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Official Review by Sean MacDonald, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Super Rugby got its start in 1996 with 12 teams based in South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Since then, it has added 3 expansion clubs, and the competition is now known colloquially as Super 15. The first of those expansion teams was the Western Force, based in Perth, Western Australia. The Force began play in 2006, using the venerable Subiaco Oval (an AFL venue now dubbed Patersons Stadium) as their home ground. The larger oval field at Subiaco was not suitable for rugby and the team moved into the Perth Oval, which is actually a rectangular field despite its name.
Having first opened in 1904, the stadium was in dire need of improvements and an extensive renovation program was started in 2012. The open-air seating has been replaced by new covered stands on the east and south sides, while the field itself was revamped. The north end, which is known as the Shed and is mostly a standing area, was left untouched, maintaining a historical touch and a nice contrast to the newer sections.
Stadium Journey visited nib Stadium (named after health insurance provider nib and pronounced n.i.b.) during the final stages of these renovation. Construction is scheduled to finish at the end of June 2013, so I am not going to unduly dock marks from the FANFARE score here as the venue looks brilliant except for some ongoing work on the east side which makes the concessions a bit messy.
All prices are in Australian dollars, which is essentially the same as the US dollar at the time of writing.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Just inside Gate 3, you will find a large Tuck Shop that offers a decent variety of Australian stadium food at very reasonable prices. As examples, a giant sausage roll with sauce is just $4.70, while pita wraps are $8.20. There are also plenty of beverage choices, with mid-strength beer going for $7 and pre-mixed coke cocktails (rum, bourbon and scotch are your choices) for $9. There are even glasses of wine at $7.50, although not a lot of food selection that would necessarily match.
Next to the Tuck Shop is the Kiwi Kar, which offers beef dishes that appeal to those from New Zealand. They are quite expensive but still popular, perhaps helped by the visiting fans who were there to support their team from Christchurch.
Behind the south stand is a bratwurst cart with three varieties, each at $8.50 and well worth it, certainly on par with what I've had back home.
There are several concessions underneath the east stands but that is the area that is still under construction, so their offerings were not as complete. Beginning with the 2014 season though, I would expect this area to provide even more variety.
The aesthetic beauty of the stadium really lends to the overall experience. The new sections have green seats in a variety of shades that get lighter as they move to the top. This is to symbolize the journey from the bright green field to the blue sky and is quite an arresting sight when the stadium is empty. When the fans begin to fill those seats, their light blue jerseys add to the overall view and that alone is worth a few points.
Sports in Australia lack the hype that now mars so many events in North America. The visiting players arrive already dressed in uniform just an hour or so before the game to no fanfare whatsoever. There is no screaming or loud music to give me a headache during the warm-up. There is an on-field MC who actually presents useful information during the pre-game and although she is naturally rooting for the Force, the presentation is well done. Before the game starts, there is some fireworks and flames that get fans in the mood for the action about to start.
At this game, there was a halftime show featuring two youths being placed inside large plastic balls, which they then had to move to the end zone and back. It was actually fairly entertaining to watch.
All-in-all, it is the way I prefer to see a sporting event presented: the game is the most important thing, but there are a few light-hearted breaks and game information alongside, neither of which leave the average fan reaching for a couple of aspirin.
The stadium is located in the suburban City of Vincent, about a 15-minute walk from Perth's CBD. There is nothing in the two blocks or so surrounding the stadium, with the closest bar being the iconic Brisbane Hotel on Beaufort Street, one of the more popular hangouts that was filled with fans before the game.
Perth itself is a nice town but it has really changed lately, with a mining boom in the area bringing in a lot of new money. The downtown core has a few decent bars but prices are outrageous. Moreover, after the game on Saturday evening, I walked to the main drag and found that most of the establishments were geared toward the younger crowd, with music blaring and lineups outside the door. I had trouble finding a quiet place where I could watch some of the EPL games that night before settling on the Moon & Sixpence at 300 Murray Street. Decent food and a choice of beer, but again, prices were surprisingly high with a pint running $10.
If you are there during the afternoon, check out the cultural center, highlighted by the Art Gallery of Western Australia, which has several free collections as well as rotating exhibitions.
I was highly impressed with the crowd who showed up in numbers, most wearing the blue jersey of the Force. Several visiting fans came with face paint and other paraphernalia but all were welcomed. Rugby is a fast game with each half taking just over 40 minutes, so you get very few fans moving around during the action. It is not a game that lends itself to constant loud noise or distractions because the action on the field can be quite fascinating. Still, the fans here were loud when they needed to be and helped their team secure an upset victory over the Crusaders.
Unfortunately, at halftime of my visit, there was a streaker, which is somewhat acceptable as it doesn't really impact the game. The rather portly gentleman was cheered on by the fans as he made his way from one end zone to the other unmolested. Security finally got hold of him and took him away and all was forgotten when the game resumed. Unfortunately, his antics inspired some other idiots who decided that their 15 minutes of fame had to come with five minutes left in a tense game. Security was caught napping again as four others (partly clothed at least) ran from the north end onto the pitch. One visiting player knocked down one of the intruders and eventually order was restored, but it definitely changed the flow of the game. I'm guessing there are a few job openings for stadium security guards there after the incident I witnessed.
Getting to the stadium is easy. The closest rail station is Claisebrook, about 5 minutes from gate 4, but you can also walk from the Perth CBD in just 15 minutes which is the better option if you happen to be downtown. If you have your ticket with you, the train is free before and after the game, useful if you are staying farther away. If you wish to drive, there is plenty of street parking in the area.
Gate 3 is the main entry point and you will emerge onto a large opening where the aforementioned food and drink options are located. There is no problem making it to your seat, although the east concourse is still under construction, by the time it is finished, it will definitely be wide enough.
Exiting the venue was very easy and within seconds of leaving my seat I was out on the street and making my way back to the city.
The most expensive tickets are $75, which is a bit high for this sort of event. The cheapest seats are not even seats at all, but in the Shed at the north end of the stadium. It is from this area that those field-jumping idiots came, so keep that in mind if you plan to stand there.
There are also tickets for $65 and $55, so as you can see, not that many options - the extra dollars for the best seats are worth it here. There are only seven home games per season, so it is obviously necessary for the team to get as much revenue as possible, but for the length of the game (less than 2 hours), it can be a bit much to those of us used to similar prices for much longer events.
In front of gate 1 they had a small inflatable field for kids to jump on, useful if you arrive early and need to distract your children for a few minutes.
The way the green seats merge with the field is really impressive and merits a point for the thoughtfulness afforded to this often overlooked area.
They describe the penalties on the screen (e.g., not releasing the ball); very useful for rugby novices who are not used to the hand signals from the referee yet.
Finally, a point for the friendliness of the staff here and the personal attention afforded us by the nib Stadium crew.
The renovations here have modernized this stadium and make it a very nice place to visit. The Super Rugby season is relatively short and corresponds to our late winter, so I would suggest that if you are planning a visit to Australia, you consider timing it with the upcoming season. By then the stadium will have completed its makeover and it should be an even more impressive venue than it already is.
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