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Sydney’s fickle sports fans don’t deserve more stadiums.
Build it and they will come? One of the most overused sports cliches of all time might work in movie theaters, but it doesn’t get bums on the seats in real life, especially not in Sydney.
Sydney’s original football stadium was hailed as a great place to watch rugby league, union and football by 1988 standards when it opened.
And for the most part, it was rarely filled anywhere near capacity.
The new version is due to open in September and will again be hailed as a modern marvel with state-of-the-art features, seats close to the action and after a brief honeymoon period Sydney’s fair weather fans will give it a wide berth.
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 these teams do you think Sydney fans will all of a sudden start flocking to Moore Park?
Prior to the pandemic, attendance at Waratahs and Sydney FC matches was ordinary, although the A-League side more often than not enjoyed runaway success.
Sydney fans like to hide behind the problem of public transport or the lack of parking or the price of tickets or the cost of food and drink for their inability to get to Moore Park.
These are often valid complaints, but you get the impression that even if a limo with free tickets arrived at their doorstep, it still wouldn’t be enough to bring some so-called fans to a sporting event in the port city.
Part of the problem is that it’s often best to watch fans on the small screen from the comfort of the living room, or handheld device, or however the modern fan consumes their sport of choice.
While the AFL is a much better sport to watch live as TV cameras cannot capture all the ball action which is crucial to the game as it unfolds.
Additionally, there are still far too many NRL teams in Sydney, but that is unlikely to change anytime over the next decade or two as long as TV rights deals return enough money to clubs to stay afloat.
It is clear from the latest flare-up between ARL Committee Chairman Peter V’landys and the NSW Government over the threat to take the NRL Grand Final elsewhere that the league is using heavy-handed tactics to secure better funding for suburban stadiums.
Parramatta already has its shiny new venue and Penrith is having one built next year to be ready for 2025. The NRL is therefore looking to cover all points of the Sydney compass with a version of the CommBank stadium.
V’landys has openly stated that there is a deal in place for $800 million to make the Accor stadium a permanent rectangular facility and now that the government has shelved that plan the money should be spent upgrading smaller sites like Brookvale, Shark Park, Kogarah and Leichhardt but there is pressure to use the money for a roof on the Olympic site.
These four suburban pitches are picturesque and perfect places to watch football when the sun is shining.
But they are a nightmare unless you live within walking distance. Parking is always limited, traffic before and after matches comes to a standstill and public transport is problematic.
This will not change. And even if there was enough money to raze these four sites and set up new stadiums, they still wouldn’t be filled regularly.
Putting a roof over the Accor stadium will help for occasions like Socceroos matches, Bledisloe Cup or Origins matches when played in the pouring rain, but for its primary use, regular season NRL matches, this can mean that the floor is lifted a percentage point or two so it is only three-quarters empty at best.
If it helps secure the Rugby World Cup final in 2027 or Australia’s bid for the 2034 FIFA World Cup, it might be worth it, but those claims also appear to be a case of grandstanding in this current political football analogy.
It’s a bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison when stacking Sydney’s stadium situation with Melbourne, but the Victorian capital effectively manages with two main venues for its dominant sport in the AFL with the MCG and Marvel Stadium with AAMI Park for the rest.
The population of both cities these days, so why would Sydney need so many stadiums when their supporters, for the most part, rarely click the turnstiles anywhere near the pace of the Melburnians?
Regardless of the debate over whether public funding from the NSW government could be better spent elsewhere, it is clear that Sydney has not done enough to win more expensive stadiums.
The Accor Stadium struggles to fill most years for its only Origin game and the Grand Final, while Tests are usually played elsewhere due to a lack of interest in a saturated Sydney market, but we don’t We can’t take the NRL Premier’s decision maker to another city because of ‘tradition’.
Doing something because that’s how it’s always been done is never a reason to justify anything.
Sydney does not deserve to have the divine right to host the Grand Final every year and it certainly does not have the right to demand the construction of new stadiums when those already standing are almost never filled to capacity.