Remaking Allianz: how the new SCG boss plans to win over locals

The newly appointed head of the Sydney Cricket and Sports Ground Trust has a big job: convincing locals the rebuilding of Allianz stadium will be worth the short-term pain. Images of Kerrie Mather by Gregg Porteous

Kerrie, you have taken over the SCG Trust at a particularly challenging time, given the redevelopment plans for the precinct, what is your vision for the venue?

The NSW Government’s decision to redevelop Allianz Stadium will revolutionise the live sport experience. We expect it will also show Sydneysiders what our city has been missing out on for so long. Alongside the SCG, the new SFS when it opens will be as much a part of any visit to Sydney as a trip to Yankee Stadium is when you go to New York. More than that, we want to provide great service and facilities for the people of Sydney. Watching their team play is often the highlight of the week for the many thousands of people who attend matches at the SCG and Allianz. We want to make sure that their experience is as seamless and enjoyable as possible. And along the way, we want to remind them that they are coming to a very special part of our city and continuing a sporting pilgrimage that stretches back more than 160 years. When the new stadium opens and the precinct is revitalised, we want to it serve its local business and residential communities better than it does now.

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The SCG is Sydney’s most-loved sporting asset. What do you love about it?

The old pavilions are beautiful and the new Noble Bradman Messenger is one of the best grandstands in the world. But the thing I love about the SCG is that it brings families and friends together, over generations. I have my own memories of coming to the ground with my father, an experience that is common to many, many people who come to the SCG. Long may such family traditions continue. I enjoy seeing new traditions form, like when the Indian fans took over the SCG and turned it into Virat Kohli’s home ground for the T20 International last month. Sydney is a vibrant, diverse city and we want to make sure that the SCG reflects that and is welcoming for everyone. I also love what the future will bring. Women’s cricket was first played at the SCG in the late 1870s and right now, we’re seeing an explosion in interest and publicity for the best female athletes in the country. I had the great privilege of meeting Alyssa Healy recently. She’s an inspirational figure on and off the field; I can’t wait to see what she and her teammates can do when they take part in the standalone women’s T20 World Cup at the SCG next year.

Are you much of a sports fan yourself?

I grew up with cricket and it has remained a part of my life, whether I’m attending the New Year’s Test with friends or with my own family. I’ve really enjoyed the evolution of the shorter formats, which have introduced new and different audiences to the sport. Rugby was a part of my childhood too. My brothers played and my son still does today. In rugby league, I’m a Roosters fan, which can present challenges at times given that my husband’s a Rabbitohs fan, as was dad. I was introduced to AFL by Frank O’Halloran and took a keen interest in it during my time at Sydney Airport. The A-League and Sydney FC is something new for me, but it was hard not to marvel at the passion that The Cove brought to the SCG for the Sydney Derby earlier this season.

What’s your favourite SCG sporting moment?

Really for me, it’s being at the New Year’s Test with my friends. I have particularly strong memories of the 2007 Ashes series when a group of us had the time free to commit to the early starts and long days at the New Year’s Test. There is nothing like the luxury of time to watch a match unfold over several days, all the while sitting with your friends in the Members Pavilion and really getting into the spirit of an SCG Test. More recently, I’ve very much enjoyed the passion that the Indian fans bring to the SCG. The noise, colour and wild support is something else. At the very least, we’re in for a noisy New Year’s Test this year, with a One-Day International against India to follow on January 12.

How do you plan to take the local residents with you on this massive journey as the stadium is built?

I’m looking forward to joining the community consultative committee that the NSW Government will establish as part of the Allianz Stadium redevelopment. I’ve already met a number of local residents and have plenty more planned in. We want the new stadium to be a place of which the local residents can be proud. Also we want to work with the sports and the fans who come here to make sure they respect the very important local community. We’re confident that the NSW Government will deliver a new stadium and surrounding precinct that breaks down some of the barriers that currently exist and enhances the surrounding parklands and neighbourhoods.

How are you with the politics of rugby league? They say it’s a bigger minefield than Canberra?

I love my rugby league and I’m looking forward to working closely with the Roosters and the NRL to understand their long-term strategies and help them achieve their goals. Participation rates and fan experience are at the very top of their list and I believe we can help on both fronts. I’ve already had some wonderful meetings with Roosters chairman Nick Politis. He embodies the passion that drives rugby league. He is the Roosters and the Roosters are him. Nick’s contribution to the club and the game he loves is impossible to quantify.

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You ran Sydney Airport for 15 years through enormous change. What was the biggest challenge you faced?

Sydney Airport is a large and complex organisation, so it’s hard to single one out. During my early months in the role, the global aviation industry was faced with a number of significant events, including the September 11 attacks, the SARS outbreak, the Bali bombings, the Iraq War and the collapse of Ansett. We worked very closely with the aviation community in the face of these challenges to international passenger numbers and visitation.

It seems to be a good time to be a woman in business with a push to get more women leaders and on boards. Do you often find yourself surrounded by men or are those stereotypes breaking down?

Coming from the investment banking, infrastructure and aviation worlds, I’ve always been in environments where there are more men than women. Often, I was the only woman in the room, but I have to say that I was always among fantastic people. Now I’ve arrived at the SCG, there are six women and four men on the senior executive. It’s an impressive and talented team and we’re focused on customer experience, our loyal members, the heritage of the site and the different communities that surround the precinct.

The Test begins at the SCG on January 3.