Melbourne’s sporting status at risk due to ongoing restrictions

Cameron Voss  |  Tuesday 15th June 2021
An empty MCG on AFL Grand Final day in 2020

Melbourne typically hosts more big sporting events than any other Australian city, but the mass exodus of events has its sports capital title at risk due to the State Government’s inability to effectively manage the pandemic.

Victoria has had significantly more events impacted than any other State, with more relocated, played in empty stadiums or restricted capacity, than anywhere else in Australia. Overall, crowds have evaporated by 73% while average attendances have dropped by 66%.

While the rest of the country has opened up and got on with life, Melburnians have endured 173 days in lockdown in all, due to the Dan Andrews Government unable to control the pandemic in the State, with ongoing hotel quarantine botches and heavy-handed lockdowns.

The 2020 AFL Grand Final was undoubtably the biggest causality, moved from Melbourne for the first time in its history, to the Gabba in Queensland, which hosted much of the AFL season after teams fled the state, while major international events such as the Australian Open and Melbourne Cup have also been impacted.

While other states have managed the pandemic remarkably better and managed to return to no capacity restrictions in stadiums, Victoria was only able to get up to 85% of capacity, before the recent setback, with another 14 days of lockdown leaving stadiums eerily empty once more.

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Professional sport recommenced in Australia on May 28, 2020, with games played in empty stadiums for two weeks, before limited crowds were permitted to attend matches in Queensland and New South Wales. Restrictions continued to ease, with Queensland the first to allow 100% of capacity, when a then-world record post-Covid crowd of 49,155 attended Suncorp Stadium for the Origin decider.

The Austadiums events database lists 1449 sports events held in Australia since sport resumed. It reveals at least 123 events have been moved from Victoria and played elsewhere in the country – 40 of which were played interstate in empty stadiums and the remaining events had an average attendance of just 4102.

Events relocated include at least 64 AFL games, 8 NRL, 5 Super Rugby, 10 A-League, 7 NBL, 7 BBL and 20 Super Netball games, while the recent State of Origin series opener was the latest casualty, moved from the MCG to Townsville.

Crowds packing stadiums for AFL games in Melbourne is the norm, but 2020 was different, with not a single game played in front of spectators. Of the 72 home games Victorian teams have played outside of Victoria (up to the end of round 13 this season), the average attendance is just 5508 – this figure includes three finals relocated to Queensland that averaged 15,275 and the Grand Final which had 29,707 in attendance.

To compare, in 2019, the average attendance for games in Victoria was 43,012; so far this season it is 16,243, from 51 games – of which three were played behind closed doors. It has the AFL reeling, with the entire industry losing money while crowds continue to be impacted, and while the Grand Final is scheduled back at the MCG this year, a heavily-reduced capacity will almost certainly see it shifted again.

The impact has been felt across all sports, while it’s impossible to measure the significant flow-on effects to other industries, not to mention the general health and wellbeing of individuals.

Cricket’s marquee game, the Boxing Day Test, went ahead at the MCG in December, albeit with a vastly reduced 30% capacity. Across four days, 89,472 spectators attended the game – down from 203,472 in 2019.

The Australian Open also proceeded with limited numbers in a later February timeslot, however, just 130,274 tennis fans attended over nine days, with five days played at an empty Melbourne Park. The crowd was well down on the previous year, when 812,174 spectators attended the first Grand Slam of the year.

The entire Spring Racing Carnival, including all four days of the Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington, the Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate, which usually attract tens of thousands of spectators, were all run at empty racetracks.

And the list goes on and on.

Since professional sport recommenced, the Austadiums events database reveals 100% of events that remained in Victoria have been impacted (48 behind closed doors, 246 with restricted capacity), while 68% have been impacted in NSW (42 closed, 290 restricted) and 60% in Queensland (9 closed, 197 restricted).

As a result, crowds have taken a huge hit in Victoria. When comparing sports events since the restart, to the same period two years ago (May 28, 2018, to June 15, 2019), Victoria’s total crowds have fallen by 73% (66% for average attendances), compared to NSW (40% overall and 54% average) and Queensland (15% overall and 46% average).

It’s worth noting that Austadiums covers more sports events now than it did in 2018/19 – yet while NSW and QLD’s number of events have increased by 29% and 57% respectively, Victoria’s has decreased by 21%.

