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How the NRL can upgrade suburban grounds cost-effectively

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24th July, 2020

When the New South Wales government cancelled the $810 million refurbishment of ANZ Stadium the intention was to redirect the money towards invigorating the state’s economy in light of the coronavirus pandemic crisis.

However, in recent weeks the NRL has made known its opinion that the funding should go towards renovating four suburban grounds, such as Brookvale Oval, Campbelltown, Penrith and a southern Sydney stadium to house Cronulla Sharks and St George Illawarra Dragons.

The NRL have argued they had an agreement in place with the state government that the grand final will stay in Sydney following the building and refurbishment of three stadiums – ANZ, Sydney Football Stadium and Bankwest Stadium. If that agreement were to fall through, the NRL grand final could go interstate. So with the ANZ Stadium plans scrapped, the NRL’s plan B is to take care of suburban grounds.

It is estimated that each suburban ground could cost anywhere from $150 million to $200 million for a 20,000-seat capacity per venue. It may be a hard sell for the NRL to pitch to Premier Gladys Berejiklian and her government. Spending around $200 million each for four suburban grounds would be deemed wasteful by many taxpayers, especially given we’re in the middle of the nation’s first recession in 29 years.

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So in this economic climate the NRL could drop its plans for suburban grounds to be fixed at a hefty price or it could take inspiration from a rugby league club that plays in the Queensland Intrust Cup. The Redcliffe Dolphins are in the process of redeveloping their home ground, Dolphins Stadium.

The stage of development underway, stage 3, includes a 3170-seat northern grandstand, which includes facilities for female athletes, at a cost of $6.5 million. The funding has come from the federal government and Moreton Bay Regional Council. When this development stage is completed next month, Dolphins Stadium will have just over 10,000 seats and an overall capacity of 11,000.


The prevoius two stages of development built two grandstands, one of them covered, for a combined seating of 7000 at $15 million. The total cost of the project when you include all three stages is $21.5 million.

So here’s the thing: what if suburban grounds in Sydney follow a similar template used by Dolphins Stadium? If you hypothetically doubled Dolphins Stadium seating capacity to 20,000, the cost would double to $43 million. It may not cost $43 million exactly, but you get the gist of it in terms of value and the money spent.

Not all suburban grounds in Sydney need to replicate every little detail from Redcliffe, but the mindset needs to change to build cost-effective stadiums rather than looking at replicating Bankwest Stadium on a smaller scale. Have the suburban grounds built initially for the basic needs of the fans and then over time have some add-ons, like a roof for every grandstand.

If the New South Wales government rejects the plans to upgrade suburban grounds, the NRL could fund it themselves when they are in a better financial position once the worst of the COVID-19 crisis has passed.