Drama and atmosphere should be the only measures of stadium wars in Australia | sports australia

Most fans don’t ask for much when they visit an Australian stadium. A fair ticket price, a reasonable seat, an accurate dash, a quality booze, and a meat pie somewhere between corpse cold and Hades hot. The stadium itself – the architecture, the access points, the jiggery-pokery on the big screens before and after – is quite intangible. We’re here for the show on this sparkling green field. Everything else is just facade.

A great stadium should be a family battleground showcasing grassroots tribalism, sporting excellence, and the unifying human experience of watching games played to their limits. And most weekends they are. It’s what makes it so unedifying to see greedy, bombastic administrators and governments using our great stadiums as a bargaining chip and index for content, sponsor satisfaction, consumer spending and broadcast deals.

There’s a golden decade of major events to come in Australia: the 2023 Women’s World Cup, the 2032 Olympics and Paralympics, the 2027 Men’s and 2030 Women’s Rugby World Cups, not to mention all the finals , grand finals and other intermediate tournaments. That means millions of dollars in ticket sales, tourist dollars, hotel rates and entertainment up for grabs for host city stadiums.

Thus begins the jibber-jabbering of prime ministers, ministers, administrators and stadium owners. And sadly, like most private schoolboy fracas, it comes down to who has the biggest.

Melbourne has the largest stadium, the MCG, with 100,024 seats – a massive capacity that adds millions to coffers of any code. Although it has a long history of hosting the Olympics, AFL Grand Finals and other extravaganzas, its only downside when it comes to hosting a Rugby World Cup final or football is that it is an oval peg for a rectangular game.

But fans don’t care that they can walk the ancient ground past the Yarra Hill scar tree, threaded by the Wurundjeri for canoes and shields and still standing after 800 years. And sightlines don’t matter when the sonic boom of an MCG crowd reverberates through the big moments.

When Cathy Freeman made history at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium, it was oval and it held 109,874 for a Bledisloe Cup Test that same year. It can still hold 83,500 but Rugby Australia announced in May that it was taking the Wallabies-All Blacks Tests to Victoria for the first time since 2010: to Marvel Stadium (capacity 52,500) in 2022, and to the MCG in 2023 .

Curiously, the centerpiece of this year’s rugby, the Australia v England Test in July, takes place at Sydney Cricket Ground, where the two nations have not met since 1975. In a game built on tradition, it is a smart game and a win for the fans who troop or tram up the hill from Central, pass (or via) the pubs, where the huge Adam Goodes mural looks down, enter the old gates along the pond where Dougie Walters once planted a six from the center wicket.

Perth’s Optus Stadium is a new multi-purpose arena capable of converting from oval to rectangle while maintaining excellent visibility for spectators and increasing capacity to 65,000. It hosted the 2021 AFL Grand Final, a Bledisloe win in 2019 and NRL State of Origin II is here on June 26. Perth’s three-hour time difference puts it in the box for richer prime-time TV slots with all northern hemisphere broadcasters on international games as well.

But on the pitch, fans love to see their colors sparkle in the Swan River as you cross the Matagarup Bridge at the entrance. It’s the same on the way to Adelaide Oval where people exit the city to cross the curve of the footbridge, colors rippling in the Torrens. If it’s Suncorp, you walk (or run) the Brisbane wet gauntlet of Caxton Street to the “Cauldron”.

This is the fan metric. For them, the path to a great stadium begins with the path itself. We enter, guided by the glow of the lights or following the muffled din of the crowd. Tribal colors come from south, north, east, west, moving from streams to rivers. It’s the most important metric of any major event and that’s how it starts: turning off the box, getting your butt up and fighting for the privilege of being there.

This encounter creates something that these bickering prime ministers and code chiefs can’t hear, feel or measure in a boardroom or glass-enclosed corporate room: drama and atmosphere. A stadium is nothing without it, just as it is nothing without the game and its players. Yet instead of seeing the sport as a circus of monsters, wonders and heroes, they only see the ring. They build stadiums on public land with public funds for an audience that loves their games, but then sell the naming rights to “our” land to betting houses, telecom operators, banks and breweries.

Fans will understand if those funds go to making pies hotter, beers drinkable, queues shorter, parking easier, security tighter, and public transportation safer, smarter, and faster. But there’s too much jostling at the bottom to worry about these measures.

Everyone knows you could mow and string a paddock at Humpty Doo and people would still be bombarded by sponsors and sidelined cash grabs to attend Collingwood v Carlton, Rabbitohs v Roosters, Wallabies v All Blacks, Victory against Sydney FC, Australia against the world. Such shows sell out, regardless of the stadium. Fans just want to get closer to that green field at its heart and the heroes close to ours.