After Olympians Leave (Sydney)The following article appeared in The New York Times Newspaper on 18th May 2001.
Marion Jones, Cathy Freeman and Michael Johnson would hardly recognize the scene of their Olympic triumphs here last September.
At Stadium Australia, the main arena of the Sydney Games, the track has been ripped up and 30,000 of the 110,000 seats have been marked for removal. The largest Olympic stadium ever built is being stripped for new action and struggling to find a future.
"Last September, this was the center of world sport," Ken Edwards, the stadium's chief executive, said. "Now we are just a start-up business."
Edwards is immersed in "negotiations and renegotiations" with sports administrators, seeking long-term bookings in what he says is a very competitive market. Olympic fame is fine, but it doesn't clinch contracts in a city well provided with other sports facilities.
Track and field events are not even on Edwards's sales pitch because Australia is remote and off- season for the annual pro circuits of major meets. And unlike Atlanta, where the Braves took over the Olympic arena after the 1996 Games - it became Turner Field - Sydney has no sports team waiting to move in.
With the Olympic glamour fading, recruiting regular events and crowds to the stadium is a long-term task to test the patience of the investors and lenders who have committed $300 million for a 30-year lease of the stadium.
Football, in its four local varieties, and international cricket, with its seamless summer seasons, are the businesses sought by rival stadium owners and managers here, just as football and baseball programs are crucial to arena investors in the United States.
Edwards faces delays and obstacles involving naming rights, tenant teams, football fixtures and persuading more major sport and entertainment events to switch from their usual downtown sites to the Olympic precinct 10 miles from Sydney's business center.
With liabilities of $100 million, little cash flow and losses of about $20 million since it opened two years ago, the stadium is currently earning more from tourists - 500 a day pay $10 for a one-hour visit - than from ticket sales.
Earlier, its promoters said they hoped to stage about 40 sports events a year with an average attendance of 40,000. The latest financial plan halves that estimate. The stadium does not yet have enough major events to pay its way, with fewer than 10 big games scheduled this year. For example, the stadium has so far booked only five major rugby games for the June-through-September second half of that season.
The stadium will not be ready until next year to stage Australian Rules football, the 18-a-side contest that, with soccer, is the winter sport played most widely in this country. Because Australian Rules games require a field about 60 yards by 120 yards, the size and shape of the stadium's playing area, and the number and sight lines of its seats, are being reconfigured at a cost of $35 million.
By 2003, there will also be roofing for two open sections, providing 90 percent coverage.
This complex two-year makeover is ambitious and optimistic, requiring major commitments by users from rugby internationals to cricket under the lights.
None of these sports - nor the stadium owners - are interested in using the vast, high-rent space for routine games before small audiences dwarfed by its scale.
Thus the Olympic stadium has to find a profitable way to become something new in sport in Australia but increasingly common in the United States and Europe: a big-event arena that is closed most of the time, except to tourists roaming the bleachers for souvenir photographs.