Australian Turnstiles – November 29, 2017
Australia vs England Cricket to Open Perth Stadium
Confirmation this week that the first event open to the public to be played at the new Perth Stadium will be a one-day international cricket match between Australia and England on January 28th. A capacity crowd of up to 55,000 is expected with all tickets already sold, which will set a record as the largest ever sporting crowd in Western Australia.
The Perth Scorchers will play a closed test event versus an England XI on December 11th, with an additional fixture to take place two days later with spectators limited to families and friends of staff. While the Scorchers will play all their BBL matches at the WACA, any finals they are eligible to host will be at the new stadium. It was recently announced that naming rights had been sold to a telco, meaning the venue will officially be known as Optus Stadium. The new stadium will be the home of cricket and AFL in the west, replacing the ageing WACA Ground and Domain Stadium.
Sydney Stadium $2.3 Billion Splurge
Two years since the NSW State Government first announced their stadium strategy, the final blueprint has finally been released. The total budget is now a whopping $2.3 billion, a large increase from the original announcement. Indeed, it is an extraordinary figure that has been strongly criticised by sections of the community who openly question whether such an amount wouldn’t be more beneficial invested into schools and hospitals.
The spend includes the $350m to demolish the old Parramatta Stadium and build the new Western Sydney Stadium (to host the NRL Parramatta Eels and A-League Western Sydney Wanderers), work that is already underway. The additional funds will be spent to knockdown and rebuild both Allianz Stadium at Moore Park in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, and ANZ Stadium at Olympic Park in the west.
All three stadiums are relatively young; Parramatta opened in 1986, Allianz as the Sydney Football Stadium in 1988, and ANZ as Stadium Australia in 1999. Further enraging opponents of such an investment, all will be rebuilt in their existing locations with almost identical capacities.
While stadium technology has no doubt improved significantly since these venues were constructed, it is arguable that all three were quite capable of fulfilling their function. Those in favour of the plan, contend that factoring in the ability for ANZ Stadium to host sports both requiring oval playing fields and rectangular fields has resulted in a poor experience for spectators. In particular, the National Rugby League (NRL) has strongly advocated for the stadium to be remodelled into a permanently rectangular configuration. This argument has merit, especially as cricket and AFL (oval playing fields) have rarely used ANZ, and then without much success.
However, this is a stadium that is less than 20 years-old, and at the time was touted as being an asset for decades to come. ANZ currently hosts or partially hosts NRL clubs including Canterbury Bulldogs, South Sydney Rabbitohs, St George Illawarra Dragons, and Wests Tigers.
Allianz Stadium was Australia’s leading football stadium until ANZ was opened. It remains a terrific venue for viewing, but suffers from terrible access and a poor food and beverage service. Traffic heading to Moore Park is always a nightmare, and public transport options are limited. The stadium is also situated in such a way that emergency egress pathways are considered inadequate. While retaining tenants including the Sydney Roosters (NRL), NSW Waratahs (Super Rugby), and Sydney FC (A-League), various reports claim attendance on game days averages only 40% of capacity. With the original planning emphasising expenditure in the western suburbs, it seems as though heavy politicking has resulted in the inclusion of a complete rebuild.
The timeline has also changed with Allianz now scheduled to begin demolition in 2018 and to reopen in 2020, at which point work will have commenced on ANZ Stadium. The new plan means further expenditure is unlikely for some time. This means the Sydney Cricket Ground, which was looking to replace the Bill O’Reilly Stand, and Brewongle/Clive Churchill stands, will be waiting for some time, as will the various suburban stadiums utilised by NRL teams such as Cronulla, Penrith, St George Illawarra, and Manly. Reports indicate Manly require investment of up to $80m to bring Brookvale Oval up to a reasonable standard, although funding the project will depend heavily on private investment.
NBL Eyes Expansion
Last week we noted the Australian Baseball League was planning on expanding from 6 teams to 8 teams for the 2018/19 season. This week we can report that the National Basketball League (NBL) is also looking to grow the number of clubs in its competition.
League CEO and majority owner, Larry Kestelman, who also owns the sole Victorian franchise, Melbourne United, has been quoted in numerous media articles as being open to expanding the NBL’s reach. He is especially keen to explore possible partnerships with AFL and NRL clubs given the recent example of the Super Netball league, which has franchises owned by the Melbourne Storm (NRL), Collingwood Magpies (AFL), and Greater Western Sydney Giants (AFL). The NBL has been able to consolidate in recent years with the return of the Sydney Kings (2010) and Brisbane Bullets (2016), and it seems natural to explore additional opportunities.
