Round 12 – St Kilda v Carlton: Everything worked as it should

“Every single gate was open and fully staffed,” he said.
“There were no system breakdowns, everything worked as it should.”
– Etihad Stadium spokesman Bill Lane

 

As your correspondent, and several thousand other people, listened to the ¼ time siren sound on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon, at least we had Mr Lane to reassure us that our place in the Queue Without End was all our own doing. Our thankyou letters are obviously in the mail, like Mr Lane’s care factor.

 

I freely concede I’d left my run down from Ballarat later than usual. That I, like so many others, failed to be drawn early by the usual pre-game ‘experience’ of blaring adds and inane sponsor-driven babble. That I’d churlishly passed on the generous opportunity to pay a small stipend to a ticketing agency, for the privilege of printing my own pre-paid ticket. Whether I would have entertained the blackmail option of a reserve seat is a moot question, because I never got within shouting distance of one of those fully staffed ticket windows.

 

I had, quite plainly, failed to anticipate the demand for this 10th placed versus 14th placed encounter. In that regard at least, I had the stadium authorities for company.

 

Still, there’s nothing like having time on your hands, and no game to distract you, to give one pause to contemplate one’s place in the larger football universe. And you only need apply a smidgeon of analytical thinking to realise that Mr Lane is truly a man of his word. On days such as these, the many-titled Docklands Stadium functions exactly as it was designed to do.

 

When the AFL gave up on the VFL’s 70,000-plus capacity Waverley venue as an impractical dream, it was no accident of chance that it settled on a 50,000 capacity inner city venue as the replacement. The available public transport was an obvious attraction, as that had long been a major Waverley bugbear. But it was that choice of a 50,000 capacity which really spoke to the new stadium’s purpose.

 

Higher value return per seat was the founding principle of Docklands. The AFL had enviously eyed those member-only English Premier League stadiums, and done their sums. If you consider it from their perspective, those walk up general admission sales can really start to feel like lost opportunities. Where’s the value-add? And if everyone gets with the program, we don’t need those costly extra entrances that the old fashioned grounds have. In a newly affluent football world, the Haves would be splendidly catered for, and the Have-nots would just need to take their chances.

 

As I considered such matters in the cosy glow of the winter sun, I was also struck by how patiently most people were accepting their fate. These log-jams were a recurring feature of Docklands’ early days, but footy fans have generally adapted their behaviours over time. Could the game’s authorities have come to take that acceptance for granted? Should it really be such a problem when 10,678 people want to walk up to a 50,000 capacity stadium?

 

Next time polo’s man of the people Gillon McLachlan declares a Year of the Fan, perhaps we might be better served to find a little less consolation in $4 pies and hotdogs, so generously offered, and so faithfully publicised by our vigilant media guardians. That we might contemplate the many ways football’s overlords now turn our passion for football clubs into revenue streams for themselves. And that the next time they serve up shit, and try to call it ice-cream, we begin to apply some serious thought as to how we can drive a harder bargain.

 

*As the ¼ time break came and went, and the ticket box remained a distant aspiration, your correspondent decided he would take his discretionary expenditures elsewhere. He will attempt to file a subsequent game report once he has availed himself of the wonders of an AFL Live Pass. He is acutely aware that in doing so, he is more likely part of the problem than the solution.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

Comments

  1. Dave Brown says:

    As much as I bang on about Adelaide Oval for all of its good things, John, it also is to blame in situations like this. The AFL must see a stadium with almost all seats in a 50,000 seater stadium pre-sold each week as perfection. It is a money making machine, almost none of which makes it into the pockets of the clubs. Instead it funds the lavishness of the established bureaucracies that surround it (and to be fair it also funds junior footy development in SA). People that use discretion to walk up to a venue are a nuisance and should be discouraged by being made to miss a substantial portion of the match.

  2. Yvette Wroby says:

    Hi John, as a Saints seated member, I get there an hour beforehand to suck in the atmosphere and catch up with people around me. I noticed internally that it was a bigger crowd coming in than I’ve seen at Etihad for 7 years and I thank all Carlton supporters for finally giving the Saints a crowd that can pay some bills. I am of the “get there early” generation, because I found that if I am running late, there are always extra obstacles. As the crowd built up earlier, the security opened up more lanes in. Sorry you missed out on a Saints win.

