The A-Leagues are not ready for this stadium

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Derbies and finals matches aside, Sydney FC’s upcoming move into the new and improved Sydney Football Stadium could prove disastrous if recent attendances and current events pose any early indication of its success.

Back in 2016, West Ham United made what proved to be a successful switch over from the 35,000 capacity Boleyn Ground to the Olympic Stadium, which seats up to 60,000 spectators.

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The switch bears an instant resemblance to Sydney FC’s current situation in bidding farewell to their temporary home, currently shared between the 20,000 capacity venues of Leichhardt Oval and Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, to make their long-awaited return to the redeveloped Sydney Football Stadium at the beginning of the 2022/23 season.

Set to open in September, the state-of-the-art venue will be able to hold the same 45,000-strong crowd as the demolished Allianz Stadium, as teased in the recently released Augmented Reality fan experience.

In actual reality, however, the club’s move back into the multipurpose stadium for their home matches could be far from the stadium-filled VR experience or the sell-out attendances at London’s Olympic Stadium, if the dwindling attendances of Sydney’s recent seasons continue into a new era for the club.

The flow-on effects of COVID throughout the last three seasons in the A-League Men, the underwhelming attendances of Sydney’s final three seasons at the original SFS, plus the four seasons during its redevelopment, indicate a steady decline in fan interest of regular season matches excluding the substantially attended Sydney Derby.

The above graph displays these waning attendances beginning with the 2014/15 season, while the club were riding off the back of the fan interest sparked by David Villa’s brief tenure in the ALM, as well as Alessandro Del Piero’s two year stint with the Sky Blues which had ended the previous season.

The seasons which followed saw a rapid decline in match attendance at Allianz Stadium, which even saw its final season at the ground attended less on average (12,024) than the following season played out at Leichhardt and Kograh (12,147).

But what these numbers prove more than anything is the A-Leagues’ delusion and constant tendency to overestimate potential crowd numbers, as well as the stadium sizes required to host such games.

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Sydney’s home games over the past eight seasons have comprised the bizarre hosting of both Newcastle Jets and Melbourne City in regular season matches at ANZ Stadium, as well as a Big Blue at the Sydney Cricket Ground, with the latter two being attended by less than 15,000 people.

But even for the most optimistic of fans, it is difficult to deny the worrying trend of ALM teams playing and subsequently aborting from stadiums which are simply too big for them.

Brisbane Roar shifted away from Suncorp Stadium to the more appropriately sized Moreton Daily Stadium, Wellington Phoenix’s struggle to crack 10,000 fans for regular season games in either Wellington or Auckland, and even Melbourne Victory have had attendance woes at Marvel Stadium.

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So with history falling well and truly against a venue switch of this stature, why should anyone believe that it will be any different this time around, particularly for a club which often failed to fill even a third of the stadium that previously existed?

The one thing in the Sky Blues’ favour ahead of the big move is high membership numbers, falling just behind the Victory and Western Sydney Wanderers upon their last confirmed membership tally of over 14,000 for the 2019/20 season.

But due to multiple events which have recently transpired at Wanderland, interest in the Sydney Derby, which has historically been the only saving grace for regular season attendances in the state capital, is now under serious threat.

In what has been a horror start to the season for the Wanderers, the red and black currently languish in ninth position on the ALM, compounded by allegations of a toxic work environment brought forward by ex-employees Patrick Zwaanswijk and Dean Heffernan.

The abysmal start which saw just one win from their first seven matches led to the sacking of head coach Carl Robinson and, to rub salt further into the wounds of supporters, the Red and Black Bloc were allegedly advised not to “chant” during their mid-week clash with Perth Glory last week, eventuating in the lacklustre attendances of under 6,000 for their last two home games.

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Upon consideration of such events having the potential to severely threaten the interest of the league’s most anticipated match-up, along with a pandemic which is yet to cease, is now really the right time for Sydney FC and the A-Leagues to take to this massive venue? As history has told us time and time again, the answer is a resounding no.

Statistics sourced from Ultimate A-League

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Jimmy Alexander
Jimmy Alexander
Covering Sydney FC for the 2021/22 A-League season. Studying a Bachelor of Sports Media (Journalism) at Charles Sturt University.

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