Case study: Optus Stadium – pouring community passion into public infrastructure

by Tiffany Paczek
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Consistent with other Western Australian State Government building projects (for example, hospitals), the Optus Stadium Project Team engaged extensively with end user stakeholders from the planning phase through to delivery. However, given the nature of Optus Stadium as a multi-purpose sports and entertainment facility for the Western Australian community, the influence of external stakeholder feedback was much greater than is typically the case for other public buildings.

The establishment of nine User Groups, including the Sports Fans User Group, was integral to the delivery of the ‘fans first’ aspiration for Optus Stadium and the surrounding Stadium Park. The principle shift in the Optus Stadium project was ensuring the community was not only consulted but also had the capacity to contribute to its design and delivery. This was evident as a real and authentic approach to the project. The shift from consultation to contribution meant that all end User Groups were engaged in the process from the initial briefing stage through to completion.

The usual community consultation process typically confirms current planning and design thinking, much of which is already defined. However, for Optus Stadium, project staff facilitated User Group sessions where all ideas were recorded, and honest feedback was provided, thus ensuring clarity and confidence in the proposed outcome. The User Groups felt ownership and a part of the planning and design process and became strong project advocates in the community.

The contribution allowed all representatives to pour their passion into the project and as a result the community’s passion was represented. The relationships formed resulted in Optus Stadium as the central currency of the work, rather than diverse and conflicting agendas driving the outcome.

COMMUNITY INFORMED PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE DESIGN

Why was there a focus on consultation?

The opening of a new stadium is a significant event in any community and an exciting opportunity for the fans who attend events. In 2012 at the commencement of the planning phase for the Optus Stadium project, one of the first tasks was the development of a Stakeholder Management Plan to consult and liaise with the community, professional sporting teams, government agencies involved in service delivery, local government authorities and, importantly, sports fans who would attend events.

A key project aspiration was to cater for the fans who use the stadium by taking a ‘fans first’ approach to planning and design to create an exceptional event atmosphere.

Identifying the key players

During the planning phase in 2012/13, nine User Groups were established to assist in determining the key stadium design requirements and the development of the specifications for the Project Brief. The User Groups that were established reflected the future users and patrons of the Stadium and included:

  • Sports Fans User Group
  • Access and Inclusion User Group
  • Football (Australian Rules Football) User Group
  • Cricket User Group
  • Rectangular Sports User Group
  • Stadium Events User Group
  • Stadium Operations User Group
  • Emergency Services User Group
  • Media User Group

In recognition of the scale and significance of the Optus Stadium project, during 2012 a Working Group was also formed involving the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC) and there was an agreed consultative process with the Whadjuk Working Party, representing the Traditional Owners of the land where the Stadium is located. This engagement enabled the Whadjuk Working Party to have meaningful participation during the design process to ensure that historical connection to the land was acknowledged and that Aboriginal culture and heritage were reflected in the design.

All the User Group representatives recognised that the Stadium should reflect Perth’s unique culture and history and above all they identified the need to put fans first in the planning and delivery of the stadium.

Sports Fans User group members with Ronnie Hurst on site

Sports Fans User group members with Ronnie Hurst on site

What was the Sports Fans User Group?

Following advertisements in the statewide newspaper, thirty West Australian fans were selected from a field of 450 applicants to be members of the Sports Fans User Group to provide ongoing advice relating to the preferred fan experience.

The 30 members were selected based on demographics, representing a broad range of ages, gender, professions, sporting and entertainment tickets, transport, entry, ticket collection, seating (comfort and viewing), catering, entertainment, technology, circulation, supporting facilities and egress.

The priority was to put the needs of the fans first in the design development stage of the project, and the development of the Sports Fans User Group in early 2013 was testament to this commitment.

Guiding the consultation

The Sports Fans User Group engagement strategy was designed to facilitate the successful delivery of Optus Stadium through open, transparent, and inclusive consultation and engagement to enable the Sports Fans User Group to have a meaningful contribution in the planning, design and delivery of the project.

A project staff member was assigned as the primary contact and considerable effort went into building relationships with the group. This practice was extended to all User Groups alongside a range of engagement activities and communication tools.

A total of four facilitated workshops were held with the Sports Fans User Group during the planning process in 2013. The first session focused on the fan experience in the stadium, the second on the Stadium Park and the third on transport. The key themes that emerged were:

Fan experience

  • ‘Continuous’ experience at main entrances, seating areas or whilst queuing for food, beverages and bathroom facilities; and
  • better visibility and comfort through improved sight lines, more visible scoreboards, more television screens for viewing away from seat and protection from the weather.

Sports precinct

  • A desire to feel safe and secure around the Stadium Park on event and non-event day; and
  • the Stadium Park to be an attractive destination with sufficient entertainment and facilities to justify visiting the area before or after an event and on a non-event day.

