Stadium Journey: Unrivalled A-League Fan Experience in Melbourne City
Melbourne’s 30,000-seat AAMI Park (or Melbourne Rectangular Stadium for FIFA purposes) is one of Melbourne’s premier sporting stadiums and plays host to rugby union (Super Rugby’s Melbourne Rebel’s), rugby league (The NRL’s Melbourne Storm) and the A-League football team Melbourne City.
The outdoor sports stadium, which is owned by the Victorian Government and located about 1km to the east of the Central Business District, was built in 2010 and has five tenants across three sports. The stadium has hosted Asian Cup football matches as well as Four Nations rugby league games. The venue will also host matches during the upcoming 2017 rugby league world cup. AAMI Park has also played host to gigs from notable bands like the Foo Fighters and Taylor Swift.
The $270 million stadium design features an interesting “Bioframe” design, with a geodesic dome roof that covers most of the seats while also still allowing light through to the field. The northern and southern sides of the stadium are called the Olympic Side and Yarra Side, while the exterior of the stadium is covered in thousands of LED lights which can be programmed to display a variety of patterns and images to highlight the home team for that respective game. Furthermore, the stadium won the award for the most iconic and culturally significant stadium at the 2012 World Stadium Awards.
While the name Melbourne City Football Club might be relatively new to Australia’s premier football competition, the Hyundai A-League, the professional team certainly is not. The club was founded in 2009 as the Melbourne Heart and played under that name from its inaugural 2010–11 season until it was acquired and subsequently rebranded in mid-2014 by the City Football Group who hold full ownership of the club.
Food & Beverage 3
AAMI Park offers an array of typical sports stadium grub with a few interesting additions that add to the appetite of fans and delivers a better food fan experience than some other stadiums.
The stadium food on offer is the general type of bain-marie food items that one would see at a major stadium with items on offer such as the usual easily cooked hot dogs, meat pies, chips, chicken strips and chips, burgers, fish and chips, and more of the usual fare. There are some healthier options such as sandwiches and wraps however in terms of dietary requirements, there is no gluten free or vegan food to be found, which is interesting given the way other stadiums are moving in this direction.
One thing that is good to see from a fan experience perspective is that there is also a German-inspired sausage stand selling big gourmet sausages in crusty bread rolls that have large lines as people obviously find this an enticing food option.
AAMI Park offers a restaurant located on the external concourse of the stadium called The Bench, which is a place where fans can meet for a drink and a meal prior to the match. The Bench is open from 2.5 hours before kick-off and offers gourmet pub food like BBQ ribs, mushroom burgers, chicken parmigiana, and pizzas.
Staff are attentive and polite with positive attitudes and while there are long lines at the food stands these move fast.
Outside the stadium, local clubs are allowed to sell items to raise money for their clubs with members from Melbourne team Bentleigh Greens selling an array of sweet and savoury nuts that fans grab by the bag full as a quick pre-game snack.
The drinks that are available inside the stadium are again typical of a major stadium beverage contract and include the standard Coca-Cola varieties along with water, juice, and iced tea.
Alcoholic drinks are limited to mid-strength including Carlton-Mid and Hahn Light beer. Spirits such as Jack Daniels as well as Bulmer’s cider are also available, which is good to see as many stadiums don’t actually do cider.
Responsible service of alcohol rules prevent full strength drinks and punters from purchasing more than four beers or two spirits in one visit to the bar which is fairly standard across Australia’s stadiums.
One thing that is annoying here is seeing 30 odd sad pre-poured beers lined up at half time with no head on them. In an obvious attempt to move the beer lines faster, this is a disturbing standard practice for public stadium bars but it’s one that many fans have great frustration with as fans really want an ice cold freshly poured beer as well as one without small bugs on the head as was seen here, due to not washing the taps out properly. During my recent visit, the venue did however replace this beer and were happy to do so saying that it ‘does happen from time to time.
While there is no genuine craft beer here, the other issue with both the light beer and spirits is that they are poured from cans into plastic cups (no glass or cans inside stadium for safety issues), meaning that the drinks lose some of their chill when poured and from a staffing perspective seems like a lot more work. However they compensate for this by having an ice bucket to use to add ice to your spirits. The ice bucket was filled when I bought drinks on two occasions, but at halftime it was empty and staff were too busy to refill it.
Water is available inside the stadium to fill bottles up with, which in summer is very beneficial for fans.
Overall, you’ll find a selection of typical stadium food and drinks with a few interesting additions that provide some extra incentive to take a punt and enjoy some stadium grub here. Perfect for a day at the footy!
