Eels seek to be part of government stadium deal

PARRAMATTA have held preliminary discussions with the NSW minister for sport, Graham Annesley, about the potential for a new "state of the art" stadium.

During the next few months, the NSW state government will begin investigating its options for the investment strategy they announced last year, which didn't include funding to upgrade the dilapidated suburban grounds.

The report that Annesley tabled outlined a plan to invest in major sporting venues like ANZ Stadium and Allianz Stadium, as well as the construction of a new ground in western Sydney or the redevelopment of either Parramatta Stadium, Centrebet Stadium or Campbelltown Stadium.

Eels boss Ken Edwards has begun the push for a new rectangular ground to be built in Parramatta that would see the region become the new sporting hub of the west. While specific details weren't discussed, Edwards made no secret of his desire to persuade the state government to invest in Parramatta.

Aiding their push for a new stadium in Parramatta is the meteoric rise, both on and off the field, of A-League's new boys the Western Sydney Wanderers.

The Wanderers have managed to average a crowd of 15,000 for their last three home games, and so strong has the support been for Tony Popovic's side in their debut season, they sold out of jerseys before Christmas.

The Eels have put in place a five-year strategic plan that, if followed out, will see them reach 40,000 members by 2017.

If they fulfil their plans, they will no longer be able to play out of Parramatta Stadium in its current format due to its 20,000 seating capacity. The state government will also consult Wests Tigers and Penrith when they begin their investigations in the coming months.

"We've talked about the strategy at some stage when the money becomes available," Annesley said.

"The decision of the location on a stadium in western Sydney needs to meet the needs of the west. We already have got a stadium in Parramatta with Parramatta Stadium, but the strategy didn't identify whether we would update an existing ground or build a new stadium. The western Sydney NRL clubs, they'd all need to be consulted and a view on the best location would be made."

The news comes after Parramatta confirmed a Fairfax Media report on Tuesday revealing the Eels and major sponsor Pirtek had agreed to part ways at the end of the season.

The Eels haven't begun negotiations to line up a new sponsor for next year but Edwards doesn't believe the Australian Crime Commission's investigations, which has already cost several clubs sponsorship deals, will impact on the Eels' ability to secure a naming rights partner beyond the end of the year.

"I can only talk on behalf of Parramatta, but I'm not sensing there's an issue for us," he said.

"I'm not saying there might not be an issue for others, but the board rooms that I deal in or have been in the last few weeks would indicate that people have confidence the NRL will deal with this and as quickly as possible."

The timing of a new deal could impact on whether the Eels are able to find a new major sponsor willing to pay the $1.5 million they are asking for.

If the Eels hold off on signing a new partner until later in the year and enjoy plenty of success under new coach Ricky Stuart, Parramatta's value could benefit from it.

But there is also the chance it could have the opposite effect if the Eels struggle to improve on their disappointing past three seasons.

However Edwards is confident the club will attract a major sponsor, regardless of how the football team performs.

"We're building a club that is not totally dependable on on-field results," he said. "I think Souths are a really good example of a club who have built a sustainable business model since they were re-admitted to the competition, without winning on the field."

Management team ... from left, Eels Group CEO Bob Bentley, Coach Ricky Stuart and Eels Club CEO Ken Edwards. Picture: Wolter Peeters

Management team ... from left, Eels Group CEO Bob Bentley, Coach Ricky Stuart and Eels Club CEO Ken Edwards. Picture: Wolter Peeters


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