioned earlier, sports stadia are notorious for their sticky floors.
Especially at the end of a season, after many thousands of beers have been spilled all over the place, the sensation of your foot sticking to the ground and having to slightly force it to lift it isn’t something anyone enjoys, which is amazing considering that food and drinks are overpriced to absurdity at every sports arena.
Surely every morsel of food and droplet of liquid that touched the ground would be a tragic loss – I know I hate if I drop anything. Maybe the crowds have something to do with all the dropped and spilled food and drink.
However, a canny fan can plan ahead by timing their toilet breaks away from the rush and with apps now available for many grounds that mean you can order food from your seat, you don’t even have to wait long for the overpriced food.
The stadium even offers free Wi-Fi. Except it doesn’t work, so you have to use 4G anyway. Although considering how awful Wi-Fi is in this country, that might be a boon.
It’s now considered necessary for these things to be included in the design of any new stadium, but there isn’t a single reason why anyone would actually want to use them.
It’s not as though they make the experience better, despite what designers and obstinate fans will tell you.
Even in America, where taxpayer-funded professional sports facilities are very common, stadia are still hampered by the same issues that they all have.
I love live sport. I will continue to go to many games of all types.
However, there is one thing that will never play into my thinking. Just as a wedding isn’t more special because it’s in a cathedral instead of a backyard, the Rose Bowl isn’t special because it’s played at the Rose Bowl Stadium, the FA Cup final isn’t special because it’s played at Wembley, and the AFL and NRL grand finals sure as anything aren’t special because of where they’re played.
Events are special. Event venues are just there to let the event happen.
So, despite what sports leagues, clubs, governments or the population tell you, every new sports stadium ever built is just a newer pile of garbage than the one it replaced.
And the sooner we start getting over the idea that they’re ever going to be nice places to go, the sooner we can get on with our lives by not spending time, money and column inches on what the stadium should have beyond seats and a field or court to play on.