Macedonia Park and the smaller stadiums argument
Over the past five years, A-League Men crowd figures have steadily decreased due to many exterior factors. These include ticket prices, decisions made by those at an executive level, and reduced excitement surrounding the league. It has led to a small portion of games cultivating a good atmosphere outside local derbies and finals fixtures.
There has been a decline in crowd numbers and continuous renovations to modern-day, multi-purpose stadiums. It has meant that creating an atmosphere that allows families and players to enjoy and feel the Australian football culture has become more complex.
Macedonia Park, the home ground of NPL WA side Stirling Lions FC, is currently being used by Perth Glory whilst HBF Park is being renovated. (Stirling Macedonia FC Facebook)
With the HBF Park renovations, Perth Glory has relocated to Macedonia Park, which has a capacity of 4,000.
Results have significantly improved in Perth’s five outings at the much smaller ground, with three wins and two draws. The Glory is turning their temporary home into a fortress with positive results on the field. Off it, they are currently hosting a smaller average crowd of approximately 3837. But the enhanced atmosphere is starting to make the long trip to Perth much more daunting for their opponents.
Speaking to Glory fan David Winkless, he stated that the crucial factor for their improved results is "the smaller venue where the fans are on top of the players."
"Those who want to be at the games are there, so you're getting more hardcore fans who want to make and create atmosphere," Winkless told Front Page Football.
Many would not think about this factor, but due to a smaller capacity, the most passionate club fans would often be those buying a ticket week in, week out.
The players have also taken a liking to the unique venue, with Glory midfielder Luke Bodnar announcing his love for Macedonia Park during a press conference ahead of their last game against Sydney FC.
"I love it; you know, it's quite tight, a lot of home fans there. Four thousand in other stadiums might not seem a lot, but because we're so close and in tight it can feel like there's a lot," he said.
Bodnar emphasises that more undersized stadiums have that unique difference compared to bigger stadiums. 4,000 people in a 5,000-seat stadium may cultivate a better atmosphere than 15,000 people in a 50,000-seat stadium. The close interaction that players and fans can experience throughout a game creates a point of difference.
This interaction was seen in Perth's first fixture at Macedonia Park, where they defeated Western United 2-1, which Winkless himself emotionally felt.
"You only need to look at how the players interacted with the fans during and after the match. After spending the past two seasons on the road, you could see how much the players enjoyed playing in front of an atmosphere not seen at HBF Park during the pandemic," he said.
Many other teams could benefit from moving to a small stadium to increase their atmosphere. The two newest teams, Macarthur and Western United, have both been criticised by journalists and fans of other clubs for the lack of atmosphere they have created during their home fixtures. Both could follow Perth and Brisbane Roar - albeit Kayo Stadium has its issues with location - in downsizing to play in front of a more 'local-like' environment. It could help both clubs build a more extensive fan base and increase marketability.
Macarthur has played six league games out of their 17,500 seater home at Campbelltown Stadium this season. Their average attendance? Approximately 4,000. With a 13,000-seat hole, the Bulls could look for a more compact stadium to host some of their most exciting talents, such as Daniel Arzani, Ulises Davila, and Al Hassan Toure. Playing at their current training base at Fairfield Showgrounds could be a more suitable fit. With an estimated capacity of 5,000, this setup would allow the Bulls to grow their fanbase with numbers close to a sell-out each home game, thus turning Macarthur away into a much more intimidating fixture for travelling teams.
The Fairfield Showgrounds facility features both a full sized grass pitch, and as shown above (right), a full sized artificial football pitch. (Austadiums)
With the Bulls' first team already utilising the training facility, the pitch's feel would come as no surprise to their players. The short 20-minute drive to Fairfield should also maintain the increasing numbers of Macarthur supporters from Campbelltown who venture out each week to watch their team.
The reigning Australia Cup champions proved in that triumph that they enjoy the small stadium vibe, cruising through each stage of the competition. They encountered their fair share of smaller grounds, having played against NPL QLD outfit Magpie Crusaders, South Australia's Modbury Jets, and NPL VIC side Oakleigh Cannons. Against these opponents, each game was played away from home. The Bulls entertained the semi-professional clubs and their local crowds.
As previously mentioned, another club that could do with a change in setting, or settle on a main temporary ground, is Western United. They currently play most of their home matches at AAMI Park, sharing the stadium with Melbourne City and Melbourne Victory.
Western has struggled to create a home atmosphere as a new club to the league. A move to a permanent home stadium was planned from the beginning for the Western Melbourne Group that owns the club. In March 2022, the Wyndham City Council approved plans to construct the Regional Football Facility in Tarneit. The aim is to develop a state-of-the-art football facility home to three football pitches and a brand-new 15,000-seat stadium.
A proposed look at how the Wyndham City elite training facility will turn out once established. The training facility will be adjacent to the 15,000-seat stadium. (Austadiums)
Western United supporter Andrew Manh Tran told FPF there was plenty of optimism from the fanbase surrounding the new facility.
“Our new elite and community training facilities next season would be wonderful for us as it [would] be [the] perfect crowd size, around 5,000…and the atmosphere will definitely sound better as it will look full and compacted,” he said.
He also mentioned that moving to a smaller stadium is something the club has continuously echoed to its supporters. It gives them something to look forward to, with the facility set to be completed in May.
The thought of having their facility will excite not only Western fans but also potential imports and local youth players. The move would see them become the first professional club in Victoria to take a step away from AAMI Park, which has not felt like a proper home to many supporters.
“Home advantage is very important, mainly playing against Victory and City, as playing in AAMI Park, even if it is a home game for us, feels like a home game for them. But with [the] elite and community training facilities in Tarneit, we finally have our own home,” Tran added.
Creating a proper home stadium environment is something that many clubs thrive off. Perth’s recent home form is further evidence that building a tense home within the team's comfortability is vital to its performances and the enjoyment and experience for fans at the game.
With many positives, there also come minuscule negatives that may influence why clubs purposefully choose not to move into smaller stadiums.
Winkless noted that "the cost of keeping the temporary infrastructure in place as opposed to the cost of going back to HBF Park full time" was one reason Macedonia Park would struggle to become a permanent home for the Glory. Their temporary home has required additional financial input to be ready-made for a bigger crowd. Ideally, clubs would be downsizing to stadiums that still have the appropriate infrastructure.
However, another factor against the smaller stadiums argument is how it may not be financially feasible for clubs looking to accommodate a massive fanbase, particularly long-term. Some clubs may not want to downsize if they eventually move back into a bigger stadium. Furthermore, should they attract good numbers at a larger venue, that would be a significant positive for the league. Throughout the history of the A-League, Melbourne Victory is one club that has achieved this feat.
But without pulling in more people to go hand in hand with increased capacity, playing at a big stadium could also become an additional cost for a club. With A-Leagues clubs having already been damaged economically by the disastrous effects of the pandemic on the league's finances, making a move the other way and upsizing is a substantial risk.
Macedonia Park was only seen as a temporary home for Perth. But it could kick-start broader conversations around how atmosphere and attendance can be reignited in the A-Leagues. The setup may influence many other clubs when deciding how to attract more bums on seats for their home fixtures.
All statistics sourced from the Austadiums website.
Click here to read the thoughts of an interstate and Sydney-based fan on the APL's Grand Finals decision last month.