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Official Review by Lloyd Rothwell, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Spotless Stadium is located within Sydney Olympic Park in the western suburbs of Sydney. It both served as the main baseball stadium for the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics and was a replacement showground for the Royal Agricultural Society which was previously located at Moore Park next door to the Sydney Cricket Ground.
The stadium underwent renovations as various sporting teams started looking at the smaller, boutique venue as a permanent home ground in preference to the much larger former main stadium from the Olympics, now known as ANZ Stadium. The Greater Western Sydney Giants have called Spotless home since they entered the AFL in 2012.
The Sydney Thunder are one of two cricket teams based in the harbour-city that participate in the Big Bash Twenty20 tournament held during December and January each year, with the other being the Sydney Sixers. The Thunder broadly represents the western suburbs of Sydney and some regional areas of New South Wales. They’ve so far struggled to make much of an impact on the field, not having won more than two games from eight in each of the previous three BBL seasons. However, they are moving in the right direction. The Thunder was previously based exclusively at ANZ Stadium, but has now begun to split their four home games between ANZ and Spotless.
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".
Spotless Stadium puts many larger sporting venues in this country to shame when it comes to food concessions. The variety and quality are certainly impressive, and the quality of much of the food outweighs any concerns there might be regarding price.
The outlets on site include Mick's Bakehouse (pies and sausage rolls - probably the best meat pie I've had at a sporting event), Wok 'n' Bowl Asian Kitchen, Gourmet Hot Dogs, Fish and Chips, and Bell's Kitchen (burgers).
There is also a Subway outlet present and many people taking advantage of ice creams and sundaes at the Dessert Bar (expect long queues though). There are several bars located around the ground, although choices are limited to standard mid-strength beer, cider, wine and spirits.
The food here is streaks ahead of that offered at ANZ Stadium and is reason alone for the Thunder to maintain their presence at Spotless.
The Thunder attracted crowds of 15,000 and 12,000 to their two games at Spotless during the 2014/15 season. At this venue those are respectable figures, and create a better feeling than at the cavernous ANZ Stadium.
The stadium itself is an adequate venue for the BBL - the pitch runs in the opposite direction from that in which AFL is played. This leads to short straight boundaries and longer boundaries square of the wicket. The pitch is of the drop-in variety, not uncommon for many venues these days. However reports indicate that the pitch plays a little slow, which is resulting in lower scores being posted.
The Thunder has done a great job in making the venue feel like their home, with plenty of personalised touches around the oval. There is a mascot called Thor (the thunder god) and cheer squad, and plenty of fan engagement activities. The area under the large video scoreboard at the northeastern end of the ground is spacious and offers several opportunities to let the kids take part in cricket activities. The free lime-green Thunder sticks on entry are a nice touch too.
As at all BBL games, there is plenty of music played between balls and overs. I enjoy AC/DC as much as anyone, but it's fair to say the reliance on "Thunderstruck" might be a tad overdone.
The Sydney Olympic Park precinct has over the years been transformed from a sports park to an entertainment destination. The park is a popular location for any number of social and family events, in addition to concerts and sporting contests. This does mean that traffic can be an issue at times, but it mostly helps create a more positive atmosphere around the place.
There are plenty of restaurants nearby covering fine dining, sushi, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Italian and modern Australian. My number one pre or post game dining option pick would be Ribs and Rumps for a great steak. There are also several bars and hotels on site and family friendly parks close by.
The Thunder has attracted fans that are really committed to their team and readily sport the Thunder-green merchandise on game day. Indeed their level of engagement with the team is commendable and there are lots of families in attendance. However, it must be said that it would be better if there were more fans turning up to games. Obviously more casual fans are not that interested in seeing the Thunder get belted, hence the on-field performance needs to continue to improve. While the Thunder has been smarter with recruitment and hence more competitive they still have a ways to go. A crowd of 18,000 or more would see Spotless absolutely rocking.
Sydney Olympic Park is accessible by a number of transportation options. The train station is right next door and buses are also an option. Many choose to drive although parking will cost up to $25, and traffic in the surrounding areas getting to and from the game can be a factor.
There were a number of complaints after the first Thunder game at Spotless regarding the protracted process of gaining entry into the stadium. This was addressed by the GM on social media and was not evident at the game we attended, but get there early just in case - check to see if there is a curtain raiser, plus watch the two teams warm up. The concourse surrounding the stadium is really wide in some areas but quite narrow in others - indeed often in the highest traffic areas near the entry and the bulk of the concession stands, which is especially noticeable prior to the game as fans struggle to buy their food and make their way to their seats. This makes the spacious sections a welcome relief and it's quite enjoyable to stroll around the circumference enjoying the different vantage points. There is also a great place for kids to run around and have an impromptu game of cricket. Bathrooms are clean and adequate.
General admission starts at $20 for adults and $5 for children, with discounts for concessions and families. General admission seating is available in several of the grandstands or at the northeastern end of the ground.
Reserved seating is $30 for adults. The Thunder has also brought their concept of ground level seating on a makeshift sandy "beach." These are the highest priced tickets, at $40 for an adult. This is the same pricing structure as their ANZ Stadium games. Value for the money is reasonable all things considered.
Similar to the Giants, the Thunder has a family friendly interactive fan zone under the scoreboard. This is a great way for the kids to stretch their legs and get amongst it. It's certainly marvelous to see youngsters enjoying the great game of cricket.
Merchandise is available inside the stadium. The Thunder also should be recognised for their recruitment of playing talent which has significantly improved their credibility. The 2014/15 season has seen the Thunder spearheaded by greats Mike Hussey and Jacques Kallis.
The Thunder has recently engaged a "Fan Council" to represent their different target markets and is a great example of the effort the organisation is making to become more fan friendly.
The Thunder are in a somewhat similar situation to their co-tenants, the Giants; a new identity, struggling but improving on the field, and hoping to win the hearts and minds of Sydney's west. The Thunder is moving in the right direction and certainly once there's more confidence in the pitch, Spotless Stadium could represent their best chance at offering their growing fan base a more intimate and exciting game day experience.
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8 Dawn Fraser Ave
Sydney Olympic Park, NSW 2127
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