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Saturday Serve: A new stadium in Civic should be central to plan for bigger crowds

All right Canberra, picture this: two sporting teams grow crowds by more than 30 per cent almost instantly, seats are almost sold out and you don't have to sit through a cold winter night.

Imagine if the Brumbies and Raiders are winning, too. OK, that might sound a little crazy given the Raiders are fighting for the wooden spoon right now.

But the rest is all on the verge of being a reality, and Canberra officials are confident crowd attendances will grow beyond their 30 per cent goal when the ACT government builds a state of the art undercover stadium in Civic by 2020.

That means the Brumbies jump from 12,000 to more than 16,500. The Raiders, who are experiencing one of their lean years with crowd statistics, will jump to an average of more than 12,000.

Those numbers get bigger when both teams win.

Don't believe me? Check out the numbers for the Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide Power.


Their average home crowds were 33,612 and 26,915 respectively last year when they played at Football Park – a 25 minute drive out of the city.

After moving to the refurbished Adelaide Oval in the city, the Crows are up to 48,120 and Port is up to 42,823.

What about the Otago Highlanders in New Zealand? Yep, when they moved to their new undercover stadium, which is being used as a model for Canberra's new venue, their crowds jumped from 10,000 to 17,000 in the first season.

Compare that to the current Canberra Stadium, which has leaks in the roof, just 20 per cent of the crowd can get access to undercover seating and there's nowhere to have a beer after the game.

For whatever reason, some people in Canberra still believe sport belongs at Bruce, where the government leases the site off the Australian Sports Commission.

"To limp on at Canberra Stadium is just not realistic," ACT Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr said.

"It's got to be the complete package at sport now. It's a combination of ticket prices, food and drinks and the fan experience when you're up against television coverage.

"How bad does it have to get before people don't turn up? I don't think anyone is surprised that on our cold, rainy nights that crowds drop. A stadium in the CBD is the way to go, it's not just Canberra.

"Look at everywhere else that choice has been made to go to the city and it has worked."

Barr has been on a fact-finding mission around Asia. When in Singapore, he met with World Sport Group chief executive Andrew Georgiou.

Georgiou is also the chief operating officer of WSG's parent company, Lagardere Unlimited, which is involved in consulting, operations and selling commercial rights of more than 50 stadiums around the world.

They've been involved in World Cups and WSG manages the Asian Cup tournament, and would be keen to bid on any consultancy role in Canberra.

"The key issues for stadiums these days is fan experience," Georgiou said.

"It means accessibility, bars and restaurants, good viewing ... it defines a city. People always say bigger is better, but I'm not sure that's right in Canberra.

"In Europe, when you upgrade a stadium or build a new one ... people want to experience it, it means people come along."

The ACT government's plans for a new stadium are still evolving. They'll continue to change until a design is settled on.

It all started in 2009, when three options for Canberra Stadium and Manuka Oval redevelopment were put forward:

  • A $350 million overhaul at Bruce, including changing Canberra Stadium to an oval for cricket and AFL with a new 40,000-seat rectangular stadium being built next door.
  • A new $250 million stadium on the current Canberra Stadium site.
  • Building a new western grand stand at Canberra Stadium and roofs on the west, east and south stands.

Manuka Oval's upgrade is already paying off, attracting international cricket under new lights and hosting an AFL Anzac Day fixture next year, which was announced on Friday.

But then there was the "super stadium"; a versatile venue with retractable seating to host rugby league, rugby union, soccer, AFL and cricket.

When Australia bid for the FIFA World Cup, the grand plans were for a new 45,000-seat stadium.

But after failing to win hosting rights, the ACT government revamped its plans.

There's no need for a massive stadium in Canberra if the Raiders and Brumbies can't fill it. One-off events will come and go.

Barr is looking at a 20,000-seat venue with the ability to scale up to 30,000 for bigger events. Putting the venue in Civic doesn't guarantee bigger crowds, but it's the best possible start.

It could also host functions, concerts, international netball and basketball.

The Raiders' crowd figures are woeful. They're on track for their worst average attendance in a season since moving from Seiffert Oval to Canberra Stadium in 1990.

The Brumbies only managed to attract 14,000 fans to a Super Rugby qualifier final against the Waikato Chiefs.

They don't want a big venue, they want the right shape and size for their fans and the "realistic model" for Canberra.

One option is to leave the southern end open without seats to offer views of the Parliamentary Triangle. If the demand for seats increases in the future, they can be added in.

There will be no major upgrades at Canberra Stadium in the future. Maintenance will be ongoing, but the venue is at the end of its lifespan.

It would cost $100 million to rebuild the Meninga Stand, which was built in 1970. Why would you spend $100 million on one stand when you can move everything to the city for $200 million?

The Brumbies want to investigate public wireless internet at Canberra Stadium to create better fan interactivity on the big screens.

Oh, I forgot big screen. Canberra Stadium's big screen is 60 square metres. At new stadiums, they are 200 square metres.

The only option for Canberra is to build a new venue in the city. When it's finished, fans won't have an excuse to stay at home. Will you be there?