Footy season & why it matters for the construction industry

The construction industry has been a big winner from the 20-year expansion of the two dominant football codes.

Australia’s sporting calendar now hosts events as diverse as the kick-off of Major League Baseball and fast growing A-League soccer, but it is the AFL and NRL that are most significant to the property industry.

This year the AFL and NRL will cater for a total of 10 million fans flocking to more than 400 games and that growth is leading to major construction projects.

Take the Adelaide Oval for example – a gentile 19th century cricket ground best known for its Edwardian-era stands and graceful parklands setting. But thanks to a half billion dollar transformation, it will now host 40,000 screaming fans each week from March to September.

That is typical of what two decades of football expansion has brought to Australian cities.

For the NRL, the prime mover has been the ticket-selling power of the State of Origin series. This underwrote the building of a new three-tiered Lang Park home for 53,000 Maroons fans and the 84,000 seat Stadium Australia in Sydney.

The AFL expansion plans are also supplying the revenue for new sports facilities across Australia.

The biggest of these is the $1 billion Perth Stadium, currently at tender and scheduled for completion in 2018. The new multi-purpose complex will host 60,000 AFL fans and new arenas for rugby, soccer, cricket and music events.

The new venue is sited to take advantage of the nearby Belmont Park Racecourse and Burswood Casino, and the master plan calls for a pedestrian bridge across the Swan River and upgraded rail and bus stations. This underlines the importance of entertainment and transport to the success of stadiums and nearby businesses.

A great example of how this works can be found opposite the MCG. In 1999, AFL Club Collingwood moved their headquarters, training and entertainment facilities into a revamped venue built into the 1956 Olympic Swimming venue.

Collingwood’s co-location strategy is based on attracting a big portion of the average 50,000 fans at their home games to the club for meals, drinks and a flutter on the pokies before and after the match.

Interestingly the NRL clubs who pioneered gaming and hospitality at playing venues are the ones under the microscope. This week NRL legend and commentator Phil Gould pointedly asked how clubs attracting just 10,000 fans to small suburban grounds could compete with the Broncos, who regularly draw a crowd of 40,000 or more to their home games.

That question explains proposals for new 45,000-seat stadiums in Blacktown and Liverpool in western Sydney.

The AFL may find this problem reappearing on their horizons too, despite their dumping of poky grounds like Arden Street and Windy Hill a generation ago. Over the past decade, the AFL has teamed up with governments and local leagues for developments across many regional centres including at Geelong, the Gold Coast, Launceston and Hobart.

But can they really continue their expansion path through small venues as far apart as Canberra, Darwin and Wellington New Zealand?

Many in the sport and property industries aren’t convinced, betting that the place for the small suburban grounds in the big spending leagues is over.