From little Oakes
By STEVE SPINKS
FROM white elephant to cash cow.
That is the transformation Lismore's Oakes Oval will undergo in 2005.
For the past few years the No1 sporting venue on the Northern Rivers has not hosted a major fixture apart from local grand finals.
However, that will change in 2005.
Already booked in are the Australian Country Cricket Championship in January; a National Rugby League trial between Parramatta and Cronulla in February; and an Australian Rugby Union Shield match between NSW Country and Perth in May.
Also on the drawing board is the NRL's City v Country representative match in May.
Lismore is the front-runner to host the game, but the venue is yet to be confirmed.
It signals a massive turnaround, and 2005 could be the first time Oakes Oval has been filled this century.
According to Lismore City Council events manager John Bancroft, the last time the venue was full was a Sydney rugby league double-header in 1993.
"It's a big thing," Bancroft said.
"Oakes Oval has been used quite extensively for regional events.
"It was also there to cater for the high-end stuff, but that seemed to dry up a bit after 1995.
"For some reason it seems to be our turn or time."
Oakes Oval has a capacity of around 8000.
However, the biggest recorded crowd was 12,000 in 1951 when the French rugby league team played at the ground.
Obviously this was before the new Gordon Pavilion and additional seating was erected.
Bancroft said the council had actively assisted sporting groups when bidding for events.
But why the big difference in events on offer in 2005 compared with 2004?
"The reason is, the whole bidding process has become very competitive," Bancroft said.
"Some regional and coastal councils have spent big money on bids.
"It's taken us time to adjust and compete on those terms."
Obvious competitors to Oakes Oval are Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie.
Coffs International Stadium has hosted ING Cup cricket matches, rugby league trials and the British Lions rugby match against NSW Country, all in the past four years.
However, Bancroft doesn't regard Coffs as a competitor.
"They've (Coffs) shown us the way a little bit," he said.
"There's enough events going around; it's just a matter of getting your slice.
"We've actually done some joint promotions, especially with soccer."
Bancroft believes hosting major events has two advantages.
"Obviously there is the economic impact on the town," he said.
"But there is also the prestige in hosting events.
"Take the Australian Country Cricket Championship as an example.
"We won't fill any venue, but the competition will be reported nationally and it will drag 500 people into the town in January for 15 days."