GWS Giants must fix the identity crisis
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Andrew Phillips and Jeremy Cameron of the Giants in front of a disappointing crowd (AFL Media)
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Only 11,887 turned up to watch the GWS Giants on Saturday night. At home. For their venue’s first ever game. Against a high-drawing and in-form Victorian team in Essendon.
The figure, and the fact the 25,000-seat Skoda Stadium looked pretty empty on TV, should worry AFL House and motivate its detractors.
The real worry-slash-motivator would be that there definitely appears to be sub-10,000 crowds on the horizon.
If opening night can’t crack 12k, it’s destined to happen.
So what exactly do we make of all this? It’s a fairly rational assumption to say that it will take time to grow the Giants’ supporter base.
But these sort of crowds cannot be sustained at the AFL level, in the long-term and possibly in the medium-term, depending on the size of the next broadcast deal.
Almost 10,000 more spectators attended the Gold Coast Suns’ first home game at Metricon Stadium against Geelong last year. Their game against the Bombers this season, also a Saturday night game, brought in 17,069.
Clearly, there’s a gap in support between the two new teams.
That mightn’t be such a bad thing, remembering that Gold Coast has always been considered the market more “ready” for an AFL team.
When the AFL was pushing for a North Melbourne relocation, the thought of a team in western Sydney was farfetched. It was fast-tracked only once the Kangaroos rejected the AFL’s offer.
Still, it’s critical that the AFL get western Sydney right, so it’d be wrong to write off a disappointing start so easily.
The club’s name is one issue that needs to be thoroughly looked at.
Having moved to an area that is considered a rugby league heartland this year, I can attest that a great deal of people still refer to the club as “that new Sydney team”.
And why wouldn’t they?
“Greater Western Sydney” is a terrible mouthful. “GWS” just begs for a response like, “Where are they from?” or, “What does that stand for?”
Not only is it utterly awkward to say in public, who it’s supposed to represent is a bit of a mystery. Does anyone really identify themselves as living in Greater Western Sydney?
West Sydney would’ve done the trick, or even just Sydney. Greater Sydney? Perhaps.
The point is, two or three syllables is fine.
Five or six (not even including the nickname) is just absurd.
The AFL may be concerned with the number of “west” teams if such a change occurred. But maybe this is the perfect segue for the Western Bulldogs to become Footscray again. They’ve gone back to the hoops this year, so why not?
Another issue the Giants should seek to rectify is the use of four different home grounds.
Fair enough, they used Blacktown this year for one game while the finishing touches were being placed on Skoda Stadium, but even three is too many for a team still forming its identity.
The abundance of home grounds leads to confusion. It makes it hard for supporters to form routines, players to build that all-important fortress reputation and for some fans, it reduces the benefits of becoming a member.
Given it seems there’s only one opponent with the pulling power to fill Skoda Stadium – the Swans – why can’t all of the Giants’ Sydney games be played at the one venue?
Sure, “blockbuster” games should be played at the blockbuster venue. But why should the AFL kid themselves? Derbies aren’t going to draw majorly above Skoda’s capacity, and we all know the atmosphere of a full stadium beats a half-empty one.
A packed Skoda would serve as a better advertisement for the game than an ANZ crowd that can all too easily be portrayed as disappointing.
Of course, the biggest thing that could happen in terms of improving the Giants’ standing would be for them to start winning and winning often. And the club seem well on track to start doing that in two-to-three years’ time.
But a team that needs to win premierships just to survive simply isn’t a viable proposition.
The Giants need a more clear identity going forward.
If you want to know what an AFL expansion club with multiple identities looks like, look at Port Adelaide.
The game can’t make the same mistake in a non-football heartland.
Michael DiFabrizio is completing his journalism degree. As an AFL writer, he has been an expert columnist at The Roar since 2009, and appeared in The Age and on ABC television and radio. Follow Michael on twitter @mdifabrizio
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