WACA thoughts (it’s the economy, stupid: crowds, stadiums and why cricket must play (foot)ball)

by Shannon Gill


It’s the economy, stupid: crowds, stadiums and why cricket must play (foot)ball

We’re shedding a tear for the imminent irrelevance of the WACA, we’re lamenting the empty seats at the Gabba, but the reality is that cricket’s had its cake and eaten it for a while now and the time has come to face reality.

It’s not Thatcherism or Reganomics but bills have to be paid. With TV, cricket has the skills to pay the bills, but there’s a fork in the road on the way to the venue that the decrepit WACA signifies.  You need stadiums to play in to put the game on TV, and you need those stadiums to be half decent so people turn up and make it a better spectacle.

How many times have you heard people wonder why the grounds in the UK are “so small”?


In Australia if cricket was to stand alone stadium-wise there’d be a struggle to justify even the garden-variety UK 20,000 seat stadiums – the WACA is proof. The sport is dependent on others for its survival beyond television. For all the romanticism about the individuality of pitches and grounds there’s a bigger picture at play with a decision on the lesser of two evils, lose character or lose people. People are more important than the WACA pitch for the future of the sport.

Cricket never utters these words, but without AFL, football cricket wouldn’t have a hope in hell of having modern stadiums to play in.  The WACA went alone, it was dilapidated years ago. An upgraded WACA would be a white elephant; you just can’t justify public or private money when the return is so low. Only diehards turn up to outdated stadiums. And the amount of diehards has dwindled.

Look at the MCG; Melbourne Cricket Ground in name only. Forty-six AFL games were played in 2015 where anything under a crowd of 25,000 is season as a disaster, while in an average cricket season there would be a maximum of one Test, two ODIs, an international T20 and 5 BBL games (Shield games don’t count because there isn’t a crowd). Thirteen days content of which only four or five days could be guaranteed of a crowd more than 25,000.  It’s precisely the reason why CA would desperately like to expand the Big Bash; because in the case of many states, it keeps the sport relevant in a stadium sense. Cricket doesn’t pay stadium bills like other sports do, and other sports are more willing and conducive to sharing.


The same thing happens on a smaller scale across the country, and the poor WACA is the victim of time and economics now – ever since AFL went full-time to Subiaco it’s been a slow death for the WACA.


When phoney wars erupt between the codes about access to venues, simple economics and certified public passion come down on the side of AFL. That may be a hard pill to swallow for cricket but pragmatism must rule if you want the best result for your sport, not just a comparison with little brother who turned into big brother. Pragmatism won the day in Adelaide and the future of both sports will be infinitely better for it. Cricket cries of footy eating into the season, but crowds simply don’t watch cricket in October or March so it’s a thin argument. Our national team are usually in India at that time anyway.


Despite a few celebrated examples the talent clash is not a major issue. Kids play both sports until the age of 15-16 and in 99 per cent of cases any choice that has to be made is clear-cut. There has always been a symbiotic relationship between grassroots participation in the sports. With world challengers on the block, now is the time to be closer and not bickering.


This cold war runs deep between the sports; it can be petty and illogical. The sad thing is that the two sports should be the greatest of allies when it comes the fighting their shared ‘enemy’ of soccer. Cricket has structural difficulties as a sport, but the demise of the WACA is another example where being resistant to the benefits of partnering with its natural bedfellow (as ego-deflating as it may be) is cutting off ones nose to spite its face.


[Apologies for any confusion in the attribution of this fine piece by Shannon Gill – Ed]


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    I agree with every thing in the article except the comment about 99 per cent of kids the choice of which sport to choose is clear cut, I feel it is more kids pick the sport they enjoy the most which is obviously fine.
    George Horlin Smith is interesting in that I and many others feel he was far better at cricket I will always think that he could have been australian captain.Tom Chadwick ( fox sports ) said to me I no I am better at cricket and that I am unlikely to really make it at footy but I enjoy footy more I replied with I wish it was the other way round but footy is the go then.Jace Bode just got fed up with the injuries re with bowling quick now as a 3 time,Norwood Premiership player rapt in his choice.every 1 is different
    ( stadiums wise TOTALLY agree with every word )

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