The walk to the stadium is peppered with lively bars and cafes as fans sing songs and march to the ground before games. Fans here are vocal and passionate both outside the ground and inside as well, and one can feel the anticipation building prior to the match.
The all-seated intimate stadium is a rectangular football stadium, which has a unique ‘bioframe’ design featuring 30,000 seats. While there are no cup holders or padded seats, the stadium does offer an exceptional viewing experience for fans regardless of where they sit. Seats are ample in size and offer good pitch and rake as well as sight lines to be able to see all of the action on the field.
The seats make you feel close to the finely prepared grass while two TV scoreboards provide data insights, highlights and replays for fans that adds to the fan experience.
The stadium’s unique lighting design means that teams can have their colours represented on the roof throughout the match, which is a good thing seeing as multiple tenants use this space.
The first impressions of the fan engagement activations is one of pure class. The Melbourne City ‘City-Square’ fan zone is an outstanding set up that includes skills drills tests for young fans, gourmet food trucks, EA Sport FIFA gaming stations, penalty shoot-outs, membership support, merchandise tents, competitions, giveaways, raffles and other events. The fan zone is inside an area known as Gosch’s Paddock that includes a number of grassy fields where kids can kick footballs with their friends or family.
Inside the stadium the fan engagement continues with fans being allowed to play FIFA16 against one another on the big screens, which entertains fans in the stands and those lining up to buy food and drink.
City fans are loud and entertaining as they sign songs, chant war cry’s and offer funny banter with the rival team. There is a constant vocal noise typical of a lively football match that is a constant throughout the game, which really adds to the night’s atmosphere.
Seating options are plentiful and all offer a good view of the field. The two ends are cheaper than the east and west stands which offer corporate searing and a centre view of the field, making it possibly a slightly better view to take in the whole ground.
Most of the stadium offers cover from the elements, however the first few rows of each stand would potentially become wet regardless of the roof protection during heavy rains.
The stadium offers general admission, although many games are also reserved seating due to members seating and for bigger matches or sold out events.
While away fans are positioned into one far end corner of the stadium this is more so they can all be with their fellow supporters as generally for football matches here, fans can sit alongside fans of the opposing team without any aggression.
The stadium is set in the heart of Melbourne with the Central Business District only a short walk away with ample transport and well lit walking paths, makes it very accessible.
The Richmond area is surrounded by a bustling nightlife featuring award winning restaurants, tasty pub menus, craft beer bars, and supermarkets. Fans can take advantage of the local shopping and sightseeing around this area before a game while also stopping in at various bars pre game where fans of all teams are welcomed, albeit with a bit of cheeky banter.
The area to and from the stadium, either from Richmond or Jolimont train station or from walking via the city is very safe and secure, not least due to the large amount of people riding bikes or walking on the foot paths to either the stadium or local bars.
There are literally hundreds of quality bars and restaurants to try either on the walk to the stadium or in the Richmond area if that’s where you disembark on the train.
From modern Australian food like burgers and seafood or chicken and chips, Melbourne is famous for it’s vegetarian and vegan options as well so buying affordable food and drinks that are also healthy is something which is very easy near the stadium.
Melbourne also has a wide selection of craft beer bars and craft beer on tap at pretty much every bar, so if good beer is your thing then you will not be disappointed. A must would be to try Slowbeer in Richmond, as well as Holliava which is quite close to the stadium.
In terms of attractions and entertainment, there are a variety of nightclubs and bars in the area which are worth investigating. From rock and roll music venue, The Corner Hotel to the rollicking 9T4 bar, there is a bar for any fan.
There are plenty of close hotel options that fans could choose to stay at in the Olympic Park area. However, with the city only a short walk away it would be wise to find a hotel in the CBD and take the short tram or train ride or walk to and from the stadium. Melbourne offers an abundance of premium to backpacker style accommodation listings making it easy to find a place to stay. One hotel that is both affordable and close to the stadium is the Pullman Melbourne on the Park.
The AAMI Park stadium is home to some of the most passionate fans in Australia with the relatively new Melbourne City FC fans being a vocal force that channel the traditions and history of the former team, Melbourne Heart, along with the club’s ties to Manchester City FC in England.
Melbourne City fans are positive, passionate, happy, and respectful fans who are well behaved and offer a good family-friendly vibe to home games here. Fans are loyal and supportive of both their team and the opposing team, and are youthful in terms of membership.
It’s obvious here that Melbourne City fans love their club, with huge turnout for the City Square fan zone where families and fans of both teams, but more predominantly City fans, are engaging with team reps and mascots before the game starts.