While there is no clear roadmap to expansion yet, the obvious route would be to add additional teams in the two larger markets of Melbourne and Sydney, noting that each has previously supported multiple franchises. Fremantle in Western Australia has also been mentioned as a possibility. However, the list of defunct NBL clubs is a long one, and the league should be mindful of operating within its means, lest it return to the instability that plagued its operations in the past.
NBL crowds for the 2017/18 season are up 8% compared to last year.
A-League Crowds Down
While Australia’s national association football (soccer) teams are performing well, including a fourth successive World Cup qualification for the men’s team and the women’s team champions of the inaugural Tournament of Nations, the domestic A-League is suffering from a marked decline in attendance. Through Round 8, crowds are now down almost 14% compared to last year with an average attendance for this season of 12,111. The clubs have shifted the blame onto Football Federation Australia (FFA), accusing them of prioritising television broadcasting needs and failing to implement a coordinated strategy to increase crowds.
First AFLX Competition Scheduled for February 2018
The AFL’s recently devised AFLX format will debut in February, in a pre-season round-robin to be played in three cities. The controversial AFLX is designed to be a faster, more dynamic application of Australian Rules that can be played on a smaller, rectangular field rather than the large ovals required for regular AFL. Only seven players per team take the field rather than the normal eighteen. AFL originally developed as a way for cricketers to keep fit in the off-season, so it was natural for it to be played on cricket ovals. Obviously, this limits potential growth internationally, and so the AFL hopes this will allow them to introduce the rest of the world to their sport. All eighteen teams will take part in the competition, which will take place from February 15-17. The final fixture list has yet to be finalised, but the venues have been announced as Hindmarsh Stadium (Adelaide), Etihad Stadium (Melbourne), and Allianz Stadium (Sydney).
Big Crowd for International Rules in Perth
Still on AFL, a crowd of 30,000 at Domain Stadium has ensured the International Rules series will return to Perth in future years. International Rules is a hybrid of Australian Rules (AFL) and Gaelic Football (GAA), designed to allow international competition between Australia and Ireland. While the concept dates to 1984, it has a stop-start history as interest ebbs and flows.
The current format features a two-match series, with each country alternating hosting duties. Ireland has largely scheduled their home matches at the incomparable Croke Park in Dublin, although Australia have regularly taken games to all parts of the country. However, West Australians appear to have wholly embraced International Rules with close to 184,000 fans attending the five games held in Perth since 2003. The current arrangement has just concluded with the AFL and GAA having to decide whether interest is sufficient to justify a yearly competition, while rumours also suggest a test may be played in New York at some point.
Numerous Irishmen have made the transition from the strictly amateur GAA to the professional AFL, most notably the late, great Jim Stynes, who in 1991 became the first non-Australian born player to win the coveted Brownlow Medal, the highest honour for an individual player, the equivalent of an MVP.
Fiji on the Verge of Joining NSW Rugby League
Fiji is on the verge of being admitted to the Intrust Super Premiership NSW (NSW Cup), one tier below the strongest rugby league competition in the world, the National Rugby League (NRL). The news comes on the back of a particularly fruitful Rugby League World Cup for the Pacific Islands, with both Fiji and Tonga reaching the semi-final stage, before being defeated by Australia and England respectively. Fiji are now reportedly close to securing the annual $1.5m needed to fund the venture, which includes covering transportation and accommodation for visiting teams. Admission to the NSW Cup would be a huge boon to the sport in Fiji, which has always played second fiddle to its cousin, rugby union, in which the national team is reigning Olympic Champions in 7’s.
The NSW Cup currently features feeder teams for all eleven NSW based NRL clubs, and the New Zealand Warriors. Papua New Guinea were admitted to the equivalent Queensland Cup for the 2017 season, and were an immediate success, going on to win the competition at their first try.
Meat Pies In Philadelphia
With Ben Simmons off to an impressive start in his NBA career, Aussie meat pie maker Four ‘n’ Twenty has opportunistically grabbed the opportunity to ink a sponsorship deal with the 76ers – the club’s first ever international corporate deal. The arrangement will see the humble Aussie meat pie sold at Wells Fargo Center. For the uninitiated, a meat pie contains beef and gravy, and is commonly sold at all Australian stadiums.
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