We’ve got an incredible start to the NRL finals series and the question needs to be asked of the rugby league administrators; why are we turning die-hard footy fans away from the biggest games of the season?
We’ve got grudge matches, local-derbies, premiership winners facing their former clubs and supporter bases who hate each other, but rugby league tragics desperate to secure a seat in week one of the NRL finals are going to be left bitterly disappointed.
I don’t begrudge teams like Cronulla and Penrith hosting their finals at venues like PointsBet Stadium and BlueBet Stadium, but we’re talking about suburban grounds with a reduced capacity of 11,500 people in ‘the shire’ and 22,000 at the foot of the mountains.
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Yes, the rules allow them to host a final, but they’re outdated and need to change.
Why aren’t we utilising the world-class facilities that have been built for the NSW taxpayers like CommBank Stadium which holds 30,000, Accor Stadium with a capacity of 80,000 and the brand new Allianz Stadium with enough room to host 42,500 people?
We’re instead playing an NRL final at a ground that mirrors a construction site as the Sharks build their new hotel, medical centre and leagues club on the eastern side of the stadium and at Penrith where they’re waiting to find out if the stadium will be knocked down and rebuilt or they’ll be getting a brand new venue next door on the site of the paceway.
The only advantage to the clubs in week one is the home-ground support. Financially, the money is made by the NRL, the league is responsible for the operations on game day and they need room to accommodate their VIP guests and sponsors.
I am completely stunned the league has given Shark Park the green light to host a final by suggesting it “meets the standards” expected when we’ve haven’t got enough space for broadcasters, people are lining up for 10 minutes to use the toilet and the corporate facilities aren’t big enough to cater for the sponsors of the game.
The league could be making hundreds of thousands of dollars by moving Friday night’s western Sydney derby to Accor Stadium. Imagine the atmosphere inside the former Olympic stadium as the Penrith Panthers tackle the Parramatta Eels.
I have no doubt they’d attract anywhere between 70,000 and 80,000 people, we’re instead playing it at the foot of the mountains which only caters for 22,000. Name me a business anywhere in the world prepared to turn away 50,000 people?
The same goes for the qualifier between Cronulla and North Queensland on Saturday night. Why limit yourself to 11,500 people when you could utilise the brand new Allianz Stadium where they’d comfortably fit the 20,000 footy fans wanting to cheer on the Sharks and the Cowboys? Not to mention the opportunity for Cowboys supporters to fly in from Townsville and stay in the Sydney CBD which is only a hop, skip and jump from Moore Park.
NSW coach Brad Fittler summed it up best on Nine’s The Sunday Footy Show saying “at some stage it needs to change … with the stadiums we have at the moment, there’s an appropriate stadium to play bigger games.
“Semi finals, we talk about it being a different game, so play it at different fields.
“Get the crowds, enjoy the trek to wherever they’ve got to play, go as a big posse and go and cheer for your team.”
I am the first person to use my platform on radio or through the Wide World of Sports website to support the use of suburban grounds because they promote tribalism in our game, but when it comes to the NRL finals series, we cannot keep limiting ourselves. ARL Commission chairman Peter V’Landys spoke to the News Corp papers recently declaring “the teams have earnt the right to host home finals … my focus is on their loyal fans.”
“This is a reward they get for turning up every week … sometimes it’s not all about dollars, you’ve got to reward loyalty.
“I understand we could make more money at another venue … but you can’t buy loyalty, I’d prefer to lose money in situations like this.”
If the focus of the ARL Commission is on the loyal fans of the game, the question remains; why are we turning thousands of people away from the first week of the NRL finals?
Let me know your thoughts by sending through an email to the WWOS Radio show by clicking on this link; https://form.jotform.co/70601482897867
Wide World of Sports Radio is heard from 6pm AEST on 2GB 873am with Mark Levy and co-hosts Billy Slater (Monday), Paul Gallen (Tuesday) and Brad Fittler (Wednesday).
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