    My Carlton son came to join me, got in 20 before the game (with my spare ticket) and made fun of me coming early.

    Never make fun of the early birds, those worms were delicious!

  3. No-one can understand fully the Blues unpredictable season or Saints fickle form and how did the AFL can get the anticipated crowd attendance so wrong, do they communicate crowd expectations to Stadium management?

    10,678 tickets were bought on the day, a regular match between 5000 and 6000 is considered a high number.

    Who knew? Saints big loss, Blues on a roll, sounds like the faithful blues would be out in numbers to me.

  4. I feel your pain JB – another bugbear of mine is there being virtually no curtain raisers anymore which would at least give ordinary punters an incentive to arrive a bit earlier and spread the load.

    Your analysis of the new world business model adopted by the AFL 16 years ago is spot on. And despite the rivers of broadcast rights cash flowing through HQ, Etihad’s tenants continue to write cheques for the privilege of hosting games there.

    Has Ian Collins been made a life member of Keith Dunstan’s Anti-AFL League yet?

  5. John Butler says:

    Dave B, it’s one thing to be a consumer of a product. It’s another thing altogether to be a turkey at Thanksgiving. When I wonder which the AFL really sees me as, useful comments like those of Mr Lane help clarify the situation wonderfully.

    Dave P, I find it hilarious when organisations start quoting numbers like that, as if the process of entering a ground was like unraveling the mysteries of King Solomon. What Mr Lane is admitting is that the ground has been designed not to work in such situations, because we all should being paying extra to pre-book. An interesting take on the Peoples’ Game.

    As for the game? I didn’t find the result as big a shock as some seemed to. But more of that once I get that Live Pass.

  6. Well written John,

    there must be a solution, but given the fans are rarely seriously consulted about improving procedures, i won’t hold my breath.

    The car park underneath Etihad is a good case in point. Etihad management in its wisdom, over last 2 years, has changed the EXIT procedure from merely driving out, to having to scan out. Whilst seemingly a small change, there are huge consequences for the patron – adding an HOUR to exit time is one of them – due to the extra time needed to scan, people losing/misplacing their ticket, etc. I asked one of the attendants why the change – response because it reduces traffic congestion outside the ground. OH, so we increase congestion inside to reduce outside – nice logic.
    One activity to reduce frustration while waiting for an hour is to listen to the after match radio reports – but you guessed it – no radio reception in the car park.

    Solutions – stuff the scanning or add a radio receiver in car park – simple i would have thought (like adding cameras between goal posts)

  7. Matt Quartermaine says:

    Spot on John. Heaven forbid they put too many staff on as they maximise their profits and mimimise the chance of me going. Nice piece, could have sworn a bit more. Cheers

  8. John Butler says:

    Yvette, I’m normally of a similar mind as you. But sometimes circumstances intervene. At least the powers that be have left me in no doubt I’m on my own when they do.

    Always happy when the Blues donate to a worthy cause, and they Saints were certainly worthy yesterday. I’m sure you enjoyed yourself. :)

    JD, there’s a bigger story behind the whole Docklands era that could do with examination. The pity is, given the way things are going, AFL media will be the only ones left to write it.

  9. John Butler says:

    Thank you George. Does Mr Lane run the car park as well?

  10. John Butler says:

    G’day Matt. It was actually the absence a swearing yesterday that got me thinking. Everyone was so generally accepting and polite. Must be our English heritage, when it comes to queues.

  11. Rulebook says:

    JB where in the hell was some leadership having people going out in to the queues with portable ticket machines,a line for that thing called cash only.Thd Afl and ground just throw there hands in the air and say the system is working how it’s meant to and there were far more walk ups than normal well use a brain and cater for it and fix it absolutely pathetic lift your game !

  12. Bloody Victorians. Dunno what you’re complaining about. Mr Lane did you a favour. Saved your money and your misery.
    Subiaco is virtually members only for both Eagles and Dockers – $680 annual membership works out at just over $60 a seat for 11 home games – and they serve up that crap (through still gritted teeth).

  13. John Butler says:

    Rulebook, to be completely fair to Mr Lane, he was probably too busy sorting out the car park fiasco to worry about the entrance gates.

  14. John Butler says:

    PB, having had some recent encounters with dentists, I’d advise to go easy on those teeth. You think memberships are expensive?

