Coopers Stadium: what does the future hold?

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Before any election there are numerous proposals made and many are quickly forgotten after the polls close. But one that hasn’t been forgotten is the upgrade to Coopers Stadium, the home of Adelaide United.

Rumours abounded in February that the ground could receive an impressive $75 million face-lift but the speculation has died down.

The proposal included the addition of an ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (EFTE) roof, similar to that used at the neighbouring Adelaide Entertainment Centre, as well as Major League Soccer stadium BC Place, Munich’s Allianz Arena, and Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

An increase in capacity to 25,000 was also on the agenda as the stadium would form a crucial part of Adelaide’s potential bid to host the Commonwealth Games.

Adelaide Entertainment Corporation (AEC) runs the nearby Entertainment Centre and took control of Coopers Stadium in July of 2013. Chief executive Anthony Kirchner said in February that there were funds allocated for minor facelifts, but greater investment would be needed in the long term.

“AEC has already earmarked $4 million in upgrades to Coopers Stadium over the next two years but at some point there is going to be the need for a more significant investment,” he said.

Part of that $4 million this year will go towards installing red seats throughout the ground as well as a new elevator in the Western grandstand, and increasing the number of food and beverage outlets. Around $400,000 has also been allocated towards a much needed refurbishment of the players changing rooms.

There is another side to these potential upgrades to Coopers Stadium and that is the war of words between Adelaide United and the AEC, who have differing views on the finances of their rental agreement.

United feel that increases in the price of rent are unjustifiable, while the AEC state that the Reds enjoy the cheapest stadium deal among the nine Australian based A-League clubs. United are apparently paying 12.6% more this season than last but Kirchner says the new figure is still well below most other clubs.

“It’s the best venue hiring deal in the A-League, with comparable franchises paying an average of $66,500 per event day.”

The gripe that United have is two-fold. They believe the increase in rent is too sharp and are also frustrated with the lack of progress on the promised upgrades. Adelaide United chairman Greg Griffin said that the rent had doubled in the space of three years.

“We took over this club to help keep an A-League side in South Australia, but I don’t think we would have done so if we knew that the rent would go up 100 per cent in three years. They basically haven’t spent a cent on the place since 2000. The change rooms are terrible and it needs investment just to get it to A-League standard. Without us, Hindmarsh (Coopers) Stadium would be a white elephant.”

The last sentence in that quote is perhaps the most telling. United need Coopers Stadium and the AEC definitely needs United, but Griffin appears to be open to moving (or at least threatening to do so).

There are a few options around Adelaide including Norwood Oval or Thebarton Oval, where United currently train a few times a week. But neither is ideally suited and would require significant investment, much like Coopers does. But if the rent is quite cheap comparatively then the Reds could benefit from a move.

If United were to move away from Coopers it would represent a major blow for the AEC. There is no other income stream from the ground aside from local games for a handful of weekends every year.

The talk of luring a rugby league team to play a number of games at Coopers every season is fanciful at this stage, and if United decide to move, the AEC could have a white elephant on their hands as Griffin suggests.

The opportunity exists for United to move a couple of games every season to the newly redeveloped Adelaide Oval, which has a capacity of over 50,000. The rent per match day at the Oval is also believed to be significantly lower than what United currently pays.

The Reds have a spiritual home at Coopers, which really developed during their Asian Champions League success in 2008, and grew further with more good performances in the 2012 campaign. These memories are why fans want to stay at Coopers but also want to see the promised upgrades taking place to ensure a better experience for all.

Although the two sides are yet to come to an agreement the likelihood is that United will be playing at Coopers for years to come. There is simply nowhere else ideal for them to relocate to, and the AEC needs a regular tenant at Coopers.

But Adelaide United wants the AEC to invest in significantly upgrading Coopers Stadium or they may be forced to look at other options.

Andrew Cussen

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