Cheer Leaders

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-By John Boley

Those readers turning to this page to see a report on the ACT Brumbies or the Canberra Raiders – depending on which rugby code you follow – may be disappointed. This is about business, not sport. Canberra Stadium, formerly Bruce Stadium, derives the vast majority of its income from sport. General manager Neale Guthrie told us “it’s a six million dollar business and functions business would be delivering 300-400,000 dollars of that. The rest of it comes from us hiring the venue, pretty much all of which is from sport.”

Who owns the stadium? Good question, says Neale. Canberra Stadium is leased from the Australian Sports Commission, which is a federal government body and which built the institute of sport and the stadium, then known as Bruce Stadium, back in the 1970s. In the late 1980s, the Canberra Raiders started using the stadium (for NRL), then in 1999 the ACT government signed a 25-year lease (from the ASC at a peppercorn rent) and at that stage invested significantly in the redevelopment of the stadium, putting some $47 million into it.

The stadium is operated by Territory Venues & Events, which runs not only Canberra Stadium but also two other capital-city facilities (Manuka Oval and Stromlo Forest Park) and is also overseeing a project on the development of motorsport in ACT, everything on two and four wheels, from recreational to elite level.

The Manuka Oval complex is centrally located five minutes from Parliament House, 10 minutes from the airport and across the road from the Manuka Shopping Centre. It is Canberra’s original cricket ground and also offers one of Canberra’s most unique functions and events centres with The Bradman Room overlooking the historic field, catering for up to 400 guests. Manuka hosts AFL, with the new GWS Giants scheduled to play several games there, and the government “will now seriously help with upgrading to improve amenities (player, hospitality and spectator facilities, ablutions, entry areas, ticket gates etc) – detailed plans for that now being drawn up,” explains Neale. Cricket enthusiasts will be aware of ACT Cricket’s stated ambition to attract a 20-20 Big Bash to the state in the next round.

After the 2003 bushfires destroyed Stromlo Forest the ACT Government Bushfire Recovery Taskforce was established to advise the ACT Government on recovery and act as a bridge between government agencies and the community. One of its recommendations was to establish a world-class multi-use recreational sporting facility available to both recreational and professional users. Stromlo Forest Park is now a one-of-a-kind community facility with exceptional infrastructure for a variety of users, with a purpose built event pavilion, Criterium cycling circuit, grass cross country running track, equestrian trails and mountain bike tracks to suit any level of rider.

As for the motorsport, applications for funding under the ACT Community Motorsports Development Program (CMDP) are now open. Community motorsport organisations can apply for grants of up to $12,500 (excluding GST) under the CMDP, for management initiatives including governance review and development, strategic planning, and business and operational planning.
The aims of the CMDP are to help community motorsport clubs increase their competency levels in business operations, strategy and planning for their futures, enhance the management and governance of community motorsport clubs in the ACT, assist community motorsport clubs to undertake a ‘health check’ of their club, and in turn improve their management and administration, and to encourage a planned and innovative approach to the development of community motorsport clubs in ACT.

Neale notes that with Canberra Stadium itself now approaching 35 years of age, it is time to start the process of considering what happens next. The Meninga stand was built in 1977 and is named after Big Mal, remembered by all Australians for his formidable power, pace, handling and deadly accuracy and consistency with the boot. Mal Meninga is in the Rugby League Hall of Fame, scored the most points of any player in the green and gold jersey, and is the top points scorer for Queensland in State of Origin history. “The next major redevelopment on this site – it’s tossing a coin as to whether you continue to renovate the existing structure and spend 40, 50 or even 60 million dollars on taking off and putting new roofs on. Or do you bite the bullet and knock down the old stand and build a new one? And if you are going to do that, do you want the stadium here at all or do you consider an alternative site that might provide better access for patrons, given we are five or six kilometres away from the city centre?”

