- Lloyd Rothwell
AAMI Park – Melbourne Storm
Photos by Lloyd Rothwell, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
AAMI Park Olympic Blvd Melbourne VIC 3001 Australia
Year Opened: 2010
Storm Front in Melbourne
AAMI Park is located within the same Melbourne sports precinct as the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and Melbourne Park (including Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena). The stadium opened in 2010 with a capacity of 30,050 and largely serves the Melbourne Storm (NRL), Melbourne Rebels (Super Rugby), and Melbourne City (A-League).
Historically Melbourne’s winter sporting landscape was dominated by AFL, which of course is played on an oval-shaped playing service. However, as rugby league and rugby union began to expand their competitions, along with the explosion of the A-League, it became clear that Melbourne required a purpose-built rectangular stadium. Indeed, AAMI Park was a key selling point of the Melbourne Rebel’s bid to join Super Rugby.
Since opening, the stadium has hosted international rugby league, rugby union, and soccer. The distinctive bio-frame domed roof is a unique architectural feature and provides cover for most of the seats, while still allowing natural light through to the field.
The Melbourne Storm represented new territory for the National Rugby League (NRL) as the first-ever Victorian-based team when they joined the competition in 1998. At the time a flurry of new teams was formed as the game rushed to nationalize, particularly as News Ltd and the Australian Rugby League fought for control of the administration of the sport. In the end, the Storm has been the only non-traditional market team to survive.
While they may have struggled for traction in a market saturated by AFL, the Storm have quickly established themselves as a powerhouse on the field. They have won four grand finals in their short history, however, only two of their premierships are officially recognised.
A systematic and secret rorting of the salary cap saw the NRL strip the club of the 2007 and 2009 premierships; an unprecedented severity of punishment in Australian sport. Despite this, the club has rebounded and is led by several of the top players in the league. After moving between the old Olympic Park and Etihad Stadium, the club has found a permanent home at AAMI Park.
Food & Beverage 3
There are no real surprises when visiting the concession stands at AAMI Park. The majority of food is confined to mass-prepared hot items such as hot dogs ($6.50), hot chips ($5.80), meat pie ($4.10), large sausage rolls ($5.00), fish and chips ($11.00), chicken and chips ($10.00), beef burgers ($10.50), chicken burgers ($10.50), and dim sims ($5.80). There is also a stand-alone German sausage tent which is the only specialty item available.
The cheapest alcoholic beverage available at AAMI Park is a light beer for $7.40 (light in alcohol content), with mid-strength at $7.60 and premium mid at $8.40. Wine ($9.50), cider ($10.50), and pre-mixed spirits ($10.80) are also available. Soft drinks cost $5.40, while carry trays are the usual $1.00, so be sure to reuse them.
In general, the service, quality, and variety all rate as average, and the prices are certainly no reason to increase the rating in this section.
This modern stadium has a design that offers great views, no matter where you sit – the stadium operators boast of the fact that there are no pillars or supporting concrete beams, resulting in obstruction-free viewing throughout the venue. Likewise, the steep stands keep spectators feeling close to the action, even in the upper deck areas. There are video screens in two corners of the stadium which are adequate, however, I found the score display to be a little small.
There is a good feel outside the stadium, with an additional fan zone experience to be found in neighbouring Gosch’s Paddock. The pillars on the lower level concourse feature large pictures of past and present Storm greats. The enclosed stadium roof helps generate an intimate experience that maximizes crowd noise, and AAMI Park also features several environmentally-friendly design features to minimize energy consumption.
One of the strengths of stadium policies in Victoria is accessibility and a centralised location. AAMI Stadium is well within walking distance of the CBD, with a pathway leading directly to the sports precinct at East Melbourne. Given its proximity to the centre of a global city like Melbourne, there are countless options for pre or post-match entertainment.
The southern capital is known for being trendy and well-presented; the coffee is great and there is a thriving laneway culture of bars and restaurants. The Southbank area is also a good place to head, with the Crown Casino nearby. In addition, in the opposite direction from AAMI Park in Richmond, which also boasts a bustling nightlife scene.
Melbourne also has a wide selection of craft beer bars and craft beer on tap at pretty much every bar, so if good beer is your thing then you will not be disappointed. A must would be Slowbeer in Richmond, as well as Holliava which is quite close to AAMI Park. In terms of attractions and entertainment, there are a variety of nightclubs and bars in the area which are worth investigating. From the rock and roll music venue The Corner Hotel to the rollicking 9T4 bar, there is a bar for any fan.
Melbourne Airport is around a 40-minute taxi ride from AAMI Park, and while there are numerous suitable accommodation options within the CBD, the Pullman on the Park is across the road from the sports precinct, offering views of the MCG.
In choosing their colours, the Melbourne Storm always intended to choose the traditional navy and white of the state of Victoria. However during the inception phase, it was recommended that several other colours are included to broaden the appeal to the community, and hence purple has since become the defining colour of the club – a unique colour scheme for the NRL.
While most native Melbournians have not been raised in rugby league, the passion of the Storm fan base is the equal of most other clubs in the competition. Their average crowds hover around 14,000 to 15,000, which is quite good for the NRL, and especially so for Melbourne. And while the fans may not be as educated on the intricacies of the game, they are loud and supportive of their team.
The best way to get to AAMI Park from the CBD is by foot, being roughly a pleasant 15-minute stroll. Train stations at both Jolimont and Richmond are good options should you be coming from further afield, and Melbourne also boasts an extensive tram network.
Parking close to the stadium is limited, although if you’re willing to walk it is possible to find either street or paid parking in nearby suburbs such as Richmond or even up in Collingwood. If you are catching mass transit be aware that the system operates on a cashless MYKI card that must be bought and pre-loaded with credit.
AAMI Park itself is easy to enter, although the steepness of the stands means quite a few stairs. The concourses are a little narrow when congested, but largely it’s easy to move around the exterior and interior of the stadium. The bathrooms are nice and clean, and plentiful. Upon entry expect a brief bag search as is the norm these days.
Return on Investment 4
With Category 1 tickets priced over $50 for Adults, this won’t be a cheap day out. However, unreserved General Admission tickets are only $25, which is comparable to other NRL venues. Despite the cost, AAMI Park is well-designed, clean, and modern, and offers a great viewing experience.
Additional points for the fan experience and engagement, team store, mascot, cheerleaders, and the multi-faith prayer room – a nice inclusive touch.
Most visitors to Melbourne will be keen to catch an AFL game while in town. By all means, do so, but also make time to see the hometown Melbourne Storm at beautiful AAMI Park.