The pain looks set to continue in the short term with the Victorian Government showing no signs of significantly easing restrictions. Melbourne will remain footy-free this weekend with two games relocated to Tasmania (Hawthorn v Essendon & North Melbourne v Brisbane), while Geelong will play the Bulldogs at an empty GMHBA Stadium on Friday night, despite eased restrictions in regional Victoria and not a single Covid case reported.

It’s believed the AFL and MCG had been working together on a submission that would request Melbourne crowds of 20-30% capacity. That scaled-back proposal came after strong advice from the Victorian government it was still worried about undetected Covid positives in the state and would not allow half-full stadiums.

The all-Melbourne NBL semi-final series between United and the Phoenix, concluding with game 3 tonight, has been played at an empty Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, while the league has confirmed the first two games of the Grand Final series will be played in Perth.

And in the A-League, Melbourne City FC, who finished the season on top of the ladder, host their semi-final at AAMI Park on Sunday, but still have no clarity if a crowd will be permitted to attend. A win would lock in a home Grand Final on June 26.

There’s also some doubt starting to creep in for the hosting of October’s MotoGP at Phillip Island and the F1 Australian Grand Prix scheduled for November 21 at Albert Park, due to mandatory 14-day quarantine periods.

While other states have shown how life can go on with the pandemic and continue to host major sports events with big crowds, Victorian authorities continue to take an extra-cautious approach, one which is at least temporarily making Melbourne a sporting wasteland.

