RELOCATE a Sydney club?
Play more NRL games at suburban grounds?
Re-engage the fanbase and boost crowd numbers?
Gee, how could we do that? Where could we possibly find an elite-standard stadium to play more NRL games out of Sydney and appease a frustrated supporter base at the same time?
We can answer all those questions with one word. Wollongong.
No club wants to be relocated, so perhaps the NRL and government agencies could start developing plans to play more games at WIN Stadium.
The solution to easing the struggles of nine NRL clubs in Sydney is very easily fixed, by playing eight or 10 games per year on the South Coast.
The financial blueprint would have to be developed, but the road map has already been mapped out by Bernie Gurr, who documented it all and sent it to the NRL and to NSW sports minister Stuart Ayres last year, amid the major stadia upgrade circus.
As Fairfax Media reported at the time, Gurr – now chief executive at Parramatta – supports ANZ Stadium hosting major NRL events.
Gurr quoted statistics showing the average attendance at the 2000 Olympic stadium for 242 premiership games between 2006 and 2015 was 18,460 – or 22 per cent capacity – to argue for most matches to be played at smaller venues.
The grand final and State of Origin venue is about to undergo a dramatic develop, opening the door for the Dragons to return to WIN Stadium more often.
However, Gurr does not support clubs playing at “archaic suburban grounds” such as Kogarah, Leichhardt, Campbelltown or Belmore and urged the NRL to adopt the model of Major League Soccer in the US, where he lives and works as chief financial officer of Crown Pacific.
"Major League Soccer in the USA has developed, and continues to implement, a stadium policy of building 20,000-25,000 seat stadia," Gurr wrote. "The intention was to build atmosphere, cultivate an outstanding game day experience and, when full, is a great 'look' for the league – [which] makes it look more attractive.
"The 'right-size' for a stadium of the future is a capacity of 25,000 to 40,000."
An energised Wollongong crowd, watching games regularly at WIN Stadium might not always hit the NRL’s desired 20,000 mark.
But if expansion is off the league’s agenda, at least listen the existing fan base.
Give them what they want.
St George Illawarra, given they’re already cap in hand to the NRL for funding, are awkwardly between a rock and a hard place.
It is not currently financially sustainable to play games at WIN Stadium, as it costs more than $100,000 just to open the gates.
Which is why they cut games and took them to ANZ and Allianz stadiums in the first place, because it’s profitable to play there.
It’s time the model changed – and make use of the $20 million spent on the western grandstand, then the rest fixing the roof after it blew off.
Playing eight or 10 games in Wollongong would also be a huge shot in the cross-code war, if and when Football Federation Australia, which has it’s own troubles, pulls the trigger on its own expansion.
The Southern Expansion and Wolves are desperate for a place at the elite football table. Why won’t more NRL games in Wollongong happen? Two very clear reasons.
Firstly, there are a lot more votes in throwing cash at western Sydney stadiums than subsidising for more games in Wollongong’s Labor heartland.
Secondly, the NRL is struggling to finalise the salary cap next year, amid the endless infighting that rugby league makes into a sport of its own.
Let alone any clear-cut direction for the future of the game.
But league fans on the South Coast have suffered an identity crisis for long enough. We’ve got part of the answer to alleviating the Sydney NRL congestion.
Time for solutions, not excuses.