Sydney FC, the Roosters and the Waratahs wanted the new stadium to feature an LED
Sydney FC, the Roosters and the Waratahs wanted the new stadium to feature an LED "curtain" to block out empty seats at the ground.

Cost cutting deprives new Sydney stadium of 'vital' tool

MAJOR sports clubs wanting to set up shop in Sydney's soon-to-be rebuilt football stadium are being denied a "vital" feature that would have allowed them to blank out areas of the stands.

Sydney FC, the Roosters and the Waratahs wanted the new $828 million stadium in Moore Park to feature an LED "curtain" that would disguise empty seats during games.

This is because the new stadium will hold 45,000 fans, but all three teams have been plagued by poor turnouts in recent years.

Sydney FC averaged just under 15,000 crowds at their home games last season - the Roosters and Waratahs had 1500 less.

The turnouts have stoked fears the stadium will look empty every week, once it finally opens in time for the 2022 NRL grand final.

However, plans for both a curtain to block out the entire top tier of the stadium and an LED display at the edge of the roof were dropped to save $46 million, after external reviewers went through the stadium plans last year.

With much fanfare on Wednesday, the NSW Government announced it had awarded a $735 million contract to John Holland for the stadium - blowing the cost out by almost $100 million - but its plans did not include the LED "curtain".

Former rugby player Peter FitzSimons tweeted on Thursdya morning about curtain, questioning why it was needed as the stadium was supposed to attract "huge crowds".

He posted a picture of the demolished stadium, asking: "What is wrong with this picture?"

"NSW government commits $800 million to knock down fine stadium and replace - saying it'll attract huge crowds to pay for itself," he wrote.

"But delay, because of dispute over curtains to hide low crowds."

Without the curtain, it's understood Sydney FC will question whether the stadium is the right venue in the long term - particularly given its success in  hosting games at Jubilee and Leichhardt Ovals in recent months.

They have just four years of their existing tenancy agreement left when the stadium is due to be finished in 2022.

The project has blown out by $100 million. Picture: Jonathan Ng
The project has blown out by $100 million. Picture: Jonathan Ng

The club's chief executive, Danny Townsend, told the "two-mode concept" of covering up the stadium's top tier for lower turnout events was "vital" for the Sky Blues.

"We are delighted that we will be getting a world-class facility and state-of-the-art stadium for our club to be playing in once the venue at Moore Park is ready," he said.

"We see the two-mode concept as a vital part of the construction for ourselves and our fellow tenants and we will be working with the Sydney Cricket Ground Trust and New South Wales Government to ensure this outcome becomes a reality."

A spokesman for NSW Rugby Union told The Sydney Morning Herald the organisation was "excited" about a new home for the Waratahs, but added that "throughout the consultation process, NSW Rugby made the inclusion of a curtain within the stadium's top tier a priority".

And, NRL champions, the Roosters, told The Daily Telegraph they still considered it "fundamentally important" to the design.

The new stadium is tipped to open in 2022 in time for the NRL Grand Final.
The new stadium is tipped to open in 2022 in time for the NRL Grand Final.

"The LED curtain was a key feature to the original design of the stadium that we supported," Roosters CEO Joe Kelly told the newspaper. "In the context of our regular crowds and creating the best possible match day experience, the inclusion of this technology is fundamentally important."

After Wednesday's costing announcement, NSW Labor blasted the government's handling of the project, with Opposition leader Jodi McKay accusing the Premier of "lying" about a "signature election commitment".

"She not only lied that she had a construction contract sorted when she didn't, she also broke a promise the stadium would be on time and on budget," Ms McKay wrote on Twitter.

"(The) demolition in Sydney that shouldn't even have happened when we have bushfires, drought and underfunded hospitals, schools, TAFE. She has a lot of explaining to do."

However, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the new deal with John Holland was the best value for taxpayers' money.

"While the estimated total cost for this build is higher than what we originally anticipated, it is much better value than what we would have achieved had we not gone back to the market," she said in a statement.

Lendlease had originally been earmarked for both the stadium's demolition and reconstruction, but performed only the former role - knocking down the former stadium in the midst of a state election in March.

However, by July, the NSW Government had announced that Lendlease was not able to complete the stadium's rebuild on time or on budget.

"It is important to deliver the world-class stadium we promised to attract the best events to our state," added Ms Berejiklian.