Rugby league’s suburban stadiums are throwbacks to the pre high-definition, mega stadium days of elite sport.
Grassy, not fully roofed and seated and a little inaccessible, the appeal is that these places generate their own singular atmosphere.
A number of National Rugby League clubs still maintain some playing ties to their suburban homes, in comparison to the centralised way the Australian Football League did away with suburban stadiums where matches were moved to the city’s main stadiums more than a decade ago.
Leichhardt Oval, Jubilee Oval, Brookvale Oval are some of Sydney’s stadiums that still host NRL action.
Cronulla’s home, Southern Cross Group Stadium, located in the southern Sydney suburb of Woolooware is another one.
Nearly six decades old and more than 10 years removed from its last major upgrade it’s a suburban ground that hosts all of their NRL home matches. It provides a concoction of closeness to action for fans and intimidation for rival players.
Currently Cronulla’s home is going through its own process of modernisation and the club’s Head of Stadium & High Performance Facilities Kirin Lindop discussed how they are undertaking that.
Bullpen: Can you explain a little bit on what your role at the club entails? Responsibilities, what you research and implement?
Kirin Lindop: “My role at Cronulla is unique for a football club, we are the only club in the NRL competition who owns our stadium. Our stadium is not only our home ground for NRL competition but is a base of our football high performance training and administration operations.
“My unit manages all aspects of stadium use and operations including game day operations for 12 NRL games a year, trial games and other stadium events. We also manage various contractors which look after our stadium and academy training site, which is a two field community/school site close by. Our club is committed to grow the content of stadium use and we are working on a strategy to achieve this outcome.
“In addition to stadium operations we are planning for stadium redevelopment and various capital upgrades. Our club is committed to take our training and administration environment to another level and we are working on the development of a Centre of Excellence in the stadium precinct.
“Furthermore, our Leagues Club and stadium precinct is undergoing a significant redevelopment. We were surrounded by playing fields, now we have a significant residential development underway to the west. In the near future we will have 660 units next door to our stadium.
“We are soon to enter into a significant redevelopment of our Leagues club and the commencement of a retail shopping centre construction on our adjoining car park footprint.”
BP: It means the stadium does anchor the community.
KL: “Absolutely, our stadium is a hub for our community, we are not just a sporting precinct but an entertainment one.”
BP: What kinds of changes are proposed for the home stadium?
KL: “We are in a planning phase and undertaking a body of work to identify potential capital upgrades we can undertake in the stadium. In addition due to the residential and retail developments we have some changes in stadium which we are working through.
“In terms of fan engagement and experience, we would like to uplift the quality of the in stadium big screens and introduce interactive on-field LED’s to enhance our game day experience. The stadium floodlighting requires an upgrade which has triggered investigation into new technology such as LED heads.”
BP: From that, what kind of fan feedback do you receive?
KL: “The NRL undertake game day surveys following each home game and we have the ability to track the feedback regularly. We receive significant feedback on how people travel to the stadium, the distances they’ve come, their game day experiences, atmosphere, logistics, food and beverage experience and entertainment. Our club works closely with our member’s council who provide valuable feedback on all aspects of game day and our engagement with our fans and members.”
BP: What feedback have you received from the NRL?
KL: “The NRL’s Head of Football recently provided our club with a very complimentary email regarding our game day delivery.
“We’re fortunate to get great feedback from NRL’s marketing team, they’re happy that we have full houses, it’s a great promotion for the game locally.”
BP: It’s a great look of course, and for television viewers it also sounds good.
KL: “We have a rectangular, intimate stadium that creates a big atmosphere with 12,000 people. It’s very different to one of the major stadiums like ANZ Stadium when a crowd of 12,000 can feel like a bit of a ghost town.”
BP: What aspects of a high performance facility has to keep improving to boost the needs of players and staff?
KL: “We’re in the middle of a centre of excellence project, we have submitted a grant application with the state government and are awaiting an announcement regarding joint State Government and NRL funding.
“We’ve recognised the existing high performance facilities within our stadium are disjointed and not necessarily best practice. We’re striving to now deliver a high performance environment that will house our Club as one, one building and one environment facility.”
BP: Do you look at how other clubs run their operations?
KL: “Yes, it’s healthy to follow what other NRL clubs and other codes are doing. We’ve been working very closely with a consultant that’s done a lot of work at Geelong Football Club and their redeveloped Simonds Stadium.
“Our Head of Sport Science and Head Coach went to the United States and England over summer to undertake site visits of football, basketball and American football facilities. These visits have provided our staff with an international perspective of stadium and high performance operations.”
BP: Is there a stadium or facility design philosophy that you would like to see at Cronulla?
KL: “There are some amazing stadiums and high performance centres across the United States and Europe which we would love to replicate or model off.
“What appeals to us is a well-designed facility that is simple yet flows, a unique functional design which will be the ultimate statement and replicate the culture of the club as well.”