White Elephants?

Updated: Jun 16, 2020

A meat pie and a cold beer at the footy, is it a thing of the past? Weekend crows in New Zealand Rugby would suggest that maybe not, but the continuing uncertainty around when or whether ‘normality’ will resume begs the question of what will become of our world-class sporting stadiums. Let's face it, if there isn't a vaccine or other treatment for COVID-19 available down the track, then large stadium crowds may be a thing of the past.

Billions of dollars have been invested into stadiums by governments. Two recent large-scale projects are Optus Stadium in Perth and the demolition and proposed rebuild of the Allianz Stadium in Sydney. Without an alternative (or reimagined) purpose, these modern coliseums will continue to sit idle and abandoned like the ruins of Ancient Rome.

Allianz Stadium in Sydney, now unrecognisable.

The economics of live sport had seemingly been changing long before COVID-19, with television right deals becoming the lifeblood of many major leagues. However gate revenue remains an important part of the business model, to say nothing of the atmosphere that artificial crowd noise simply can’t replicate. It’s like an electric car with a manufactured V8 soundtrack - the tune is familiar, but the sensation is all wrong. So despite the challenges of bringing people together in a ‘post-COVID’ world, it arguably remains preferable for all concerned to explore some safe way of reintroducing modest crowd numbers. There are obvious logistical challenges to doing this. Many of our stadiums are built in relatively high density areas, without large adjoining parking lots to support them. Spectators therefore commonly arrive in droves on public transport, which is itself a potentially unsafe proposition at this time. And even if spectators can get to the games, there’s then the additional problem of them queuing while they wait to enter. None of this should be a deterrent, however, to attempting to resume normal use of these facilities, at least in part. Too much has been invested in them to simply call full-time on live crowds. Even if we never see 50,000 at Suncorp, or 100,000 at the MCG again, COVID-19 should not mean that we walk away from crowd participation altogether.


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