Transport

  • Good and efficient crowd and transport management to reduce waiting times in queues; and
  • efficient, safe and reliable public transport so that patrons are more willing to use it when attending events at the stadium.

Following the first three sessions, an online survey was distributed to the 420 unsuccessful sports fan applicants, to assess and reiterate some of the feedback provided by the user group. The responses from the surveys were collated with the feedback from the Sports Fans User Group, which helped inform the content of the project brief.

Sports Fans User Group test the Stadium prototype seats

Sports Fans User Group test the Stadium prototype seats

Feedback from the fans

Using their experiences from attending events at other stadia in Australia and overseas, the group highlighted the need for wider concourses for good fan movement, plentiful food and beverage outlets, sufficient toilets to reduce queuing and wait times, cup holders in all seats, future proofed technology to allow for fan experiences with portable technology, and a need for a consistent connection to view the field of play from the public concourses. The fans also provided feedback on the public transport solution and their vision for the parkland surrounding the stadium.

The fourth and final meeting of the Sports Fans User Group (prior to concluding the project brief) was used to consolidate all the key issues identified and highlight the key suggestions included in the Optus Stadium Project Brief. Approximately 90 percent of the ideas proposed by the Sports Fans were incorporated into the Project Brief and equally importantly, the fans were advised why 10 percent of their ideas would not be progressed.

Members of the User Group consistently referenced their positive experiences with the project and that they really felt that their ideas and suggestions had been genuinely listened to, with many included in the final design, ultimately providing a real sense of ownership.

Ongoing consultation

Following the acceptance of the successful tender by the State Government in 2014, consultation continued with the Sports Fans User Group. During 2014/15 the Sports Fans were briefed on the successful design concept and provided input to the design development process. This included providing feedback on the layout of the general admission areas, food and beverage outlets, seating plan, the Stadium Park design, and involvement in the selection of the seating supplier based on prototypes provided by all interested companies. The seating supplier rated the highest in the feedback provided by the Sports Fans was ultimately was chosen as the successful tenderer.

The Sports Fans User Group involvement continued during 2016/17 as they undertook numerous site visits to review interior design concepts and gauge construction progress. Consultation sessions were also held with the stadium operator, when appointed in 2016, to enable the fans first philosophy to continue into service delivery.

One of the particularly novel sports fans consultation sessions occurred in mid-December 2017 (six weeks prior to the official opening of the stadium and park). The fans were invited to sample the various food options that would be offered to future fans by the operator.

Official opening of Optus Stadium

In recognition of the commitment the Sports Fans User Group had made during the five years of the project, it was appropriate that they received an invitation from the Premier of Western Australia to the official opening of Optus Stadium on 21 January 2018. This was the State Government’s opportunity to say thank you for their contribution to the development and construction of Optus Stadium.

Ronnie Hurst, project director, Optus Stadium Project

Ronnie Hurst, project director, Optus Stadium Project

Measuring success (community feedback)

Optus Stadium and the surrounding Stadium Park was officially opened with a free Community Open Day on Sunday 21 January 2018. Over 70,000 people attended, providing them with the opportunity to explore the general admission areas, investigate the different food and beverage offerings, sit in the seats for the first time, and experience the Stadium’s state-of-the-art lighting, video and audio systems.

The response from the public regarding the design of the stadium on the Open Day was overwhelmingly positive with community feedback evident via television, radio and written press, as well as a social media reach of just under one million people.

Since the official opening, Optus Stadium has hosted:

  • a 55,000-capacity crowd for the One Day International between Australia and England on 28 January;
  • a 55,000-capacity crowd for the Big Bash League Semi Final on 1 February;
  • an AFL Women’s match on 10 February, which saw over 41,900 people attend not only smashing the attendance record for an AFLW match but also the largest attendance for a stand-alone women’s sporting event in Australia;
  • two Ed Sheeran concerts on 2 and 3 March, one being a 60,000 seat sell-out and the second close to sell-out at approximately 58,000; and,
  • a NRL Double Header, which saw over 38,000 people attend sparking expansion talks for the NRL.

Optus Stadium is now scheduled to host West Coast Eagles and Fremantle Dockers AFL matches throughout 2018, Premier League powerhouse Chelsea will play Perth Glory in their only Australian friendly on 23 July, a Taylor Swift concert is scheduled for 19 October, plus the State of Origin and Bledisloe Cup in 2019, and the 2020 ICC World Cup Twenty20.

Considerable effort and resource went into building relationships with the Sports Fans User Group during the planning, design and construction of the Optus Stadium project. The Project Team not only proactively engaged with the Sports Fans User Group but also the project’s eight other User Groups and the Whadjuk Working Party, ensuring that the needs and expectations of the users and fans were considered throughout the project. This approach not only fostered ownership of the Stadium and the project as a whole but also ensured the delivery of the project’s ‘fans first’ aspiration.

Written by Ronnie Hurst, project director, Optus Stadium Project.

Lead image: official opening of Optus Stadium.

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