Often derided as a game for the working class, rugby league is now setting its sights on capturing the top end of town – and if the corporate hospitality on offer at suburban grounds is anything to go by, it’s working, Ben Shine reports.
It’s 3pm and the rain is sheeting down on the poncho’d masses huddling on the grass hill at Leichhardt Oval. Some hold an umbrella over their heads to shield them from the downpour to catch a glimpse of the Tigers taking on Manly, while others huddle under cover in long queues to buy $6 cans of VB or to use the ancient, odorous toilet facilities.
Thankfully, The Public Apology has been invited to the much more salubrious environment of the corporate suites and therefore does not have to contend with such common concerns.
In recent years some commentators have decried the lack of corporate hospitality packages available at suburban grounds such as Leichhardt Oval. These claims have been used to advance an argument that all rugby league games should be played in stadiums like ANZ at Homebush (so clubs can attract more corporate support, i.e. money). However this writer’s experience puts paid to this argument.
Indeed, the Wests Tigers have really pulled out all stops to make an afternoon at Leichhardt Oval the best corporate sporting experience in the country.
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Upon arriving to Leichhardt Oval, I was chaperoned by delightfully cheery service staff past the vociferous, black-and-gold adorned supporters in the general admission section, to your allocated seat in the outdoor box. The seats offer a fantastic view of the ground, scoreboard and TV screen, so you can catch all the action unimpeded.
Almost immediately after sitting down I was offered a drink from a wide variety of options – VB, Carlton Draught and Cascade Light, as well as numerous soft drink choices. Rather than table service, you have access to your own personal fridge on demand, making refreshment top-ups more convenient.
And then there’s the food. For starters there is a lovely selection of crisps, dips and bruschetta – a mezze plate, if you will. Main course is a spritely chicken and rice combo, with a side of exotic Greek salad.
But in terms of food, the real judgement should be reserved for the dessert options. And that’s where Leichhardt Oval truly delivers. Not only were guests treated to a stunning array of petit fors, but we were also hand-delivered freshly-baked scones with cream and jam. These delicious treats evoke memories of cold winters spent at one’s rural property in the Southern Highlands, reclining by the fire after a hard day’s antiquing and indulging in the delights of warm dough enveloped in rich, fluffy cream and a smattering of locally-sourced artisanal preserve. These treats are a great addition on a cold Autumn’s afternoon and a sure-fire way to start a conversation with your guests about whose Nanna has the best recipe!
In modern day Australia, sporting events have taken the place of the pub as the backdrop for business meetings and networking events. Sports codes and clubs compete heavily for the business dollar, and Leichhardt Oval doesn’t disappoint when it comes to providing an appropriate setting to discuss business opportunities and make new connections in the corporate world.
Not only does the box provide a great place to entertain potential clients and guests, but by being located next to the coaches, media and players’ areas allow one to mingle with the upper echelon of the sports world. During my visit to Leichhardt I bumped into high-profile personalities Wendell Sailor, Gordon Tallis and Dean Halatau.
All up, an afternoon spent watching football and being pampered at Leichhardt Oval shows that after years of being the poorer cousin, rugby league can finally punch with the big earners and give the corporate world the luxurious experience they crave.
Whether it is the creature comforts like meat pies and a wide selection of beers, or the opportunity to hobnob with the game’s leading lights, it’s fair to say we may start seeing more and more “high value customers” – the type that in the past have been exclusively the domain of rugby union games – popping up at suburban venues to not just enjoy the sport on offer but to relax and mingle in the manner to which they have become accustomed.
With improvements to transport infrastructure, such as mooring facilities for one’s yacht, mooted for future development, it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing those Tahs’ fans migrate a little further west.
Ben Shine attended Leichhardt Oval as a guest of an unnamed corporate sponsor.