Giants failing to connect with western Sydney
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Andrew Phillips and Jeremy Cameron of the Giants in front of a disappointing crowd (AFL Media)
A giant billboard at the railway overpass over Olympic Drive declares Lidcombe, in the heart of Sydney’s western suburbs, to be the “Land of the Giants”.
The Giants, of course, being the Greater Western Sydney AFL club.
The billboard doesn’t contain any photos of Giants players, not even Israel Folau, only the photo of the Giants’ cartoon-like stuffed mascot, and the Skoda and AFL emblems.
The last 25 years have seen great changes in the Lidcombe municipality and today it’s a very diverse ethnic and cultural suburb.
In the latest national census it was reported that 69.2 percent of the population don’t speak English at home. In the past few years since the last census, there has been a 300 percent increase in Islamic religious following.
You would be more likely to see a hijab being worn in Lidcombe than a GWS Giants cap. Lidcombe doesn’t even have an Aussie Rules club. This is certainly not the “Land of the Giants”.
The one-time home of the mighty Western Suburbs fibros doesn’t have that many rugby league clubs these days either. Most people play and watch koura el-khadim (football).
Why would the AFL advertise so heavily in such an area of western Sydney? Does it show a frontier mentality to bring Aussie Rules to people who have never experienced it, or a serious misunderstanding of what makes the communities of Sydney’s western suburbs tick?
The AFL had always intended to make the Giants a western Sydney AFL side. The initial lack of interest in Aussie Rules in Blacktown forced them to broaden their appeal to a greater market to include other areas of Sydney and then on to Canberra and Queanbeyan.
The GWS Giants introduction to Sydney has not been an instant success.
The AFL pride themselves on attendances, but the last home game for the Giants attracted an attendance of just 11,800, and the Swans last home game in Sydney had a crowd of 13,500. The combined attendance of both Aussie Rules games in Sydney was lower than the season average for just the one Sydney Aussie Rules team last season.
And where are the Giants players domiciled – in western Sydney?
No, they have set up camp in a luxury waterfront residential complex at Breakfast Point.
If the AFL wants western Sydney to become the “Land of the Giants”, then they need to understand the people of western Sydney a lot better.
This is not just about a new virgin frontier to ravage and conquer with lots of money. This is about connecting with the local communities and carrying on the good work that the Swans have done in the past, to cement their place in Sydney society.