Ever since the New South Wales government announced $2.3 billion in funding for three stadiums in Sydney, there has been controversy.
Yet, under a cloud of Covid-19, Parramatta Stadium remains the only stadium completed. Fortunately, for sports lovers; it is a beauty.
For rugby league fans it was hoped that the redevelopment of the Sydney Football Stadium (SFS) and the Olympic Stadium would end up just as good. Alas, the sports fan will need to wait and see.
The NSW government will no longer commit the remaining $810 million left for the Olympic Stadium. Instead, it will place this money into projects that it classes as “shovel ready”.
The problem the sport of rugby league faces is that apart from the SFS, it doesn’t have any other “shovel ready projects”.
Though not all is lost. Rugby league has Peter V’landys working for them.
His belief that rugby league should have three to four purpose-built boutique stadiums with a maximum capacity of approximately 20 thousand spectators is the right move. I wrote in an article in 2017 that the New South Wales stadium policy in building behemoth type stadiums was madness.
It made no sense building stadiums in place of almost perfectly good ones when they rarely sold out in the first place.
To highlight the point further, Sydney is not Melbourne. Sydney is not centralised in its planning like its southern cousin, and consequently, large stadiums will not bring the crowds.
The two cities are very much different in their geographical design and their culture. I have elaborated on this difference in a previous article: The Cold War of Australian Sport.
Still, to generalise the point once more – Sydney is a combination of little enclaves that join together to make a whole. For example, the people in Manly are generally reluctant to travel across the Spit Bridge. Furthermore, the people in the Shire would rather hang there than travel anywhere else.
For the people in the east, heading west past Anzac Parade and out Penrith way is not on their radar. In fact, for people in the west like Penrith and Campbelltown, they only travel east if they have to – and that is usually for work or an odd night in the city. In essence, people in Sydney don’t like to travel.
Under the disregarded stadium policy, the problem for rugby league was how to fill the big stadiums. The answer was evident for all.
Apart from State of Origin or a grand final, the game couldn’t. In a way, the government’s back-track has opened up options for the sport, and the solution is as what Peter V’landys has expressed – small boutique but, completely modern stadiums.
The last part is vital to any construction of such stadiums – they must be modern. They must be roofed, where all the spectators are protected as best as possible from the elements.
Naturally, being close to the action and excellent amenities makes a difference. Still, if the government designs them right, the crowds should show up.
So far, Brookvale, Penrith and Campbelltown have been mentioned. Also, discussed was a stadium in Southern Sydney, with Kogarah being the most likely choice. However, I think one set for the Sharks might be the better option.
The reason is that for the most part, the Dragons draw a bigger crowd out of Illawarra than they do at Kogarah. I know the difference is not much – approximate numbers are 10,800 to 12,600 (excluding finals).
Yes, I do note that I am not a Dragons fan. In this case, I was only going off the numbers and a personal belief that we should do more as a game to cater to the Illawarra and South Coast region of NSW.
For interest, the Wests Tigers draw more people to Leichhardt than they do Campbelltown (approx. 13,700 to 12,600), but I suspect a lot of that has to do with scheduling marquee games in the inner west. Ultimately, I feel for the club to thrive moving forward, the south-west must be made their permanent base.
One thing in favour of rugby league attempting to secure funding for these boutique stadiums is that they could be used for a multitude of other sports and events, with soccer and rugby union being on that list. It may be unlikely to happen, but so too was the May 28th season restart.
Clearly, under a revised policy, the grand final and the State of Origin would still be played out the Olympic Stadium and so they should as they are the pinnacle matches.
However, just imagine, Penrith, Wests Tigers, Cronulla, and Manly playing out of a purpose-built stadium in their geographical locations. Parramatta and Canterbury drawing good crowds at Parramatta’s Bankwest and the Bunnies and the Roosters playing at a redeveloped SFS.
No doubt I am getting ahead of myself, especially with a government that doesn’t seem to be able to make up its mind, but I hope for the best.
I hope that when this Covid-19 matter passes that no more lives have been lost and rugby league fans can watch the sport of their choice at world-class boutique stadiums.