Average attendances for Melbourne City A-League games hovers around 10,000-15,000 per game with bigger matches against the likes of Melbourne Victory or Sydney FC drawing even bigger crowds. The team offers a type of flair and attractive football that is not seen frequently in the A-League.
The crowd is loud and excitable here and throughout the match the noise is a constant with war cries and singing ringing throughout the stadium’s terraces. City fans wave team flags and their colours throughout the entire match and are entertaining in their banter with fellow fans.
The venue is well equipped for people with special needs as the accessibility in Melbourne from the transport, pathways to the ground and the stadium itself with lifts and disabled seating is world class.
Once inside the stadium, it is very easy to walk around as there is ample space to move about and find your seats, toilets, food and drink, or exits. Toilets and snack bars are plentiful with the best time to visit each of these just before half time.
Exiting the stadium is a breeze and can be done in only a few minutes. However, traffic builds up quickly on Punt Road and on Olympic Boulevard meaning that grabbing a taxi or getting your car out can be troublesome.
Walking is by far the best option and can be done easily back to the city by following the majority of the crowd who are also walking back there meaning that this is a safe, healthy, and fast way to get back into the city to catch a train or tram home from there.
Transport runs until about 1am in Melbourne with the trams running even later for night routes. Most transport is very cheap at around $4 per ride, but you do need to have a MYKI transport card which can be picked up at most 7/11’s or newsagents in the city or suburbs.
Ubers to and from the city cost about $10 or less provided there is no traffic, while a taxi would be around $16-$20.
Public transport is incredibly easy to use and ride to the game here. A Melbourne transport card (MYKI) costs $6 and can get fans to the game in about 5-10 mins from the city either by trams or suburban trains. Two train stations (Richmond and Flagstaff) serve the stadium area and run well before and after the final whistle.
Parking is available in the Melbourne Olympic Parks precinct for under $30 per car. However, you can also drive and park for free in local streets where the time limits are 2 or 3 hours. Just be careful regarding what the signs state.
Fans can park in the Richmond area, which is only a 10-15 minute walk to the stadium. There are signs here warning of 2-3 hour parking and permit only zones for local residents. Whatever you do, do not park in a driveway or in a tow away or loading zone as the parking inspectors will get you!
Paid parking is an option and starts at $3 per hour, which is quite affordable for a match day.
Avoid on street parking along Olympic Boulevard and Bridge Road as when the stadium empties, all the fans walk along these roads meaning that your car is less safe as thousands of people walk between cars increasing the chance of accidental damage.
The stadium’s gates all offer easy access into the ground, but most fans will enter via the Olympic Boulevard end’s as this is where the majority of the ticket booths are located.
There are different security checks that range from metal detector wands to pat downs and bag searches depending on the match.
The venue accepts ticketless QR code ticketing as well as standard stadium tickets each of which is scanned upon entry.
Fans are advised to arrive early as ticket collection and entry into the stadium can get busy before play starts.
Concourse traffic is generally busy right before the match starts or at half time, but due to the size of the venue, it’s quite easy to walk around the whole stadium with ease. The main concourse does not have a view of the pitch, except on the third level east and west stand, but fans will be advised to move on as these areas are walkways and for people in wheelchair spaces.
The toilets, bars, and food areas are all very well maintained and cleaned throughout the event, so the venue itself is one which is very clean and tidy.
Return on Investment 4
A match at AAMI Park is worth the time and effort, as this is a world class venue that offers an intimate setting for watching live sport.
From exceptional fan engagement, superb pitch and comfy seats to inexpensive tickets, unique food items and easy transportation, this is a venue worth watching a match at.
Ticket prices are around the $20-$30 mark for the cheapest seats and range up to $60-$80 for the halfway line seats. Corporate functions and all inclusive seats are more expensive.
Melbourne City offer various ticket promotions for members and fans including ticket discounts on match days to members.
Fans are encouraged to sign up to City-Zen which is the global fan site of the City group where fans can gain exclusive discounts, giveaways, and prizes.
The free match day programs and scarves for fans were an unexpected present that fans were delighted to on match day during a recent visit. Parking and transport near the stadium is easy, food and drink is fresh and healthy, and the fan engagement is world class. Ticketing is a breeze as is the purple red sunset that falls over the stadium in summer for twilight games.
A Melbourne City A-League game at AAMI Park is an outstanding fan experience that offers fans a variety of best practice fan activities, tasty food and drinks, vocal atmosphere, and entertaining football. This is a must do sporting event in Melbourne!