The changing face of the Parramatta Eels fan base
Your typical Parramatta fan wears blue and gold, goes to the footy with their mates, is cautiously optimistic about finishing in the top four and will struggle to front work on Friday if they lose to the Bulldogs at Bankwest Stadium.
What will surprise you is that one in five of them were born overseas and that one of the biggest growing demographics supporting the club are of Indian heritage.
As others proclaim the death of rugby league, the Eels are feverishly researching how they can expand their supporter base and make the most of being in the diverse melting pot of Western Sydney.
This season, Parramatta have collaborated with the Western Sydney University School of Business to understand the match-day fan experience of those attending Eels games.
"The results have been incredibly interesting, particularly in terms of motivation in attending," said Dr Jess Richards, a lecturer in Sport Management at WSU. "The new stadium is attending a whole new demographic to Parramatta that we weren’t expecting.
"The crowd still visually looks predominantly white … but Parramatta are trying to find an inclusive space to try to captivate people from those migrant groups where rugby league isn’t part of their narrative."
Rugby league has long attracted players and fans from different backgrounds, especially the influx of Greek, Italian and Lebanese migrants in the 1960s and '70s.
But the Eels understand that their supporter base can change with their region. Their research shows you the changing face of the Eels supporter.
Among Eels fans’ fathers, 35 per cent were born overseas. Amongst Eels fans’ mothers, 33 per cent were were born overseas. The top countries for the parents born overseas include India, UK, China and Lebanon.
"As a club, we have been aware of the diversity within our membership but the results from research by Western Sydney University at Bankwest Stadium is now providing us with some real insights to the various multicultural backgrounds within our wider fan base," Eels chief executive Bernie Gurr said. "The fact that such a strong portion of our fanbase were born overseas, or come from first generation backgrounds, shows how inclusive the game and our club have been, especially in Western Sydney."
Jon D’Souza, who was born in Kenya, with his wife, who is of Lebanese heritage, and kids.
One example of that is long-time member Jon D’Souza, 38, whose family moved to Sydney from Kenya when he was 10. Attending Parramatta Marist Brothers, he fell in love with the game.
His circle of family and friends who are Eels members has swelled to 24, which includes his Lebanese-born wife and three children.
"Within the 24 people in our bay, we have Australian-born and bred fans, Lebanese, Greek Cypriots, American, Ecuadorian and Egyptian within the group," D’Souza said. "I watch games at all other grounds as well, and I would say Parramatta has the most diverse crowd of them all. That’s not just culturally but also in terms of age and gender. We’ve got them all."
While Eels fans come from a range of cultural backgrounds, Richards said intercept surveys conducted with fans walking into Bankwest evoked a pleasing response.
"More than three-quarters identified as being of Australian ethnicity," she said.
What their surveys also showed was that most Parramatta fans attend with friends — not necessarily families.
"What shocked us and also shocked Parramatta is that when we asked fans who they were attending the game with," Richards said. "Our research shows that more people go with their friends. We find this really fascinating, because if you look at the way clubs market their 'brand', and the activations at precincts on match-day, a lot is focussed on the family.
"But the idea of friends going together is a difference of opinion. People in Parramatta work more than 40 hours a week, they are time poor, so rugby league is there social night out. That insight is important to how clubs are going to grow the game. There are young people who just want to hang out with their friends."