    I’m curious though. Given that everyone in the West is pre-paid, how’s the ground entry ‘experience’ over there? And what are expectations for the new stadium?

  15. Jeez you know how to provoke a bloke. There are about 3,000 tickets for sale to the general public in a 43,000 seat stadium. Rest is members only. We went to the Dockers home derby that way last year. Shit seats on wooden benches with no leg room at ground level behind the goals. Never again. We know how to make visitors feel unwelcome over here. I had a look last week for a Croatian nephew of the Avenging Eagle who is visiting. $65-$75 on-line for shit seats. No walk ups.
    The new stadium deal is not yet public, but both Dockers and Eagles fans have had “no obligation” marketing surveys asking how would we feel to pay $400 for “premium seats” in the new stadium. I am guessing that is a one off to have more choice in where you sit.
    There will be stadium memberships that will cover the cricket test and some one-dayers. Not sure what else will be played there. Scorchers for T20’s draw a big crowd. State games will continue to be at the WACA until the next property/mining boom. Prime real estate close to the city centre. It will make more sense to move to a smaller suburban venue in time. WACA is a dump unless you can sit behind the bowlers arm in the Lillee Marsh stand.. I went as a member’s guest for the first day of the NZ test and sat in a temporary scaffolding stand on 40 degree day.
    The only attraction used to be the bouncy pitch but the 3 day tests were sending the WACA broker. We have had bitumen roads the last few years to improve beer and ticket sales. Yawn. Another won’t be back.
    Now that you have me on a roll I can’t believe the preciousness of SSmith etal not wanting to play under lights. Who the f do they think pays or watches them? Ch9 won’t keep paying big bucks for Test cricket when all the ratings are for T20. Smith etal have grown fat on the money from India and T20. Unless test cricket modernises in term of the customer experience and a fairer contest between bat and ball (which the pink ball offers) there will be no one paying to see it on TV or at the gate.
    Is my dentist paying you?

  16. John Butler says:

    Well, I did ask…. :)

    So I see you’re feeling the corporate love over in the West as well.

    I wish your dentist was paying me.

  17. Come to Brisbane John. We only get 13,000 to our games.
    We would love some walk ups.
    Remember before big stadiums and big clubs when everyone walked up, no issues getting in the ground. People arrived at different times because there was an early game to watch, or a pub to meet at, or a thermos till fill, a fold up chair to put in the boot, a footy to kick with your kids at nearby park, a train/bus timetable to negotiate.
    We embrace and often demand technology and comfort at our sporting venues but the whole experience seems to have become quite sterile.
    As Rulebook said ( I think) listen to the punters and fix it. It’s really not that hard.

  18. Peter Fuller says:

    John,
    You’ve nailed it as usual. On the way to the ground (by train) I met a mate by fluke. He and his daughter are (home) members only, so had to buy tickets. As we walked across the railway bridge, about 20 minutes prior to the bounce, I began to sense the scale of the crowd and the length of the queues. Initially I (AFL Member – protected species) stayed with them, but then realised that I would miss the start, so I went in. I finished up in the forward pocket level three about 6 rows from the back wall, a contender for one of the 2000 worst seats in the ground. Mark eventually bought reserved seats, as GAs had sold out by the time they reached the window. My guess is that they were no more than twenty people from the window in their line in the queue. Yet somehow it took them more than 40 minutes to reach the sales point. For Mr. Lane to make the risible observation in your headline reveals his contempt for the people who are paying his salary.

    I am reminded of the remarks of a stadium spokesman when the ground was newly opened, who poured similar scorn on the complainants when something like yesterday’s fiasco occurred, wtte, “You should pre-book tickets.”
    I also think of an old political slogan “If you think the system’s working, ask somebody who is unemployed.”

    Could I also express my sympathy for our non-Melbourne almanackers? Peter Baulderstone’s eloquent account of the trials of entry to Subi sound all too real. I remember arriving in Sydney Saturday evening about ten years ago. Sydney were playing at ANZ Stadium, and when I reached my inner city hotel in time, I decided to try to attend the match. No trouble getting to the booking window, but when I asked for the cheapest ticket ($25 or thereabouts, iirc), none left, sold out, same with the next price point (about $45). I pulled the pin when I was offered a seat at circa $65.

