‘A lonely sea of blue seats’: why ANZ stadium is nobody’s home ground

first_img Since you’re here… Share on LinkedIn Matt Cleary The tour never did eventuate because I never did write back to old mate. And I’ve since continued to write narky things about the great big white elephant in the west. Of course you can write nice things about ANZ Stadium – though only when it’s full; when it’s full ANZ fairly throbs. But for regular season NRL games it’s a lonely sea of blue seats. There’s the rub. Even with 20,000 in the joint – which is 5224 more than the average NRL crowd in 2017 – the open, round, giant, wok-like shape of the place means that the nebulous thing called “atmosphere” escapes into the atmosphere. Screams are sent into space where no-one can hear them. “Atmosphere” demands closeness, and you don’t get that often at ANZ Stadium.The ground, of course, has had its moments. It was created for the 2000 Olympic Games and held 107,000 for Freeman’s 400m. About the same number came in for “The Great Test” of 2000 between Wallabies and All Blacks and for the ’99 NRL grand final won by Melbourne Storm over St George Illawarra Dragons. State of Origin, of course, is an annual leviathan. On Good Friday the ground hosts a double-header from which up to 50,000 flood the turnstiles from the massive throngs of punters who’ve hauled their broods around the Royal Easter Show. But mostly it’s a dud – at the ground and on TV. And it’s a lot easier for fans to watch a game on television than schlep out there, as everyone has to. “Australia’s home ground”? It’s sort of nobody’s. The Bulldogs, Rabbitohs, Tigers and Eels call it home. But it’s not in Balmain, Belmore, Canterbury or Bankstown. Rabbitohs fans have had to come from everywhere to see their teams under-achieve. This means games on television can lack vibrancy. The shots you see of packed humanity on the television are selective; directors hate those blue seats. Yet such is the flux of this National Rugby League, with issues over salary caps, revenue and club viability, that clubs will take “home” games to ANZ so they don’t have to pay local councils rent for grounds. Play at ANZ Stadium and ANZ will pay you – up front. The club also keeps the gate, merchandise and corporate seats. The venue will take food and beverage, but the club doesn’t pay for security, police and staff. They might split signage. Is this a win-win situation? Sure, but if 6200 show up, they split nothing.That’s why this Sunday the Dragons will “host” the Bulldogs in round 26. Saints players will put their boots on in the home dressing sheds and a big sign will say “Dragons” in the upper-most and empty nose-bleed seats in the sky. Just about everyone except the TV shouters and suits at Dragons Inc. will whinge about it. Dragons fans will bemoan that the game – their must-win, last gasp, season-defining hit-out against traditional Dog rivals – is not at their spiritual home of Kogarah-Jubilee or down in Wollongong (although they won’t whinge as much about that, given the Illawarra half of the merger is the less-valued runt of that litter. That’s another story). Dragons fans will also moan because they have to travel to Homebush, which is on the nose because it’s in Homebush. That, and Sydney’s transport infrastructure isn’t keeping pace with Sydney. Every major city in the world has an underground, but Sydney continues to build roads. Canterbury Bulldogs’ upset of Manly fails to mask club’s listless NRL season Reuse this content Share on WhatsApp Eagles and Bombers surge into finals, Dragons keep season alive and more: sportwatch – as it happened Rugby league … we have a small favour to ask. 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We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism that’s open and independent. Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Support The Guardian The PR man from ANZ Stadium was not happy. In a piece about an obstacle course race that ran through the bowels of the Olympic Park precinct (like those Tough Mudder endurance ones, just without the fire) I’d opined that ANZ Stadium has a “huge, ‘Soviet’ feel”, adding that: “It’s a long way from anywhere, the beer comes in plastic cups and big events are policed by dull goons in bright yellow bibs.” I did go on to pump the ground’s tyres by talking of “Cathy Freeman’s hot lap, John Aliosi’s golden penalty goal, and Billy Idol sitting mute aboard a flaming hovercraft shouting ‘We want some power!’ as the entertainment for the 2002 NRL grand final fell flat.” But it was the “Soviet” thing that clanged with the man from ANZ. And so he chopped out an email that said it was “ridiculous” to describe the precinct thus and that a “young journalist” (I’m 47) would surely benefit from a guided tour of the stadium and thus, presumably, become infused with the history and ghosts of “Australia’s home ground”, and go on to write nice things about it. Read morecenter_img NRL Australia sport features Share on Messenger Share on Pinterest Read more Share on Twitter Share via Email Topics ANZ Stadium’s average crowd for 2017 is a paltry 13,976, the lowest in ground history. The Dragons and the NRL know it. It’s not just at ANZ Stadium that crowds are down. Everywhere but one-club Brisbane, with its super stadium, battles. And that’s why the Dragons’ initiative to let kids in free, to cap ticket prices at $25 and make all seats general admission (open slather, sit-halfway-on-the-sideline-if-you-get-there-when-gates-open) should be applauded. It’s an initiative that will be closely watched by suits at League Central. Every one of their fan surveys come back with costs as the reason a family wouldn’t head out for a day at the footy. Mum, Dad and three kids, transport, a can of drink and a hot dog each can run to $200. Wages aren’t going up with the Consumer Price Index. TV on the other hand is free, or mostly.Good luck to the Dragons. Their season’s heart still beats and let’s hope their fans do travel out to Homebush with the kids, to take the club up on the offer of free and almost nominally-priced tickets. Let’s hope they pack out the middle bits. Let’s hope everyone’s happy. Share on Facebooklast_img

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