If every great thing comes at a price it is likely Ballarat’s newest asset may be no exception. The Mars Stadium proved both at the inaugural AFL match a month ago and at Saturday’s Central Highlands Football League decider that it is one of the best facilitates in regional Victoria.
A magnificent boutique stadium is certainly a great asset for Ballarat, with all its ancillary economic benefits from AFL games; hopefully so successful that two games per year is just the beginning. Despite losing last month, Bulldogs’ management is more than impressed and is toying with the idea of potentially more games. Make Ballarat a more regular AFL destination; familiarise the commuter with a comfortable “footy train” ride direct to a purpose-built platform on Creswick Road and you will see these benefits multiply. These prestige events are what aptly bring the money in and build a revered reputation.
Wonderful as this all is, it still leaves 363 odd days of the year when Eureka is AFL free and begs the question about what the community can derive from the investment. The elevation of local leagues to play on the elite level playing field is one more great step and the weekend CHFL final generated some positive feedback. In a fortnight’s time it will also be the BFL’s turn. Already the Roosters and Rebels and North Ballarat City can call the oval home and require regular fixtures. But the opportunity should be there for other groups as well including girls football which has seen a meteoric rise and more juniors.
The principle behind this use is the more people get to play on it the more cherished it becomes; the more it becomes a shared and valued community asset. Important when in their own indirect way, the community have paid for it.
We recognise there will always be competing priorities, the sheer logistical difficulty of scheduling and there will also be a balancing act in ensuring a ground can be a community ground but still maintain a playing surface fit for the rigorous standards demanded by the AFL. This presents a difficult trade-off. Similarly some have questioned why spectators were largely kept off the oval at the CHFL final until the completion of the main game. The league said it was efficiency in clearing the ground but many felt a loss of a country footy essential connecting players with fans at the breaks. Like the parochial pleasure of cars parked around the boundaries or standing room at the MCG, somethings are lost to success.