“Hello. Is that Bankwest Stadium? I’d like to make a reservation for thirty thousand people. There’s a dress code? Must wear blue and gold? No dramas there mate!”
Can you smell what’s cooking?
It’s the NRL Finals series!
For the legions of Parramatta Eels supporters it’s an alluring and exotic dish – craved but rarely sampled.
Whether supporters will be treated to an extended seating this year remains to be seen, but the capacity to make future frequent diner reservations now seems possible.
This season has seen the assembling of the elements for success.
Though not yet perfected, it’s worthwhile examining the key ingredients.
Of all the metrics which define the potential success for any sports organisation, supporter numbers are paramount.
This year, the Eels averaged over 21K at Bankwest Stadium. This number is impressive by any standards, but when you factor in the spectator unfriendly times in nearly half of the clashes, the attendances have been remarkable. Of the nine home matches at the new stadium, Parramatta hosted two Thursday games, a 6pm Friday game and a 3pm Saturday game. Take a bow Eels supporters, you’ve fronted in brilliant fashion.
And what about those membership numbers! In cracking the 25K mark, the club set a new record for memberships. It continued the upward trend of recent seasons, despite finishing 2018 with the wooden spoon.
But the good news doesn’t stop there, with strong evidence that significant future growth in Eels membership is very achievable.
Back in 2012, the NRL commissioned a study by sports market research company, Repucom (later acquired by Nielsen Sport). Part of their report focussed on the supporter base of clubs in the Western Sydney area. They found that over 300 thousand people in the region identified as Eels supporters.
Throw in the population explosion in the Hills District over the last decade, and that number will only be growing.
And when it comes to resilience and loyalty, Eels supporters are in a class of their own.
Always have been.
The New Stadium
Bankwest Stadium is a marvel. This world class facility has shone the spotlight on Sydney’s football venues by demonstrating that you don’t need to have a hill, cold pies and toilet queues to generate atmosphere at a rugby league game.
And it doesn’t hurt to have a club with literally an army of supporters as a major tenant.
Beyond the superb accommodation offered to players and punters, the corporate facilities are a massive boon for any club. There were understandable complaints from people who enjoyed having Western Stand (Thornett) season tickets at the old Parramatta Stadium, only to find themselves bumped over to the eastern side of the new venue. But it’s a smart design to house over three thousand people in the spacious corporate facilities at Bankwest. And the revenue generated helps the club move towards being financially self sustaining.
It’s inevitable that in future years the Eels will have to share Bankwest with other clubs. But, with a site history extending back to 1947, there’s no question about whose home it is.
The Centre of Excellence
Let’s be very clear about something.
There was no possibility of the Eels remaining at Old Saleyards and building a centre there. It required rezoning and there was only space for two fields.
The move to Kellyville as a base for training and administration keeps the Eels within their catchment area – and in fact places them fair and square in the middle of the exploding Hills District.
Currently, the playing fields are being prepared for the upcoming pre-season. The rest of Stage 1 will see the instalment of modular buildings housing the Eels administration and the football operations. This will place all staff at the one location.
How will it compare to other centres?
I’ve visited the Panthers COE and viewed the plans and animations for Stage 1 at Kellyville. I was stunned to see that the modular buildings will be close to the equal of Penrith’s permanent structure. It is expected that they will be in place in November.
The next stages of development will involve the construction of a small stadium (stand, dressing sheds etc) for hosting junior rep and lower grade matches as well as the permanent COE structure, which will be a wonderful community facility.
It promises to be an exciting development for the club and the Hills district.
Coaching and Support Staff
By now, supporters have had the opportunity to witness Brad Arthur in action during the Manly clash. As the vision unfolded on NRL360, we were provided with a glimpse into his vision, analysis, communication and honesty.
Along with his family values, work ethic and passion for the Eels, the qualities on show via this inner sanctum footage have been the hallmark of Arthur’s coaching since he took the reins in 2014.
My experience has been that such qualities have also been present in his support staff. Over the years, The Cumberland Throw has been fortunate to interview assistant coaches such as Steve Murphy (still coaching), Joey Grima (currently overseeing the Eels junior pathways) and Peter Gentle (now with the Broncos). We’ve had the opportunity to observe and speak informally with Dave Kidwell, Lachlan Wilmot, Adrian Jiminez, Craig Sultana and others. It’s fair to say that honest communication has been a common thread.
As staff has turned over, the culture of honesty has remained.
This post will not be the avenue for in-depth analysis of the Eels roster. There’ll be time for that in the post season summaries. But what is now obvious is the Eels NRL squad has reached the point of “fine tuning”.
Talk of a complete overhaul – a fair call at the end of 2018 – now seems confined to an ugly, recent past.
From 1 to 7, the Parramatta backline would rank among the elite in the competition. It contains a heady mix of strike power, potential and experience. They might decide to add depth signings, but with the Wenty team in the finals they also have a range of youth and experience to call on.
The obvious recruitment must occur in the forwards. The departure of Ma’u, Mannah and Moeroa has created immediate roster space. Ways have been sought to cover for Mahoney. Throw those facts in with a bench that BA has tinkered with all season, and media speculation about targeted signings becomes a foretelling rather than a postulation.
The next month or so could be interesting.
Watch this space.
Behind The Scenes
Before the recent Leagues Club meeting, few people would have known the name of Eels Board Chairman, Sean McElduff. That’s because he and the rest of the Eels Board and management just go about getting things done without any fanfare.
From the measured independent football review, to the Centre of Excellence at Kellyville, better decision making is guiding the future of the club.
It’s what happens when you get the right people in place.
As for our CEO of the past three years, Bernie Gurr – I’ll be writing more when this season is done. He deserves that.
The job for this season is not complete, and the future has not yet been written. If 2018 proved anything, it’s that nothing can ever be assumed.
The Eels are a long way from achieving what successful clubs can boast – regular finals appearances. And they are still building commercial partnerships in their aim of being financially self sustaining.
What is undeniable is that Parramatta has dined out on the glories of a few past premierships for far too long. We need to sit at the finals table with successful clubs from here on in, and the recipe is now looking much better.
For now, that Bankwest setting awaits on Sunday.