AUS LEISURE MAG: The Best In The West: Bankwest Stadium Parramatta Eels NRL Fan Experience Review
The game-day fan experience continues to rapidly evolve on a daily basis with global venues going all out for sports fans through enhancements to areas such as hospitality, seating, catering, technology and accessibility all in an effort to create better fan-friendly destinations and unforgettable experiences as well as further drive new revenue opportunities.
Recent fan experience developments to venues have for instance seen the addition of a craft beer microbrewery at Tottenham Hotspur’s dazzling new stadium in London while Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles focused on a foodies experience for LAFC fans by including concession items from some of the best local chefs and restaurants in LA. Meanwhile, under construction venues such as Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas will feature a retractable roof as part of their climate-controllable venue while Hungary’s new Puskás Arena in Budapest will include a running track perched above the stands with panoramic views over the city. These impressive modern stadium designs are just a few features which highlight that it’s truly never been a more exciting time to be a sports fan as venues around the world constantly seek to improve the fan experience for spectators to get them off the couch and into venues.
Another venue putting fans and the fan experience front and centre on game day through a raft of impressive features is Australia’s latest major venue, Parramatta’s spectacular Bankwest Stadium situated on the banks of the Parramatta River in Western Sydney. In my latest fan experience review here for AUS Leisure I take a look at the impressive NSW Government funded Bankwest Stadium from a recent Parramatta Eels NRL match here to highlight both how they are achieving best practice fan experience and the lessons that other venues can learn to improve and enhance their own venue fan experiences.
The fan journey often begins with either the ticket buying experience or with transport to the game and as I began my journey to the venue via a train from Sydney’s Central Station it was instantly impressive to see integrated ticketing in effect with free public transport included as part of every match day ticket. The venue is well serviced by multiple public transport options such as trains, ferries and buses with my train only taking 25 minutes to arrive into the Parramatta Transport Interchange in the Parramatta CBD. It was then just a short walk to the ground through the bustling Church Street precinct that was heavily decorated in Parramatta Eels colours. Navigating the route to a venue can also sometimes be difficult however the addition of bright pink way-finding signage and helpful Transport for NSW support staff provided extra assistance for fans to easily locate the stadium. It was good to see that bike parking racks are also located just out the front of the gates highlighting that there’s multiple ways to access the venue on game days.
After a seamless entry through the ticket gates, a thorough bag search and an unexpected but very welcome positive greeting from a jovial security guard, I made my way into the ground and was instantly blown away by the incredible views and close proximity that every seat seems to have of the field of play. As kick off approached and the venue was packed with loud and vocal NRL fans, the deafening roars and cheers elevated the noise to an unprecedented atmosphere in an Australian venue. It felt like a wall of sound had been created from the 30,000 fans packed in here so close to the immaculate turf which looked like lush emerald velvet. These thoughts were echoed by Parramatta Eels tragic and Ladies Who League founder Mary Konstantopoulos who stated to me at the match “The fan experience is exceptional; you are so close to the action and the roar of the crowd sends chills down your spine. Personally though I also love how the history of the Eels is still reflected in the stadium through the Ray Price Statue and the stands named after Eels legends – it’s a nod to the past whilst providing plenty of hope for the future.”.
Venue architect Populous, operators VenuesLive and construction company LendLease have all worked tremendously together to create an outstanding venue that has a variety of clever features such as large open dwell spaces for fans to navigate the concourses and also mingle next to colourful decor that’s still in view of the field. Walking around the venue was easy due to the clear way-finding signs and there is a good use of space inside the concourses with stroller bays for parents to easily park their prams in a secure area under the stands. Outside the stadium there is a kids playground area, basketball court and a street workout gym which all represented a smart use of venue space as well as ensuring that the local community has access to these features whenever they wish. While the venue is very much accessible for all needs, another inclusive approach has been to include unisex toilets which is just another way venues are thinking about looking after all of their spectators and making sure they feel valued on game day.
Bankwest Stadium CEO Daryl Kerry stated that “This is a stadium that was designed and built for the fans with the event experience front of mind and it’s clear that one of the many highlights of the rectangular seating design of the venue is that every spectator feels so close to the action on the field that they can almost reach out and grab the turf from their seats. It became apparent pretty quickly as I criss-crossed my way around the venue that there’s not a bad seat in the house with the views of the field simply breathtaking no matter where you are seated. The high back seats are also spacious and comfortable while the seat rake means you’re pretty much on top of the action and with the atmosphere pumping throughout the day you feel as though you’re much more apart of the spectacle than in other grounds.
