A Stadium led recovery
As a sports nut, I take interest in many events occurring in Australia. One other passion of mine is Motor Sports of any kind. My mate and I regularly head off to venues such as Mount Panorama and Eastern Creek to soak up a day, or even a weekend�s, motor racing action. For the most part the experience involves us being subjected to wind, dust, rain, mud, and trying our best to be comfortable in what are very basic facilities.
This of course matters little to us as we are enthusiasts, but it makes it very difficult to convince other mates to come along. They may take a passing interest in the sport, but when they begin to understand that they�ll have to withstand poor facilities and conditions, they usually decide to watch it at home, that�s if they can be bothered.
It can be said that such difficulties encouraging new fans to sport is a challenge for all sporting administrators, including those involved in Rugby League. Now I must point out that this is in no way an attack on the great sporting institution of The Hill. I love visiting the great hills of Australia such as those at Leichardt Oval, Hensen Park and WIN Stadium. It�s just that while I sit, exposed to the elements, I understand that it is an experience best left to the true fans of the sport. Unfortunately with so many options, people have high expectations when it comes to spending their entertainment dollar.
This brings me to the controversy surrounding Melbourne staging Origin III this week. While the worth of playing a game in a neutral state has been debated all year, I feel many commentators have missed the point entirely. When the idea of playing the third game was first proposed, it was merely a bargaining chip used strategically by the ARL. The Victorian government love their major events, and the ARL were willing to give them one Origin game and a Tri-Nations game with the promise of more to come. For this the ARL negotiated that the Victorian government would contribute a significant amount of money to the construction of a purpose built rectangular stadium, securing the medium term future of the Melbourne Storm.
Melbourne must surely enjoy what is the largest population of potential and fringe Rugby League fans of any NRL club. Some argue that most Victorians are so AFL-centric that they�re unwilling to consider any other sport. They�re minds are closed, so we should move on. While I admit that the Storm�s crowd figures are consistently disappointing, maybe they�re fighting a losing battle because of the poor condition of their home ground. Olympic Park offers little undercover seating, and because it�s based within an athletic track, doesn�t position fans close to the action. The stadium looks tired, and undoubtedly Storm fans must feel a little embarrassed when bringing mates to the game for the first time. Funnily enough a similarly inappropriate stadium, the Bulldog�s Sydney Showground, was dumped by the club a few years ago after fans stayed away in droves.
By 2008 the Storm will be playing in one of the most modern, advanced and beautiful stadiums in Australia. They will finally have the facilities that truly reflect their professional status. Storm officials hope to attract another 5-8,000 fans per game once the new stadium is open. Considering that the Storm�s crowd averages were once 13,756 and that over 54,000 people attended the game on Wednesday, signs are that fringe fans are there.
For critics of the third game going to Melbourne, take heart that this sacrifice may just ensure the game survives, even flourishes, in our second largest city, ensuring the N in NRL is as strong as ever.