List of sports events moved from Victoria

2/7/20 NRL: Storm v Roosters 5132 Suncorp Stadium
9/7/20 AFL: Geelong v Brisbane Lions 1311 Sydney Cricket Ground
10/7/20 AFL: Collingwood v Hawthorn 1772 Giants Stadium
10/7/20 Super Rugby AU: Rebels v Reds TBC 4 Pines Park
11/7/20 AFL: Essendon v North Melbourne 4271 Metricon Stadium
11/7/20 AFL: Melbourne v Gold Coast Suns 250 Giants Stadium
12/7/20 AFL: Carlton v Western Bulldogs 2178 Metricon Stadium
12/7/20 AFL: Richmond v Sydney Swans 3606 Gabba
16/7/20 AFL: Geelong v Collingwood 22077 Optus Stadium
17/7/20 AFL: Essendon v Western Bulldogs 4949 Metricon Stadium
17/7/20 NRL: Storm v Titans 5310 Sunshine Coast Stadium
18/7/20 AFL: Richmond v North Melbourne 4337 Metricon Stadium
19/7/20 AFL: Carlton v Port Adelaide 3510 Gabba
19/7/20 AFL: Hawthorn v Melbourne 750 Giants Stadium
25/7/20 A-League: Melbourne Victory v Western United Closed Bankwest Stadium
25/7/20 AFL: North Melbourne v Carlton 3655 Gabba
26/7/20 AFL: Melbourne v Brisbane Lions 3011 Metricon Stadium
29/7/20 A-League: Melbourne Victory v Brisbane Roar Closed Bankwest Stadium
29/7/20 AFL: Western Bulldogs v Richmond 2824 Metricon Stadium
30/7/20 AFL: Melbourne v Port Adelaide 323 Gabba
31/7/20 AFL: Carlton v Hawthorn 12304 Optus Stadium
31/7/20 AFL: Essendon v Brisbane Lions 4863 Metricon Stadium
1/8/20 A-League: Melbourne City v Sydney FC Closed Stadium Australia
1/8/20 AFL: North Melbourne v Adelaide Crows 522 Metricon Stadium
1/8/20 AFL: St Kilda v Sydney Swans 2978 Gabba
2/8/20 NRL: Storm v Knights 5357 Sunshine Coast Stadium
2/8/20 Super Netball: Vixens v Magpies TBC Nissan Arena
3/8/20 A-League: Melbourne Victory v Central Coast Mariners Closed Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
4/8/20 AFL: Richmond v Brisbane Lions 5651 Metricon Stadium
5/8/20 AFL: Geelong v North Melbourne 2282 Gabba
6/8/20 AFL: Collingwood v Sydney Swans 4146 Gabba
7/8/20 A-League: Western United v Western Sydney Wanderers Closed Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
7/8/20 AFL: Essendon v GWS Giants 1178 Metricon Stadium
7/8/20 Super Rugby AU: Rebels v Brumbies Closed Leichhardt Oval
8/8/20 NRL: Storm v Bulldogs 3440 Sunshine Coast Stadium
9/8/20 AFL: Melbourne v North Melbourne 2172 Adelaide Oval
10/8/20 AFL: St Kilda v Geelong 3903 Gabba
11/8/20 A-League: Melbourne City v Adelaide United Closed Stadium Australia
12/8/20 Super Netball: Vixens v Lightning TBC USC Stadium
14/8/20 AFL: Geelong v Port Adelaide 3378 Metricon Stadium
15/8/20 AFL: Melbourne v Collingwood 5338 Gabba
15/8/20 AFL: North Melbourne v Brisbane Lions 2722 Metricon Stadium
15/8/20 Super Netball: Magpies v Fever TBC Nissan Arena
16/8/20 AFL: St Kilda v Essendon 4686 Gabba
16/8/20 AFL: Western Bulldogs v Adelaide Crows 613 Metricon Stadium
16/8/20 Super Netball: Vixens v Thunderbirds TBC USC Stadium
17/8/20 AFL: Richmond v Gold Coast Suns 4062 Gabba
19/8/20 A-League: Western United v Melbourne City Closed Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
19/8/20 Super Netball: Magpies v Thunderbirds TBC USC Stadium
22/8/20 AFL: Essendon v Richmond 5401 TIO Stadium
22/8/20 AFL: Western Bulldogs v Melbourne 1765 Metricon Stadium
23/8/20 Super Netball: Vixens v Giants TBC USC Stadium
24/8/20 AFL: Collingwood v North Melbourne 2443 Gabba
26/8/20 A-League: SF Melbourne City v Western United 1897 Bankwest Stadium
27/8/20 AFL: Hawthorn v Essendon 4973 Adelaide Oval
27/8/20 AFL: Richmond v West Coast Eagles 3628 Metricon Stadium
28/8/20 AFL: Western Bulldogs v Geelong 2156 Metricon Stadium
29/8/20 AFL: Melbourne v St Kilda 1917 TIO Traeger Park
29/8/20 Super Netball: Magpies v Giants TBC Nissan Arena
29/8/20 Super Netball: Vixens v Swifts TBC Nissan Arena
29/8/20 Super Rugby AU: Rebels v Waratahs 1758 Leichhardt Oval
30/8/20 AFL: Carlton v Collingwood 9033 Gabba
30/8/20 NRL: Storm v Sea Eagles 2460 Sunshine Coast Stadium
1/9/20 AFL: Hawthorn v Adelaide Crows 6191 Adelaide Oval
1/9/20 Super Netball: Magpies v Swifts TBC Nissan Arena
2/9/20 AFL: Richmond v Fremantle 1818 Metricon Stadium
5/9/20 AFL: North Melbourne v Port Adelaide 592 Metricon Stadium
5/9/20 Super Netball: Vixens v Fever TBC Nissan Arena
5/9/20 Super Rugby AU: Rebels v Force 817 McDonald Jones Stadium
6/9/20 AFL: Geelong v Essendon 5011 Gabba
6/9/20 AFL: St Kilda v Hawthorn 2740 Metricon Stadium
6/9/20 AFL: Western Bulldogs v West Coast Eagles 532 Metricon Stadium
