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  • Lloyd Rothwell

ANZ Stadium – Sydney Thunder

Photos by Lloyd Rothwell, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.29

ANZ Stadium Edwin Flack Ave Sydney Olympic Park, NSW 2127 Australia

Year Opened: 1999

Capacity: 82,500


Thunder Sticks

ANZ Stadium was opened in 1999 as Stadium Australia and was built to serve as the main stadium for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. The capacity was originally 110,000 however after renovations following the Games the stadium now seats a maximum of 82,500 people (oval configuration).

Located at Sydney Olympic Park, ANZ Stadium is arguably the premier sporting venue in NSW particularly when it comes to the various football codes, hosting events such as the NRL Grand Final, NRL State of Origin, FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, and rugby union test matches. The venue also features retractable seating allowing the playing surface to be configured as either rectangular or an oval.

While the Sydney Cricket Ground remains the stadium of choice for major cricket games in the harbour city, ANZ Stadium has played host to a Twenty20 International. In addition to representative sporting events, ANZ also sees numerous tenants play regular or semi-regular games including Greater Western Sydney Giants (AFL), Sydney Swans (AFL), Canterbury Bulldogs (NRL), South Sydney Rabbitohs (NRL), Wests Tigers (NRL) and the NSW Waratahs (Super Rugby).

The Sydney Thunder was formed in 2011 as one of two Sydney based teams for the new Big Bash League (BBL), Australia’s domestic Twenty20 cricket competition. This league is played over a six week period during the height of summer to maximise exposure to families enjoying the traditional holiday period. The Thunder represents Western Sydney and regional areas of NSW. They have yet to experience much on-field success and have generally been overshadowed by their more glamorous cross-town rivals, the Sydney Sixers. In fact, at the time of the match attended for this review, the Thunder had lost their past 16 games.

Twenty20 cricket has taken off in recent years and is a shortened version of the game designed to maximise excitement and entertainment. While many traditionalists have found T20 difficult to accept, it is clear that it is attractive to a whole new market who finds a dynamic three hour game much more interesting than the rigours of a five day test match. Domestic cricket in Australia has traditionally been state-based, however the BBL was restructured around cities to conform to the international norm. All eight BBL teams are therefore brand new identities. The league is still experimenting with how to maximise the performance of its product. The 2012-13 season saw a downturn in crowd attendance with many critics blaming scheduling, however this looks to have been reversed for the 2013-14 season.

Food & Beverage 3

ANZ Stadium is well equipped to deal with large crowds, meaning an abundance of food and beverage outlets, although not all are open during Thunder games. The offerings are fairly standard for a venue of this nature, and are quite pricey.

Hot food includes burgers ($8.70), pies ($5.20), sausage rolls ($4.80), hot dogs ($5.80) and hot chips ($5.70). Also available are assorted sandwiches ($7), baguette sandwiches ($10), Caesar salad ($12.50) and fruit salad ($8.90).

Soft drinks (600ml) are provided by Coca-Cola ($5.20) and bottled water is $4.60. Crisps and other small confectionery items such as ice creams and chocolates can also be purchased.

Several combos are on offer and include a sausage roll, pie, hot dog or burger, with hot chips and a drink for between $14 and $17.50. There is also a sushi / water combo for $14. Alcohol is served at several bars with fairly standard options including beer (Toohey’s New $7 or Light $6.50) and wine $7.20. Note that a disposable carry tray is an additional $1.

While the bars do a steady trade, many patrons seem to shun the food on offer at the stadium, instead opting to bring their own snacks or meals from the many takeaway options located nearby. The easy conclusion to draw is that while the variety is reasonable for a venue of this size, it is expensive.

Atmosphere 3

ANZ is a great venue for sport, no doubt about it. Many amazing moments have occurred here during a relatively short period of time. However, there really is no escaping the fact that this stadium is much better suited to football these days. The pitch faces across the oval to allow for more seats to be situated at either end which makes sense, but is a bit awkward. Also, because so many different sports and teams use the venue, there is little that can be done to create much of an atmosphere that is specific to the Thunder. There is a mascot and cheerleaders, but in such a large stadium the crowd can’t really connect with them. The atmosphere is also not very intimate as crowds average around 10,000. Most of the seating is limited to lower bowl in an attempt to combat this, but it still feels like a cricket game is being played in a large football stadium.

Neighborhood 4

ANZ Stadium is the centrepiece of Sydney Olympic Park. Many of the venues used during the Sydney 2000 Olympics are on site including Allphones Arena and the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre – both legitimate venues and attractions in their own right. Over 5,000 events are held within the precinct each year. There are also numerous hotels, bars, and restaurants within the park. My recommendation is certainly to take advantage of this prior to the game, particularly in relation to food. As well as fast food there are options covering Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Italian, and modern Australian cuisine. Personally I like to enjoy a great steak at Ribs and Rumps (8 Dawn Fraser Ave). It is worth mentioning that Sydney Olympic Park is big and you need to be prepared to walk a bit to find your preferred restaurant as well as from the parking station if you choose to drive.

Fans 3

The Thunder fans are really committed to their team. They’re engaged in the game and decked out in Thunder-green merchandise. However, crowds only average 10,000 per game which is the lowest of any BBL team. Lack of on-field success is obviously a factor here, but parent body Cricket NSW must be concerned regardless. Western Sydney should be an ideal location for a BBL franchise with a large population including many people with Indian and Sri Lankan heritage who are normally heavily attracted to cricket. There is no doubting the difficulty in establishing a brand new sporting identity from the ground up, however the Thunder have yet to hit the mark in attracting fans.

Access 4

While SOP hosts many events, not many seem to coincide with Thunder games. However, this is worth checking when deciding to attend a game. If there aren’t any clashes, parking and getting around the precinct is quite easy. Casual parking is $4 an hour or $20 per day. The P1 parking station is probably your best bet. Public transport is also easily accessible with the train station only a short walk away.

Given the size of the venue compared to the size of crowd, moving around the stadium is easy and bathrooms are plentiful. While ushers will check tickets before entering any reserved seating areas, once past this point you can probably choose your seat without too many hassles.

Return on Investment 3

Ticket prices are reasonable. Reserved seating is $30 for adults with reductions for juniors and concessions, along with family deals. I recommend this option because you are seated at either end of the pitch; in my opinion the best place from which to watch cricket. General admission is very reasonably priced at $20 for adults and $5 for children 15 or under. The Thunder has also created a section called “The Beach” which has been built on one side of the stadium adjacent to the playing surface. This is the most expensive place to sit with adults paying $40 for a seat here. Despite the novelty, given the location, I don’t think this would be worth it. Overall, the return on investment is average. Hopefully the Thunder can attract more fans and create a better atmosphere which would make for a more exciting event.

Extras 3

The Thunder receives three extra points. The first is because they play trial games in the lead up to the BBL at suburban grounds in their catchment areas including Blacktown, Western Sydney, and Wollongong in regional NSW. The second extra point is for the practice nets located outside the stadium on the side near P1 – get here early and see the players warming up. The third extra point is for the Thunder attracting Mike Hussey to their team for the 2013-2014 season. Hussey is one of Australia’s best cricketers of recent times and although he has now retired from international cricket, still has incredible ability. He has been largely responsible for keeping the Thunder competitive recently.

Final Thoughts

The Thunder does a lot of things right. They are very active on social media and connect well with their fans across their catchment area. Their fans are committed and have bought into the Thunder identity. ANZ Stadium is also a great sporting stadium, however whether it will truly be accepted as a cricket venue remains to be seen. Hopefully the Thunder can start to win and attract more people to games which will certainly help.

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