Sun, Sea – and Footy

Metricon Stadium

Footy? On the Gold Coast? Surely not. That would have been the reaction a decade or so back if you had suggested AFL should set up on the southern Queensland coast. But thanks to some nifty partnership work between public and private forces, the Gold Coast SUNS duly made their AFL debut in 2011 and the franchise is making great headway from its home base at the Metricon Stadium.

Stadium manager David Bennett told Business in Focus that the AFL had for many years wanted to have a team based on the Gold Coast due to the popularity and participation in AFL across the Gold Coast community. The site formerly known as Carrara Stadium or Gold Coast Stadium had held a wide variety of sporting and community events over many years. Athletics, soccer, rugby (both league and union), and even concerts were held there, “but as the Gold Coast community grew, the need for major sporting and event facilities was slowly but surely becoming more apparent,” explains David.

“For many years Carrara had been identified as the logical home venue for a team, but this was reliant on securing an AFL franchise on the Gold Coast. There were suggestions that one of the Melbourne Clubs could relocate here.” However, it was decided that it would be best for the Gold Coast, and ultimately the AFL competition, if a completely new team was created, with ties, relationships, spirit and ownership forged specifically with the Gold Coast community.

In 2008 the AFL approved a licence for a team to be based on the Gold Coast and to enter the AFL competition from 2011. This led to the formation of the Gold Coast SUNS. The location was set, but there was a need for a modern home for the club; accordingly and with the support of all tiers of Government, the redevelopment of the Carrara stadium began in October 2009. All stands and buildings were demolished – everything bar the six light towers still standing today.

The new buildings and the seating bowl of the reborn Metricon Stadium were completed in May 2011 at a cost of $144 million in a four-way funding agreement between the Federal Government, Queensland Government, City of Gold Coast Council and the AFL. The facility was officially opened on 22 May 2011 with a public open day and hosted its first AFL match six days later against Geelong in front of a crowd of 21,485. The stadium has a capacity of 27,500 people for a sporting event and can accommodate crowds in excess of 50,000 for concerts or larger festival events.

Currently the stadium hosts around a dozen AFL matches (including one or two pre-season games) per year; of course there are hopes for finals games in addition just as soon as possible. Crowds for these games are averaging 13,500 to 14,000, which is healthy, but David knows that the cost of running the facility demands that more events be attracted to Carrara. Shortly after opening in December 2011, popular rock band the Foo Fighters played the first major concert event at the redeveloped Metricon Stadium in front of 38,000 people. In January 2014, the Big Day Out music festival attracted some 35,000 people and was deemed a great success, not least because festival goers could enjoy the comfort of the stadium’s modern facilities, together with the atmosphere provided within the main arena seating bowl for the headline acts. The success of these two events could weigh heavily in Metricon Stadium’s favour when it comes to attracting additional entertainment content in addition to the Big Day Out which is locked in for the next three years.

The state Government is the ultimate owner of the stadium through its statutory authority, Stadiums Queensland. The AFL has a lease on the stadium and a management agreement with the Gold Coast Suns for the operation of the facility. “The SUNS receive all revenues associated with operating the stadium – sponsorship, supply rights, car parking and such,” says David. “However, the SUNS are also responsible for all operating and maintenance costs inclusive of capital upgrades and replacement costs associated with maintaining the venue.”

Key design features of the stadium intended to reduce its environmental impact include a solar array positioned around the leading edge of the roof-line which generates approximately 15 per cent of the day to day power requirements of the venue (“about the amount of power used by 300 standard sized homes over a year”). This power generated from the solar panels is fed back into the power grid. Water is harvested from the stadium’s roof into four large water tanks with a combined storage capacity of 675,000 litres – this water is used for flushing all of the stadiums toilets as well as watering the landscaped areas of the site and wash down of the stadium after events.

No one expects Metricon Stadium to be packed to the rafters 350 days a year; but all the stakeholders want more use to be made of it, so David and his colleagues swim in essentially the same waters as other stadia we have talked to recently – trying to attract acts, concerts and events of a wide variety from interstate or even overseas. However, David says there are limits on what will be acceptable – a prime consideration is maintaining the excellent pitch quality that is crucial for footy and nothing will be allowed that compromises it. “But we know we have to fill our calendar between October and February. Our ultimate calendar would include two or three big concerts during that time.”

While attracting events of national and international significance to Metricon Stadium is the primary objective for SUNS, the stadium will remain an asset that the entire community can be proud of. “It is part of our strategic plan to ensure we remain a community asset. We support many community events – this last year we had the Homeless Sleepout and Homeless Connect,” which were chosen as representative events for the local area, “as well as the GC SUNS Cup, which is a local primary school football based competition running through the year.” The Gold Coast Festival of Cycling also brought their racing program and industry expo to Metricon Stadium in 2013.

“But we know the Gold Coast market has its limits so we know we need to appeal further afield to northern New South Wales and even up to far north Queensland where we have relationships. Travelling supporters are a big thing and we want it so that if a supporter goes to an away game, he chooses the one here so he can also have a holiday on the Gold Coast while he is here.” This – tourism growth – was one of the main reasons for the Government’s original participation in the project, after all. But no one is expecting massive subsidies to attract headline events (like South Australia’s extraordinary bid of almost half a million dollars to snare the Stones in Adelaide). “The Government has a strategy to attract major events to Queensland but it doesn’t prioritise directly funding promoters in order to attract events to stadiums, although it does help us a lot with the relationships with promoters who will bring those events.”

One additional revenue stream Metricon Stadium is keen to develop is its non-event day function business. The design of the stadium provides a range of unique function spaces that, outside of a major event day, are flexible enough to host almost any conference or function event up to and including a unique on-field dining experience. The SUNS are focused on optimising revenue opportunities presented by the burgeoning function market on the Gold Coast.

The AFL, David says, was realistic in not expecting the SUNS to top the ladder in the first couple of years; nevertheless, despite mid-table showings (2013: 14th with eight wins), no one regrets not luring an established club from elsewhere. This is an area hitherto dominated by NRL, so “growth in terms of both participation and membership has been pretty phenomenal. The AFL itself is very good from an administrative point of view and they know what succeeds. The SUNS are committed to realising the benefits of a community ownership model for the football club in the long term, with a strategy in place to effectively hand ownership of the SUNS to its members at an appropriate time in the future. This is the model the AFL advocates and that is currently in place at similar successful AFL franchises,” says David. He has no difficulty with the League acting as ‘big brother’ and looking closely at the running of the enterprise because, he explains, “they are so understanding of what other successful clubs do.”

As for Metricon Stadium itself, excitement is already building as it gears up for a part in the 2018 Commonwealth Games which is to be held in Queensland. According to the organisers’ own website, “the recently completed Carrara Stadium will be enhanced with temporary seating to provide for 40,000 spectators in Games mode. The venue will host the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the Games and the Athletics competition. A new track with associated facilities will be constructed adjacent to the main stadium as the warm up track and a new indoor sports venue will be constructed to host the Badminton competition.” So make a date for 4 April, 2018, the day of the opening ceremony – and book your ticket for the Gold Coast’s newest and most ambitious venue.

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?

September 25, 2018, 8:18 AM AEST