Miscellaneous 30 Sep 2006 10:10 am

SCG Membership – a dilemma

In about 1984 I put myself on the waiting list to become a Member of the Sydney Cricket Ground. For the cricket, you understand, not the footy.

Ten years or so later, I finally became a member. Since then, I’ve attended as many international matches as possible at the SCG. I’ve always paid extra to receive a guest ticket, and I have enjoyed taking my friends and familiy with me for a relaxing day watching the flannelled fools.

In recent years, the popularity of cricket – both test and one-day – has grown tremendously. Just about every day of every international match at the SCG is now a sellout. By agreement with the various interested parties, every day’s play in Sydney is now broadcast live into Sydney.

Now, you might think that it’s all beer and skittles for members. You might think that members can waltz into a great seat for every match, and then sit around eating strawberries and cream while sipping on French champagne.

Let me tell you: it’s just not like that. There are MANY more members of the SCG than there are seats in the Members’ Enclosure. (The exact level of over-subscription seems to be a closely-guarded secret.)

The up-shot of this is that if you are a member (you know, a cricket-lover and long-term supporter of the game), you have to turn up and join a queue hours before the start of play in order to secure a preferred seat. When the gates open, you participate in the ‘Paddington Gift’ – a no-holds-barred free-for-all rush for seats. Old men with walking frames are tosed aside as the younger and fitter charge up the stairs and escalators.

The best seats for watching the cricket are in the top of the MA Noble stand – just in front of where the TV and radio commentators sit. These seats are up high, under cover, and almost directly behind the bowler’s arm. Seats in the old Member’s Stand itself are also in high demand, as these are near the players’ rooms and benefit from the beautiful old architecture and atmosphere. (I observe that bishops and Deans of cathedrals seem to prefer to sit in the old Members’ Stand.)

Just how early does all this start? For a good seat on the first few days of a test match, you’ll want to be lined up outside the ground well before 6.00am. Five hours before the start of play. Five hours before those who’ve bought tickets in the rest of the ground need to turn up for their reserved seats.

When the gates open (usually 8.00am on a test match day), you can count on the Noble stand filling up withing ten to fifteen minutes. It feels odd to be sitting in a packed grandstand at 8.00am looking out over the empty expanses of the other stands, watching nothing happen. But this is what you must deal with if you are a member who makes the regular commitment to paying the subscription.

For the last few years, there has been a way to ease the pain. The SCG Trust has set aside a small proportion (probably less the 15%) of seats in the Members’ Enclosure as ‘booked seats’. For a fee (between $10 and $20 per seat) members have been able to reserve a seat in these good-but-not-great seating areas. The booked seats were sold via Ticketek on a first-come-first-served basis, and it’s been possible to choose and secure booked seats that are, for example, undercover. For those who have been organised enough to book early, this system has offered some relief from the match-day queues. I have used this system extensively.

For the 2006/7 international cricket season, things are going to be tougher. England is coming to Australia to defend the Ashes they so craftily won last year. It should be a great series. Seats in the Members’ Enclosure will be at a premium. Several mailings from the SCG trust have warned members that membership doesn’t guarantee a seat.

So just how is the trust handling this expected demand? Are they increasing the efficiency and flexibility of the pre-booked seating system?

Far from it!

For the first couple of days of the test match, the number of bookable seats looks to be about the same as in years past – not more. Some of the bookable seats are in a grandstand that is almost 90 degrees to the pitch – and any fan will tell you that’s not where you want to be to watch cricket.

For all the other days of international cricket, there are fewer bookable seats than in years past.

For all matches, the bookable seats will be allocated by ballot. You can’t choose a seat that’s guaranteed to be under cover. You can’t guarantee which day (or days) you’ll get a seat, or whether you’ll even get one at all. If you want to sit in a group with other members, you have to apply to the ballot ‘en bloc’, and the whole group then gets just one ballot entry.

Add to all this: the subscription fees have risen at twice the CPI.

What’s a feller to do? The value of a membership seems to be diminishing while the price goes up. The behaviour in the Members’ Enclosure is deteriorating (especially at one-day matches) – so the safe-haven value is declining. The matches are all on the telly now, so there’s no NEED to go to the ground. And how long can it be before the SCG loses cricket to the Olympic Stadium – which has better transport access and twice the capacity!

In the next two weeks, I have to decide whether to pay up for 2006/7. I think I’m inclining towards just letting my membership lapse. I just can’t see the point of paying up-front to be a member but then having worse seats and longer queues than those who aren’t.

Of course, once gone a membership is not easily regained. If I wanted to rejoin, I’d be on the ten year waiting list again.

What do you think?

One Response to “SCG Membership – a dilemma”

  1. on 11 Jun 2010 at 17:08 (Sydney) 1.Nick said …

    hope you didn’t give it up mate, i’m due mine in 2020