20 years on from stadium’s frantic start
By David Schout
It’s 20 years since Docklands Stadium opened its doors, and while the ground has generated a fair share of controversies over the years, it remains a critical piece of Docklands furniture.
It was March 9, 2000, and Essendon was playing Port Adelaide in the AFL season opener at the league’s new glitzy, roof-retractable Colonial Stadium.
Built to replace Waverley Park and become Melbourne’s second AFL venue, fans flocked to the new stadium on the balmy night with an equal mix of excitement and intrigue.
What they got, however, was ticketing issues, long queues and a playing surface the AFL eventually admitted was not ready for games.
In the weeks leading up to the first match, the league had rushed to get the venue ready, but encountered many issues on opening night.
“Lights, camera, action … and most fans are still outside,” Caroline Wilson’s report in The Age read.
“The $460 million stadium, which probably needed at least another month for completion, opened in desperation and with much trepidation last night. But as far as the AFL was concerned, the show had to go on.”
The night saw Essendon run out 94-point winners, while Michael Long ensured his name would feature in pub quizzes for years to come as the first ever goalkicker at the venue.
Former AFL chief executive Wayne Jackson has since admitted the surface was not up to standard for the opener.
While footy has remained the stadium’s bread and butter (the AFL now owns the venue), it has hosted a range of other sports, events and concerts.
In fact, just six days after the Essendon v Port Adelaide match, Barbra Streisand played in front of 70,000 fans - the first of many concerts to come.
After a rocky start, the stadium slowly became accepted within the AFL community, notwithstanding constant media speculation about the state of the surface, which at its worst would see players slipping and even injuring themselves on the sub-standard turf.
While Colonial bank had paid for 10-year naming rights, soon after the stadium’s opening it was taken over by Commonwealth Bank who later on-sold the rights to Telstra at the end of the 2002 AFL season.
The stadium was then known as Telstra Dome - or more colloquially, “the Dome” - until 2009 when Etihad Airways took over naming rights.
In September 2018 a deal with Walt Disney Company Australia, the parent company of Marvel Entertainment, would see it renamed Marvel Stadium until at least 2026.
Long-awaited details on the stadium precinct’s redevelopment remains unclear, despite the state government in 2018 pledging $225 million to the project in a landmark deal with the AFL.
It is hoped the redevelopment of the stadium precinct will improve the economic potential of the area during both events and non-event days.
Among a swathe of changes, the large-scale upgrades propose a “more vibrant” connectivity with the stadium and both the CBD and Southern Cross Station, plus new public space on the southern end of the concourse •