7/9/20 AFL: Melbourne v Fremantle 3279 Cazalys Stadium
8/9/20 AFL: Carlton v Sydney Swans 1580 Metricon Stadium
10/9/20 AFL: St Kilda v West Coast Eagles 1925 Gabba
11/9/20 AFL: Geelong v Richmond 7061 Metricon Stadium
12/9/20 AFL: North Melbourne v Fremantle 308 Metricon Stadium
12/9/20 Super Netball: Magpies v Vixens TBC Nissan Arena
13/9/20 AFL: Carlton v Adelaide Crows 2735 Metricon Stadium
13/9/20 AFL: Hawthorn v Western Bulldogs 2625 Adelaide Oval
13/9/20 NRL: Storm v Cowboys 3826 Sunshine Coast Stadium
14/9/20 AFL: Collingwood v Gold Coast Suns 2896 Gabba
16/9/20 Super Netball: Magpies v Lightning TBC Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre
17/9/20 AFL: North Melbourne v West Coast Eagles 724 Metricon Stadium
18/9/20 AFL: St Kilda v GWS Giants 1528 Gabba
19/9/20 AFL: Essendon v Melbourne 2175 Metricon Stadium
19/9/20 NRL: Storm v Wests Tigers 3867 Sunshine Coast Stadium
20/9/20 AFL: Hawthorn v Gold Coast Suns 2136 Adelaide Oval
20/9/20 Super Netball: Vixens v Firebirds TBC Cairns Pop-Up Arena
21/9/20 AFL: Collingwood v Port Adelaide 5424 Gabba
26/9/20 Super Netball: Magpies v Firebirds TBC Nissan Arena
3/10/20 AFL: EF St Kilda v Western Bulldogs 10651 Gabba
3/10/20 NRL: QF Storm v Eels 16238 Suncorp Stadium
3/10/20 Super Netball: SF Vixens v Lightning TBC USC Stadium
9/10/20 AFL: SF Richmond v St Kilda 13778 Metricon Stadium
10/10/20 AFL: SF Geelong v Collingwood 21396 Gabba
16/10/20 NRL: PF Storm v Raiders 37112 Suncorp Stadium
18/10/20 Super Netball: GF Vixens v Fever TBC Nissan Arena
24/10/20 AFL: Grand Final - Richmond v Geelong 29707 Gabba
8/11/20 Sheffield Shield: Victoria v Western Australia 0 Karen Rolton Oval
11/12/20 BBL: Melbourne Stars v Brisbane Heat 2471 Manuka Oval
12/12/20 BBL: Melbourne Renegades v Perth Scorchers 1119 Blundstone Arena
12/12/20 BBL: Melbourne Stars v Sydney Thunder 3295 Manuka Oval
29/12/20 BBL: Melbourne Renegades v Sydney Sixers 3375 Metricon Stadium
1/1/21 BBL: Melbourne Renegades v Sydney Thunder 2707 Metricon Stadium
4/1/21 BBL: Melbourne Stars v Hobart Hurricanes 6082 Blundstone Arena
5/1/21 BBL: Melbourne Renegades v Adelaide Strikers 12707 Adelaide Oval
25/2/21 Sheffield Shield: Victoria v New South Wales TBC Bankstown Oval
22/5/21 Super Netball: Magpies v Firebirds 0 Silverdome
28/5/21 NBL: SE Melbourne Phoenix v Cairns Taipans 1251 Cairns Pop-Up Arena
30/5/21 AFL: Richmond v Adelaide Crows 4236 Giants Stadium
31/5/21 A-League: Western United v Macarthur FC TBC Leichhardt Oval
31/5/21 NBL: Melbourne United v Cairns Taipans Closed Qudos Bank Arena
2/6/21 NBL: SE Melbourne Phoenix v Brisbane Bullets Closed Cairns Pop-Up Arena
4/6/21 AFL: Melbourne v Brisbane Lions 3772 Giants Stadium
5/6/21 AFL: Essendon v Richmond 55656 Optus Stadium
5/6/21 NRL: Storm v Titans 7630 Sunshine Coast Stadium
5/6/21 Super Netball: Magpies v Fever Closed Ken Rosewall Arena
6/6/21 AFL: Carlton v West Coast Eagles 5137 Sydney Cricket Ground
6/6/21 NBL: Melbourne United v Adelaide 36ers 1817 Adelaide Entertainment Centre
6/6/21 Super Netball: Vixens v Thunderbirds 0 USC Stadium
9/6/21 State of Origin - QLD v NSW 27533 Queensland Country Bank Stadium
10/6/21 A-League: Melbourne City v Newcastle Jets Closed Netstrata Jubilee Stadium
11/6/21 NBL: SF - Melbourne United v SE Melbourne Phoenix Closed Qudos Bank Arena
12/6/21 AFL: St Kilda v Adelaide Crows 5969 Cazalys Stadium
12/6/21 Super Netball: Magpies v Vixens TBC Ken Rosewall Arena
12/6/21 Super Rugby TT: Rebels v Crusaders TBC Leichhardt Oval
13/6/21 NBL: SF - SE Melbourne Phoenix v Melbourne United Closed Qudos Bank Arena
14/6/21 AFL: Melbourne v Collingwood 16453 Sydney Cricket Ground
15/6/21 NBL: SF - Melbourne United v SE Melbourne Phoenix Closed Qudos Bank Arena

Note: As the 2020 AFL fixture was re-done, the above list & average AFL crowds are inclusive of the 8 games initially scheduled for Tasmania.

Melbourne Events

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NEW SOUTH WALES Sydney Newcastle
QUEENSLAND Brisbane Gold Coast
TASMANIA Hobart Launceston
VICTORIA Melbourne Geelong
NEW ZEALAND Wellington Auckland


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OPINION | Melbourne typically hosts more big sporting events than any other Australian city, but the mass exodus of events has its sports capital title at risk due to the State Government’s inability to effectively manage the pandemic.
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