A top-shelf sporting museum would be a valuable add-on to Perth’s tourism offerings.
It’s hard to argue against the McGowan government’s decision to prioritise construction of an indigenous cultural centre in Perth.
It could draw thousands of visitors to Western Australia each year and will provide an unparalleled showcase of the oldest living culture on earth.
But I can’t help thinking we are missing another trick on the cultural heritage front.
WA prides itself on its reputation as a sporting state, one that produces world-class sporting stars and punches above its weight when competing with the more populous states on the east coast.
During the post-war era, WA has had periods of dominance at the national level in Australian football, cricket, hockey, netball, basketball and a variety of lower-profile sports.
But there is no significant single destination in WA for sports lovers to visit and immerse themselves in our sporting heritage.
When I think back on my own trips to Melbourne over the years, there has always been one constant: a visit to the now renamed and revamped Australian Sports Museum at the MCG.
It welcomes 150,000 visitors every year and uses touch screens, climbable objects, physical challenges and, of course, items of sporting memorabilia to communicate the importance of sport in our lives and to our national identity.
To be clear, I completely understand that Perth can’t compete with a national museum located in a much bigger city, especially not when it forms part of the country’s biggest sporting venue.
But I know from experience that a large number of sports-loving visitors from interstate (and many from overseas) make a trip to the new stadium, to Subiaco Oval and/or to the WACA Ground when they visit Perth.
On their arrival at these modern sporting meccas, they are greeted by façades that are big on size and small on interest.
Optus Stadium was designed to be a ‘blank’ stadium, so that every event held at the state-owned facility could use technology to optimise its appearance for that day.
Meanwhile, Subiaco Oval has been bulldozed and what’s been left behind doesn’t adequately communicate the scale of the events that once took place there (though I am aware efforts are being made by DevelopmentWA and the WA Football Commission to change that).
Then there is the WACA Ground, which does have a long history and a great museum of its own. But it’s only a small museum and is, as you would expect, focused on cricket.
The financial viability of sporting museums is, of course, another matter entirely. That much was spelled out in the excellent feasibility study of the case for a national sporting museum to be built in Wales.
The cost was estimated at $8.3 million, with annual operating costs of $275,000.
But sporting museums don’t have to lose money. The most recent pre-COVID financial disclosures from the Australian Sports Museum reveal it made more than $4 million in revenue in the year to March 2019, booking a $250,000 profit.
And there are wider benefits for the city in which they are based.
For instance, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, in Charlotte, North Carolina, is estimated to bring $44 million a year of economic benefit to that city, while the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Ohio is estimated to bring about $56 million a year in economic benefit to the state.
More importantly, museums are known to activate dormant spaces, which is what the City of Perth wants for the east end of the city, near the WACA, and the City of Subiaco is desperate to do around the old Subiaco Oval.
South Australia recently shut the door on a sporting museum for Adelaide after the body behind the push failed to raise the $500,000 from non-government sources it needed to get the project off the ground.
One might think that in a state like ours, with a budget surplus and a host of mining companies looking for the opportunity to boost their environmental, social and governance credentials, there would be few problems finding that level of funding.