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Opinion

Build it and they won’t come: Why Sydney doesn’t deserve more stadiums

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Expert
3rd May, 2022
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Sydney’s fickle sporting fans don’t deserve more stadiums.

Build it and they will come? One of the most overused sporting cliches of all time might work in movie theatres but it doesn’t get bums on seats in real life, especially not in Sydney.

The original Sydney Football Stadium was hailed as a great place to watch rugby league, union and soccer, by 1988 standards, when it opened.

And for the most part it was rarely filled anywhere near to capacity. 

The new version is due to open in September and will again be lauded as a modern marvel with state-of-the-art features, close-to-the-action seating and after a brief honeymoon period, Sydney’s fairweather fans will give it a wide berth.

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The Rabbitohs are set to join the Roosters as the main tenants of the new stadium next year and apart from the derby matches between those teams, do you think Sydney fans will all of a sudden start flocking to Moore Park?

Pre-pandemic, attendances at Waratahs and Sydney FC matches were ordinary even though the A-League side has been ultra successful more often than not.

Frank-Paul Nuuausala.

Roosters forward Frank-Paul Nuuauasla makes a run at a half-empty Sydney Football Stadium in 2014. (AAP Image/ Action Photographics, Grant Trouville)

Sydney fans like to hide behind the public transport issue or lack of parking or price of tickets or cost of food and beverages for their failure to go to Moore Park.

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These are often valid complaints but you get the impression that even if a limousine with free tickets arrived at their doorstep, it still wouldn’t be enough to get some so-called fans to a sporting event in the Harbour City.

Part of the problem is that the three main football codes in Sydney – league, union and soccer (well, it used to be but is probably fourth now behind Aussie Rules) – are often better to watch for fans on the small screen from the comfort of the loungeroom, or handheld device, or however the modern fan consumes their sport of choice. 

ANZ Stadium empty

(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Whereas the AFL is a much-better sport to watch live as the TV cameras can’t capture all the action off the ball which is crucial to the match as it plays out.

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Also, there are still way too many NRL teams in Sydney but that is unlikely to change anytime in the next decade or two as long as TV rights deals funnel enough money back to the clubs to stay afloat. 

It’s been clear from the latest flare-up between ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys and the NSW Government about the threat to take the NRL grand final elsewhere that the league is using strongarm tactics to get better funding for suburban stadiums.

Parramatta already have their shiny new venue and Penrith are getting their one built next year to be ready for 2025 so the NRL is looking to cover all points of the Sydney compass with a version of CommBank Stadium.

V’landys has openly said there was a deal in place for $800 million to make Accor Stadium a permanent rectangular facility and now that the government has canned that plan, the money should be spent to upgrade smaller venues like Brookvale, Shark Park, Kogarah and Leichhardt but there is a push to use the money for a roof at the Olympic venue. 

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NRL fan in empty stadium.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

These four suburban grounds are quaint and great places to watch footy when the sun is shining.

But they are a nightmare to get to unless you live within walking distance. Parking is always limited, traffic before and after matches grinds to a halt, and public transport is problematic.

That’s not going to change. And even if there was enough money to raze these four venues to rubble and put brand-new stadiums in place, they still wouldn’t be filled on a regular basis. 

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Putting a roof on Accor Stadium will help for occasions like Socceroos matches, Bledisloe Cup matches or Origins when they are played in pouring rain but for its main usage, regular-season NRL games, it may mean the ground is lifted a percentage point or two so it’s only three-quarters empty at best.

Eels winger Sean Russell scores a try at CommBank Stadium. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

If it helps secure the Rugby World Cup final in 2027 or Australia’s bid for the 2034 FIFA World Cup, then it could be worthwhile but those claims also appear to be a case of grandstanding in this ongoing analogy of political football.

It’s a bit of an apples with oranges comparison when stacking up Sydney’s stadium situation with Melbourne but the Victorian capital effectively gets by with two main venues for its dominant sport in AFL with the MCG and Marvel Stadium with AAMI Park catering for the rest. 

The population of the two cities these days so why should Sydney need so many stadiums when their supporters, for the most part, rarely get the turnstiles clicking over anywhere near the rate that Melburnians do?

Irrespective of the debate about whether the NSW Government’s public funding could be better spent elsewhere, it’s clear that Sydney has not done enough to earn more high-priced stadiums.

Accor Stadium is a struggle to fill most years for its one Origin game and the grand final while Tests are usually played elsewhere because of a distinct lack of interest in a saturated Sydney market, yet we can’t possibly take the NRL’s premiership decider away to another city because of “tradition”.

Doing something because that’s the way it’s always been done is never a reason to justify anything.

Sydney doesn’t deserve to have a divine right to host the grand final every year and it is certainly not entitled to demand new stadiums be built when the ones already standing are hardly ever filled to capacity.

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