Upon checking out the concession outlets and kiosks inside the venue, it was evident that Bankwest Stadium has listened to sports fans as there are a host of clever catering additions and incentives here that already have fans singing the venue’s praises. For instance, game day essentials like sauce and beer trays are free, Bankwest cardholders get 10% off concession items while fan first pricing is in effect with seven key food items like pies and hot chips available for under $5. Moreover, the cost of beer here is closest to the cheapest in any Australian sporting venue starting at $6.50 and even includes craft options such as Furphy and Little Creatures brews which will appease beer drinkers
It was positive to see a focus on sustainability to reduce waste with biodegradable cutlery available instead of plastic and that the venue had researched and identified the changing consumer habits and needs of fans with both quality vegan and gluten free food options all available for fans to purchase. As stadium F&B options continue to improve globally for fans it was exciting to see the focus on flavours that reflected the diversity of the local Western Sydney community as all fans tastes have been catered for through the addition of the ‘High Street’ speciality concession outlets that featured everything from Chinese and BBQ meals to seafood and health food dishes which all looked substantial and delicious when I surveyed the outlets before kick off.
From the crisp and vocal sound coming through the new PA system to the super fast free Wi-Fi, Bankwest Stadium utilises an impressive array of modern technology that’s both interactive and immersive for fans to experience.
The first things to notice when entering the grandstands is how much clearer the sound is from the speakers while the eye-catching and colourful LED ribbons and HD screens create a thrilling tribal atmosphere as they flash out team hype reels and sponsor content across the stands. Sports business leaders TLA Australia and Game Changer MVP have been responsible for revolutionising the match day experience at BankWest Stadium through the in-game fan engagement and entertainment with TLA Australia Head of Events and Consultancy, James Ward, saying “Through our collaboration with Game Changer MVP we are combining global expertise with local knowledge and experience to deliver some amazing content for fans at Bankwest Stadium’.
Across the day I used close to 5GB of data with ease on the stadium network with no drop outs or re-sign while the Parramatta’s screen content and entertainment was electrifying and had the fans in the stands pumped up throughout the match. The Sport LED lighting is also going to be impressive to see here as the lights can be turned on and off with ease for synchronised light and sound shows.
With just three games in for the venue, hirers are still finding their feet with how to make use of the space however the Parramatta Eels put on a first class display for fan engagement by providing activities for fans like a photo booth, face painting and even a living statue artist dressed in Eels colours which was a new one to the fan engagement photo opportunity ideas book. The Eels members bar was also a highlight of the venue where Blue and Gold Army Eels members were able to mingle together in their own dedicated fan space that was decorated in Parra livery.
Having canvassed the concourse and general seating areas, I made my way around to the Western Stand to inspect the corporate hospitality facilities of which on first look seemed there appeared to be an abundance of diverse premium options for guests. While there are indeed plenty of quality lounges, suites and clubs providing both private and premium experiences for networking and dining with gourmet F&B and spectacular views right on top of the field, the jewel in the hospitality crown at Bankwest Stadium is the exclusive and exciting ‘Field Club’. This ‘money cant buy experience’ located at the edge of the playing field allows guests to see the players warming up before they walk through the Field Club and onto the ground which combined with the outstanding views brings patrons so incredibly close to the action like never before.
From the diversity in F&B and the smart architectural design to the unique hospitality and the immersive tech, Bankwest Stadium is a spectacular venue that sets a very high bar for the sports fan experience. This is a world class fan first venue and all stakeholders from the NSW Government down should be applauded for the attention to detail that has gone into its creation as well as the focus on going the extra mile for fans with all the little touches. A Bankwest Stadium game day is an essential bucket list visit for any sports fan and one can only hope that Australian venues continue to put fans and improvements to the fan experience front of mind and look to this venue when creating new event spaces.
Blair Hughes is an award winning, globally respected fan engagement specialist who helps clients in the sports, music and craft beer industries grow their fan bases, improve fan experiences and create new business and revenue opportunities. You can follow him on Twitter at @MrBlairHughes or at