Will Sydney's Stadium Wars Pay Off?

Joel Smith  |  Wednesday 27th March 2019


The New South Wales Government has been burning through stadium policies like there's no tomorrow as the long-running saga continues.

As part of a complete overhaul of the current sports infrastructure of Australia's largest city, Allianz Stadium (Sydney Football Stadium) is currently being knocked down, to be replaced by a brand new stadium at a cost of $729 million, while ANZ Stadium (Stadium Australia) is due to receive a major redeveloped, with the cost of both projects initially estimated at over $2 billion.

On top of this, the city will also be opening the brand new Bankwest Stadium, which has reportedly cost around $300 million to build.

There are few other cities in the world which have poured so many resources and dollars into their sports infrastructure in such a short period of time, with residents of Sydney loudly questioning the merits of doing so when such huge amounts of capital could arguably be better spent elsewhere.

The newly re-elected NSW government is clearly banking on what has been dubbed Sydney’s "stadium wars" paying-off big time, but will this actually be the case? We take a look at the situation on the ground and find out. 

The Logic Behind It 

According to the various players involved in these mega-projects, the stadiums are an investment that will be recouped several times over. The AFL has taken a leaf out of the playbook of their American counterparts, lobbying local authorities to update stadiums so that the biggest teams can enjoy state-of-the-art facilities.

This has been the motivation behind taxpayer-funded stadiums in the US and Europe for decades now, with the argument being that a shiny new stadium will attract more spectators, which in turn will increase revenue. There is also the pretty sound argument that new stadiums equate to more jobs, an opportunity few governments would ever turn down.

However, the National Rugby League (NRL) has taken their game plan beyond persuasion and into threats, threatening to move the Grand Final away from ANZ Stadium if the refurbishment isn't completed. What's more, a recent analysis from the very sports associations that lobbied for the developments has concluded that the economic benefits may not outweigh the costs after all. 

Will the Fans Come? 

When assessing whether or not these massive projects will actually pay off for the city and tenant clubs, the most important question to ask is whether people will actually come. It's true that there are some highly lucrative markets at stake. In sports betting alone, football and rugby are among the top markets for global betting, worth billions of dollars a year. Onsite bookmakers within the new stadiums could almost definitely ensure economic viability.

Whether the completed projects will attract higher visitor numbers in the long-term is another question entirely, but it's worth looking back at other examples across the country.

The Adelaide Oval and Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium and have both been credited with revitalizing sports within their respective cities, enjoying increased crowd numbers several years after completion and winning numerous international awards.

It's true that new sports infrastructure can breathe new life (and tax dollars) into an area, but it's questionable whether Sydney needs it. The Sydney sporting public aren’t exactly known for consistently filling stadiums week in week out, and it remains to be seen if spending huge amounts of money on new infrastructure can change that behaviour.

Bankwest Stadium

Meanwhile, the board of Venues NSW met early on Monday, confident the re-elected Berejiklian government would give the green light to a $810 million redevelopment of the Olympic Stadium at Homebush – but is unable to comment officially until its new boss is named.


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