Big stadiums makes dollars and sense for NRL

St George Illawarra fans complaining about having to travel to ANZ Stadium to see their team play games should consider whether they want a team to watch at all.

Or at least one that is able to compete with the NRL's financial powerhouses such as Brisbane, South Sydney, Sydney Roosters and Canterbury.

For the same reason that Wests Tigers began playing a third of their home games away from Campbelltown and Leichhardt in 2005, the Dragons have reduced the number of premiership fixtures at Kogarah and Wollongong from six each to four and moved their other four games to bigger venues.

Revelations that South Coast Wolves pay a $5500 for each of their NSW Premier League games at WIN Stadium highlight the costs associated with hiring venues even for community sporting bodies, and St George District RLFC last year fell behind in rent to Kogarah Council by more than $250,000.

At ANZ Stadium, the Dragons receive a guaranteed income for each match, with added incentives to encourage them to grow attendances as South Sydney and Canterbury have done since moving there.

The Dragons, who have reduced staff this season, are also able to save costs as the bigger venues handle ticketing and other operations.

While crowd figures for the opening round of NRL matches were disappointing, the 19,860 fans who watched the Dragons thump Wests 44-24 on Sunday afternoon would have just squeezed into the 20,500 capacity WIN Jubilee Stadium - and nowhere near as comfortably, as the Kogarah venue only has 8500 seats.

WIN Stadium in Wollongong has a 23,000 capacity but seats just 13,000.

With reciprocal ticketing deals for each other's members, St George Illawarra and Wests Tigers hope that the 14,000 crowds they both averaged over the past two seasons will soon translate to attendances of 28,000 when they play each other, and continue to grow.

Other clubs who play at ANZ Stadium have similar arrangements when their teams meet and the Dragons and Rabbitohs also have a gate sharing deal.

Gone are the days of most clubs being able to rely on leagues club funding and the Dragons were last year forced to ask the NRL for an advance of up to $1 million after their annual grant from St George Leagues Club was slashed from $2.5 million in 2011 to $550,000.

At ANZ Stadium on Sunday, St George Illawarra managed to fill every corporate suite in the western grandstand and demand for their next home match there against the Bulldogs on May 11 is expected to be even greater.

Already, there are expectations of a crowd of about 30,000 for the Mothers Day clash if both teams are in reasonable form.

If they are able to achieve that prediction, the Dragons will be well on the way to fulfilling the NRL's aim to have average crowds of 20,000 per match - a target only Brisbane (30,480), Souths (22,261), Canterbury (19,590) and Sydney Roosters (19,368) met or came close to meeting last year.

Those four clubs played all their home games at large stadiums with facilities that modern sports fans around the world have now come to expect, such as comfortable seating, access to bars and restaurants and, in the case of ANZ Stadium, a reliable and free wi-fi service.

While there has been a lot of hype around the proposal to roof the former Olympic stadium, which celebrated the 15th anniversary of its opening last Thursday, the priority of the recently released masterplan for the venue is the ability to move seating into a rectangular configuration close to the sidelines.

Until then, club matches at ANZ stadium will struggle to match the atmosphere like the one at Brookvale Oval on Saturday night, where 14,200 fans packed in to watch Manly lose a 23-22 golden point thriller to Melbourne.

But Fairfax Media was told more than 8000 of those were either season ticket holders or corporate sponsors - leaving the Sea Eagles with little room to increase revenue through the gate.

As memberships for NRL grow, grounds such as Brookvale or Kogarah will eventually be unable to accommodate their teams - particularly for bigger matches against other Sydney clubs.




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