When it comes to hosting major events, the choice between Australia’s biggest two cities has never been clearer.

The Emerald City is in danger of becoming far from a jewel in the crown. Shiny on the outside, hollow on the inside.

Why? Because traditional rivalry and snide aside, Melbourne is far from the Mel-boring some northerners would have you believe, with a world-class events calendar that puts sunny Sydney in the shade.

Sydney is missing out on hosting world-class events because it is like the cool kids in high school – all shine, no substance. It’s enchanting. But infuriating.

Sydney’s appeal is big bucks and big business; climate and coastline – and even the latter is under threat from global warming and rising sea levels.

The-then Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle nailed it back in 2008 when comparing the two cities. He said: “Melbourne is a city with a heart; Sydney is a city with a wallet and inside that wallet is a credit card.”

And in the decade since, not much has changed.

Last year, Melbourne was named the world’s most livable city for the sixth consecutive year by the Economist Intelligence Unit. Sydney dropped out of the top 10.

Melbourne has creative culture and style. Sydney has geography.

The problem with geography is it’s about science, not people.

People breathe life into a city. People attend events.

Melbourne has been the sporting capital of the world for the past decade. In 2016, Melbourne was crowned the SportBusiness Ultimate Sport City of the Decade in Switzerland. Confirming its claim as the world’s best city for sport, also took out the Best Venues category too.

It’s not hard to see why. It’s home to the Australian Open Grand Slam, Australian Formula One Grand Prix, MotoGP and over the past decade has hosted the Commonwealth Games, World Swimming Championships, Cricket World Cup and AFC Asian Cup. Not to mention those ‘domestic’ events, the Melbourne Cup and AFL Grand Final.

When it comes to snaring big events, Melbourne is a city on a mission. It snaffled the F1 from Adelaide and is investing big bucks – $271.55 million to complete the third stage of the Melbourne Park redevelopment – to guarantee the Australian Open tennis stays in Melbourne until at least 2036. That sort of forward thinking pays big dividends to a state economy.

On the arts and cultural events front, Melbourne has everything from White Night to a vibrant live music, comedy and theatre scene. And, unlike Sydney, its arts, cultural, entertainment and sporting precincts are just a stone’s throw from each other in and around the city, with free inner city trams to get between them.

Melbourne has street art and a laneway and CBD bar culture. You can eat and drink at midnight.

Sydney has lockout laws. They were introduced to address a serious social issue, but it’s moving the problem, not solving it. Assaults are down where the laws were introduced – but up in other areas.

Sydney’s live music scene was crushed by the laws. There was a 40% drop in live performance revenue at venues in the lockout area, and a 19% decrease in attendance at nightclubs and dance venues in the two years after the laws were introduced. Iconic, landmark venues closed, including the Flinders, Exchange and Lansdowne hotels and Hugos.

There are more venues per resident in Melbourne than most major cities in the world and a relaxed attitude to late night fun. The city even has an “AC/DC Lane”.

A 2012 live music census by Music Victoria and NIMT found Melbourne had 465 live music venues, or one for every 8,915 residents. Sydney? Just 89 venues – or one per 51,000 residents.

What do small venues, bars and laneways have to do with who gets the major events? More than you might think.

There are many factors behind the decision to stage an event in a particular city, but the vibrancy, culture, infrastructure and support of the city’s events-going public play a big part.

How long can Sydney keep relying on Bondi Beach and the harbour?

The harbour gives the city its beauty, but not its soul or pulse.

Young, creative minds can forge a cultural identity. That’s less likely to happen while Sydney remains the ‘capital of capital’ – a big city run by big business after big bucks.

What’s needed is greater government involvement, encouragement and incentives to get small business engaging with youth culture. Because today’s start ups and young creatives are tomorrow’s cultural visionaries. That could include a council or advisory group of young entrepreneurs to advise on how to make the changes needed – not just a ‘think tank’ but also an empowered group that takes action.

Only then will the major events decision makers shift their focus Sydney’s way.

Caleb Bush – Managing Director SVP, GPJ ANZ

*Caleb Bush is from Sydney and has lived and put on major events in both cities, including the Cricket World Cup Opening Ceremony, Mercedes Benz Fashion Week and the Emirates marquee at the Melbourne Cup.

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