The Sydney Swans and the AFL have announced a 30-year deal with the SCG which will keep all home games, including finals, at the famous ground until 2047.
Homebush, aka ANZ Stadium, has constantly raised the ire of fans and the media for its unreliable surface and the difficulty in getting to the ground from the city. From 2017, the stadium will no longer be used by Sydney, as they have decided to keep the faith in the SCG.
This landmark agreement, which signals the end of Homebush as a Swans venue, is the first step in fixing a serious attendance problem in recent years. The continual use of large arenas and stadiums that end up barely half full at times has made the AFL look ridiculous. The lure of the extra money that these mega-stadiums provide doesn’t help the atmosphere and excitement of many games that take place at these grounds.
With Sydney committing to the historical and much smaller SCG, it sends a message to the rest of the AFL about the positive effects of having a legitimate home ground. This may spark further interest in the use of suburban grounds in Victoria for lower-profile games. Princes Park has been completely renovated and is ready for AFL football and other clubs look to follow Carlton’s lead in redeveloping their former home grounds.
Swans CEO Andrew Ireland spruiked the importance and potential success of the SCG commitment, citing the growth in membership. “Fewer than 5000 reserved seat memberships remain for next year,” he said. “This means the need to secure seats as a member will be more important than ever before.”
If clubs continue to push memberships and a hunger for tickets due to smaller venues, this will increase crowds and spark more interest in games between less successful sides. The suburban roots of many Victorian teams still run deep into their culture and tapping into this resource of passion and history could prove very beneficial to their financial success.
Take this year’s VFL Grand Final for example. Footscray and Box Hill drew over 23,000 people to Etihad Stadium for a game that had more passion behind it than 80% of AFL games in 2014. The game was the highest attended VFL match in 25 years.
Imagine if the Bulldogs played three or four home games at Princes Park each year? The use of suburban grounds would also come in handy for games against interstate sides, especially the expansion clubs which are still procuring their supporter base.
Either way you look at it, the SCG deal marks a turning point in the attitude towards stadiums and how clubs market their homes games to supporters. It proves that bigger isn’t always better, and history is an undeniable factor in the willingness of people to attend games.