Maitland Sportsground: Pickers face cost hike and canteen loss at revamped home ground

UNCERTAIN: Maitland Pickers president Frank Lawler at Maitland No.1 Sportsground. Picture: Maitland Mercury

UNCERTAIN: Maitland Pickers president Frank Lawler at Maitland No.1 Sportsground. Picture: Maitland Mercury

PICKERS president Frank Lawler fears the Newcastle Rugby League club could be $50,000 out of pocket under proposed fee and canteen policies at the redeveloped Maitland No.1 Sportsground.

The Pickers’ traditional home has undergone an $8.6 million facelift, including the construction of a 1100-seat grandstand, and the club is set to return there next season after playing out of Coronation Oval this year.

However, Lawler said the club faced a rise from about $5000 to $18,000 in costs under Maitland City Council’s draft fees and charges restructure, which was available for public comment until December 4.

Of greater concern was the plan to put exclusive catering rights for the ground out to tender. In the past, the Pickers, like most Hunter sporting clubs, have been able to operate their canteen and bar on game days with minimal cost or restriction. 

“For us, the canteen is a big one,” Lawler said. “We probably take $8000 through the bar and canteen at a home game. About 50 per cent of that is profit and you would be looking to make at least $30,000 out of the canteen and bar over a year.

“Kurri survive on their Old Boys and their bar takings. Cessnock have total control over their canteen and I think all the other [Newcastle RL] clubs are same.

“We need to do something to have use of the canteen because without that, together with the increase in fees, we could be $50,000 out of pocket.”

The Pickers have long been main tenants of Maitland Sportsground, which council hopes to make a multi-use venue in a sporting precinct taking in redeveloped adjacent athletics fields.

Lawler said there were many submissions to council criticising the fee hike and asking “how was a club like Maitland, as a main user, going to be able to afford to do it?”

He said the club was discussing a potential tender for catering rights “but that’s an additional cost and if we lose the tender, we lose potentially a lot of income”.

“It’s just another battle we face up here in Maitland,” he said. “We always seem to face something, but nothing has been confirmed yet and we are talking to council about it.”