13/02/2008 - 22:00

Stadium plan a good fit for football

13/02/2008 - 22:00

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After a year of wrangling between key stakeholders, the starter’s gun has been fired on the city’s stadium project and Western Australia looks likely to have a 60,000-seat facility by 2016.

Stadium plan a good fit for football

After a year of wrangling between key stakeholders, the starter’s gun has been fired on the city’s stadium project and Western Australia looks likely to have a 60,000-seat facility by 2016.

It’s an investment of major proportions; at $1.1 billion, the project will rival the Fiona Stanley Hospital.

Last week’s announcement of the Kitchener Park site signified the end of protracted negotiations between the West Australian Football Commission and the state government, but it’s merely the beginning of what is likely to be a long and complicated planning process.

The WAFC’s chief concern is the preservation of the advantage it currently enjoys at Subiaco Oval.

To some extent this has already been achieved, with the government pledging to underwrite the commission’s position at the new stadium.

In the real world, how this will translate remains to be seen, but there’s no doubting the WAFC’s current benefits are significant.

They include free rent plus $3 million a year in rent payments from each of the WAFC’s subsidiaries, the West Coast Eagles and the Fremantle Dockers.

The organisation also benefits from the fact that Subiaco Oval is a ‘clean’ stadium, which maximises advertising revenue by preventing companies from owning an advertising space.

Part of the agreement is that the new stadium will be clean.

The WAFC also derives revenue from catering and sub-tenancies at Subiaco Oval, which include the state women’s netball team, the West Coast Fever.

In return for these considerations, the WAFC will hand its lease over Subiaco – which lasts until 2090 – back to the government.

By WAFC chief executive Wayne Bradshaw’s own acknowledgement, the visit to Perth by AFL chief Andrew Demetriou last December was the circuit breaker needed to progress negotiations with the government.

However, he said there was a misperception over the degree of separation between the two parties.

“The government has always said footy needs to be better off, it’s just we had a bit of a divergence on what our definition of ‘better off’ would be,” Mr Bradshaw said.

The agreement with the government effectively ensures the WAFC has a home for its future.

“The development of the stadium has a certain lifespan. At the end of that lifespan, we’ll either be looked after in terms of another facility, or (have) an option to buy, or we get the lease back,” Mr Bradshaw said.

Fremantle Football Club chief executive Cameron Schwab said he was pleased with the outcome.

“Subiaco Oval, for all its limitations, is the reason why there is such terrific financial strength in the game,” he said.

“Trying to be one of five clubs trying to eke a living out of the MCG...it’s very expensive to run and you’ve got no competitive advantage over the next club.”

While the new stadium will host codes other than football – including soccer, cricket, rugby and rugby league – the state’s football teams will be the primary users.

It’s not the ideal outcome for sports that require a rectangular stadium, but the other codes are accepting of the situation.

Rugby WA chairman Geoff Stooke said he was pleased the decision had been made, despite the outcome favouring the AFL.

“From a rugby perspective, it’s not exactly what we wanted; obviously we were pursuing a dedicated rectangular stadium,” he said.

“It’s important now to make it work operationally and financially – to make it as ‘rugby friendly’ as possible. That means looking at the infrastructure and making the stands as close to the ground as possible.”

The draft plans for the stadium include retractable seating, which would bring spectators much closer to the action than the current layout at Subiaco Oval.

Perth Glory chief executive Scott Gooch said he understood the WAFC’s position and would try to pursue a similar end in the same situation.

“They’re good ground managers and essentially their business is being taken away from them, so I can understand they’d be fighting tooth and nail to keep control,” he said.

Glory owner Tony Sage is less positive about the situation.

He said the stadium would only be used by soccer for one-off events, like a Premier League game or the 2018 World Cup if Perth won the bid.

“To spend that amount of money on a stadium that really only the AFL will use is ridiculous,” Mr Sage said.

“There’s no way we could ever fill it, even if soccer goes the same way as rugby.”

For now, rugby and soccer are banking on a minor upgrade of Members Equity Stadium.

But according to Mr Stooke, existing plans for a state government-funded $25 million upgrade, which date back to 2004, have been shelved.

He said the new stadium had absorbed the funding for the project, although minor alterations were still being discussed.

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