Today the Parramatta Eels finally confirmed that the new Western Sydney Stadium would be their home ground from 2019 onwards. Though few doubted that this would be the outcome of the robust negotiations, it was still welcome news when Bernie Gurr announced that an “agreement-in-principle” had been reached.
According to Gurr, this new stadium right next to Parramatta Leagues Club, will be a game changer for the Eels, especially when it comes the bottom line – finances.
“This Stadium will provide our Members and commercial partners with an outstanding game day experience and will also contribute to the Club’s financial stability, allowing us to invest further in our Football teams.”
In securing their anchor tenancy at the new Western Sydney Stadium, the Eels are laying a significant platform for both on-field and off-field success.
As supporters, we’re excited about the facilities and the views from the stands. The club will no doubt be excited about the corporate hospitality that they’ll now be able to provide. For anyone unaware of the stadium design, nearly all of the western side will be dedicated to corporate facilities.
This means that around 3000 seats will be taken up by commercial partners and their guests. Though there are some disgruntled fans who sat for up to 31 years in the Ken Thornett Stand, there’s little that the club could do about this.
Western Sydney Stadium is a suburban stadium with a difference. A problem faced by older suburban grounds is their inability to adequately cater for the corporate dollar. Though the game has its roots in northern England’s working class, rugby league clubs need strong commercial partners to compete with other clubs and other sports. The positive is that the new stadium provides the Eels woth tremendous potential to grow their commercial partnerships.
Moving into 2019, Parramatta supporters will need to have some patience before they christen their new spiritual home. Two home matches, in rounds 3 and 4, will still be played at ANZ Stadium.
On the plus side, that first game in Round 6 will be the traditional Easter Monday clash against the Wests Tigers. Based on past attendances and the anticipation surrounding the new venue, a sell out on April 22 seems a formality.
Footy at Western Sydney Stadium promises to be an incredible experience. The planning process involved consultation with supporter groups from all potential users, specifically the Eels and the Wanderers. Ultimately, the selected design has spectators literally sitting on top of the action. The Eels will aim to make match days the envy of other clubs.
As spectators, we can expect unrivalled facilities. The club can expect to improve their match day revenue stream.
But what does it mean to the football team?
A number of good judges have said to me that a home match is worth between 2 to 4 points per game. To me, that translates as an additional couple of penalty goals. In tight contests, that sort of advantage becomes significant.
Historically, the advantage of playing out of Parramatta Stadium was obvious.
Across 31 seasons, and 348 matches, the Eels returned a 55 percent win rate. This was despite only qualifying for twelve finals series over this period.
When the Eels returned to Parramatta Stadium after four seasons playing out of Belmore, the result was a premiership. That 1986 team was filled with our stars of that era, but there was little doubt that the return to a home ground provided the fillip to extract the best from an ageing and injury-riddled team (only 6 starting team players took the field in 20 or more matches).
And don’t discount how important the supporters were in that equation.
Thirty-two years ago, that return home saw the 1986 attendances boom, with the season average sitting at just under twenty thousand. The fences were close to the action, and there was a strong connection between supporters and players. For stalwarts like Ray Price, acknowledgement of loyal fans was paramount.
The last two years at ANZ Stadium has seen a major disconnect develop between players and fans.
Poor results in 2018 didn’t help the cause, and the vast distances between the stands and the playing fields were almost symbolic of that disconnect. There was little to celebrate, and few fans to acknowledge. Though to be fair, those that attended deserved some recognition.
The Western Sydney Stadium again puts the supporters close to the action. Players can draw on the energy of the crowd, and I hope that the team takes the opportunity to engage with their fans.
Though I won’t be going overboard with any predictions about Eels results in 2019, the positives about the new stadium can only leave us excited about what lies ahead.
From Cumberland Oval, to Parramatta Stadium, to Western Sydney Stadium, it’s been quite a journey.
The Eels have belonged to this site since 1947, and now, on the same ground, they’ve anchored a new home. Let the building of a bright future begin.