These are the questions being asked at the moment, Neale explains. He is raising them now because, typically, a stadium has a life of around 50 years. “There are significant amounts of money to be invested and you want 10 or 15 years warning of them, so that’s why we are having those conversations now. We need to spend some money on the stadium in the coming years for sure. But it’s a matter of deciding how much we want to do and what might be coming next in a more major redevelopment.”

Neale believes the nature of live sport is relatively secure from technological changes. “You can make the assumption that there will still be those competitions in some form or another. The NRL has been around for well over 100 years. Super Rugby is always changing but it seems to be getting bigger and more international.” The changes in 2011 extended the season, he says, and made it more of an annual event rather than just half a dozen games at the start of the year. “There are always unknowns, but I think there will always be professional sport played on rectangular fields.”

People still turn up in large numbers to watch live sport. “It’s always a challenge to ensure it’s affordable but you can’t replace the atmosphere of being at a live game with a TV set.” The challenge, Neale says, is to make the venues really appealing “and that is a trend we have noticed in the last ten years – that patrons coming to see live sport want comfort and access to facilities and whatever seat they have should be a great seat to watch the game from. That means it’s close with a great view of the playing surface and they have replay opportunities with a big screen and they can get in and out comfortably in terms of traffic etc.”

Neale is aware of what goes on in other cities. Numerous stadiums are upgrading and the trend is to more multi-purpose venues. There’s the Gold Coast Skilled Park, for example, Queensland’s newest rectangular sporting and entertainment venue, at Robina on the Gold Coast, located approximately 80 kilometres south of the Brisbane CBD and 15 kilometres north of Coolangatta Airport. Victoria, meanwhile, says Neale, remains “the world model of stadium development” with its MCG.

No doubt about it – Canberra is up against limits when compared to such venues. “We have to cut our coat according to our cloth. That’s one of the challenges. But we employ around 180 people as a result of the venue being in Canberra. You need a modern venue for a modern professional team to play in. And around 40 million dollars goes round in the economy as a result of the stadium’s activities. The two teams (Raiders and Brumbies) “could not operate without a stadium and a new stadium costs upwards of 200 million.”

Governments have to seriously consider investing in new stadiums every 50 years or so to protect that industry. “It’s an important piece of state infrastructure that supports social cohesion goals plus tourism goals and many other factors also have to be taken into account. It’s a very serious question for the ACT government to consider. And that’s why we are looking into these questions now so there is plenty of time to prepare.”

Neale is confident the state government understands the issues. It’s not a wrong decision to invest in the current facility and keep it going for another 20 years or so, he believes, but eventually a replacement would be needed. “We just don’t have 100-year-old stadiums.” It will be a tricky decision to make, for a government to bite the bullet at some stage and say it has to be knocked down.

In the meantime, the ACT Government is seeking a naming rights sponsor for Canberra Stadium with a minimum commitment of five to 10 years. The sponsorship fee paid by the naming rights sponsor – “in the mid to high six figures” per year – will defray some of the current maintenance and upgrade costs of up to $2 million a year and assist with the government’s medium-term plans to radically improve the stadium with a $70 million overhaul over the next decade. According to the official announcement, the ideal naming rights sponsor will be “one whose corporate values align with the values of the ACT Government and the Canberra community; be a publicly listed or local company that wishes to make a strong positive impact on the Canberra and/or national market; and not be a direct competitor of the existing major hirers. Canberra is the most active and healthy community in the country and the sponsorship will help to keep us in this position by helping to enhance our sports grounds and facilities. We envisage a sponsored Canberra Stadium will further enhance Canberra’s reputation as Australia’s sporting capital.”

Neale sees this development as entirely positive. “It’s becoming harder to keep these sort of venues going and every dollar is important. This would be a supportive contributor to helping that continue. The community should be happy that we find a naming-rights sponsor that will support the stadium and should respect that.” Now, can I interest our publisher in the Focus Media Stadium…?

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 9:23 AM AEDT