  19. John Butler says:

    Daly, you’re talking about people constructing their own fun, ,making their own arrangements. Much more difficult to package that up and sell it back to us. When commercial imperatives are all you really care about, there’s not really any room for spontaneity anymore. Given the weather in Ballarat lately, Brisbane doesn’t look such a bad option. :)

    Peter F, it’s sobering to consider how often our lives march to the beat of someone else’s commercial agenda. Yet how often do we challenge this status quo? I’m as guilty as anyone in this respect.

    Cheers

  20. Luke Reynolds says:

    Bloody Etihad. Instead of buying the soulless dump, they should sell it. Meant to be worth 1 billion for Chinese investors?? 100 million would do up each of Princes Park, Moorabbin and the Whitten Oval nicely. Very nicely. The other 700 million could fund a Tassie team and support the Suns and Giants.
    Of course the AFL will buy it then have to fork out the 100 million needed to “refurbish” the ageing stadium. Hopefully without goverment funding….

  21. John Butler says:

    Luke, you touch on the elephant in the room there.

    Is there not conflict of interest on many levels given the AFL will own the ground soon? JD mentioned above about the punitive ground deals some of the tenant clubs suffer. Funny how that couldn’t be fixed.

  22. Luke Reynolds says:

    Conflict of interest and the AFL?? Surely that’s never been mentioned in the same sentence before…

  23. John Butler says:

    I believe ’twas Eddie who said, “if you haven’t got any conflicts you haven’t got any interests”.

  24. Luke Reynolds says:

    Eddie would know!!

  25. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    JB,
    I’d have thought you’d know when NOT to leave Ballarat by now. Seduced by the Blues, exasperated by the AFL and St Kilda did the rest.

    Meet you in the MCC Members in a couple of weeks so we can watch a game in a relatively civilized manner.

  26. Andrew Starkie says:

    Saturday night, when two decent teams were playing, I tried to visit friends on the other side of the ground at half-time. Tried one way, but couldn’t through past the queues for the loo and beer. Tried the other way, same result. Gave up. Ended up back where I started. Tried to go to the toilet half-time and 3/4. No hope. had to hold on. Afterwards. leaving the ground, usual crush on way to station. ‘Shit, we’re buggered if there’s a fire,’ I thought. Simply, inadequate facilities and the local council’s dream of creating a Madison Sq Garden thing in Docklands has failed.

  27. Andrew Starkie says:

    …get through the queues….

  28. John Butler says:

    Phil, you’re on. I’ll even call myself Tarquin for the day if it’ll help.

    Starkers, what the hell was going on with North Saturday night? Any risk someone might go near Dangerwood?

    No Jacobs is no excuse.

  29. E.regnans says:

    Well played, JB.

    Some time could be interestingly spent investigating the various contracts AFL luminaries sign to the benefit of companies either wholly or partly owned by other AFL luminaries.
    Itchy backs.

  30. John Butler says:

    Many conflicted scratchers of those itchy backs, E Reg.

    That at least confirms AFL as a truly Australian game.

  31. Andrew Starkie says:

    JB, beats the hell outa me.

  32. Well said, JB!

    Remember the Frenchman who was the initial CEO of Docklands? Jacques someone? The one who said “We will educate football supporters to pre-book…” blah, blah, blah…?
    It seems not much has changed.

    I truly despise that soulless stadium and the horse it rode in on.

  33. Malby Dangles says:

    I lined up for 30 minutes to get in. Payment by credit card took ages…perhaps this was one of the issues? Paying by cash meant time at the ticket window was quick.
    Plenty of ticket windows were shut. And my team lost :(

  34. John Butler says:

    Smoke, I don’t remember that Frenchman. Probably just as well. I’m sure he was no match for our Mr Lane.

    Malby, I’m sure that was one of the issues. A lot of people don’t seem to deal in cash anymore. That’s been known for a long time. But when you design a ground like Docklands, you have bigger sums on your mind.

    Starkers, I’ll read your thoughts re Saturday with interest. Once, I’m done with my Live Pass.

  35. Andrew Starkie says:

    The Dungeon. Dark, drab, no atmosphere.

    Took me 30 mins to write sitting at the kitchen table, JB. No classic but got my feelings across.

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