NEW Parramatta boss Ken Edwards wants the club to rival South Sydney and Canterbury for membership numbers - an ambition that may result in the Eels outgrowing their home ground.
Edwards, who last Saturday accepted an approach from Parramatta chairman Roy Spagnolo to take charge of the football club, started work yesterday and said his first major goal was to dramatically boost the Eels' membership base.
''If you look at the number of members that both the Bulldogs and the Rabbitohs have compared to us, we are well off the pace,'' Edwards said. ''The Rabbitohs are shooting for 25,000 members and the Eels are currently about half of that so that is an area I want to focus on.
''Parramatta is a huge area, there is a population of over 2 million in the catchment area out here and we need to make better connections with the fans and growing the membership - for the benefit of rugby league as well as the Eels.''
Parramatta had about 12,000 members last season, which was more than double the 5219 the Eels had when they made the grand final in 2009.
Since then the club has struggled on the field but if the membership continues to grow to the levels Edwards is aiming for, the Eels will not be able to accommodate them at Parramatta Stadium, which has a capacity of 20,741.
''That will certainly be an issue that we need to be aware of,'' he said. ''If we are like the Rabbitohs and have 25,000 members, that is more members than there are seats at Parramatta Stadium.''
With Parramatta Leagues Club trading well, Edwards said the Eels had the opportunity to become one of the powerhouses of Australian sport and he saw membership as a significant growth area for the club and the code.
''There is a great potential there,'' he said. ''I think there is something like 710,000 AFL club members, which works out to about 40,000 per club, whereas I think the consolidated NRL numbers are about 250,000 so there is a huge upside.
''We need to make sure Ricky Stuart has everything he needs to get the best results on the field and then off the field the rest of the organisation's role is to make that connection with fans and grow the fan base.''
As the managing director and chief executive of ANZ Stadium from 1995 to 2009, including during the Sydney Olympics, Edwards said he had an appreciation of how big a club Parramatta is. ''I think I had a pretty good view of the reach of clubs in Sydney and I saw Parramatta as a club with a lot of upside,'' he said.
''The other great strength that Parramatta has is its huge junior nursery and obviously that is part of the opportunities going forward. If you add that to having a profitable leagues club, the appointment of Ricky Stuart as coach and the board developing a strategic plan to grow the club the same way some of the others have through increased membership and sponsorship it is in a good place.''
The appointment of Edwards completes a raft of off-field changes at the Eels since Stuart's appointment. The former NSW Origin mentor has recruited Matt Parish from Manly and Dean Pay from Melbourne as his assistants, along with analyst Will Badel and head trainer Trent Elkin, who both worked with the Blues.