Australian rules growing in western Sydney
Australian rules football participation in western Sydney rose by 27 per cent this year and administrators believe the full impact of the region’s new AFL club is yet to be felt.
While Greater Western Sydney enjoyed limited on-field success in their maiden season, AFL NSW/ACT won over almost 10,000 new players in the region the team represents.
“We’ve grown at the stage by 27 per cent from last year’s participation, which was 28,306,” said Dean Connors, AFL NSW/ACT’s manager for GWS.
“There’s been substantial growth from a very high base, so we’re up around that 36,000 – 37,000 mark in participation in Greater Western Sydney.”
The ethnically-diverse region covers 14 local government areas and is a hotspot of population growth – one of the charms that attracted the league.
The spike is likely to rile some rugby league figures, who will undoubtedly have two main questions for Connors – are the figures genuine and how much money is being poured in?
“What we classify as a participant is a no-less-than-six-weeks paying customer,” Connors said.
“So they’re through our Auskick programs, through our clubs and our community programs.”
As for funding, Connors said there’s been no war chest lumped on his desk to use in the so-called code war.
“As a business, we’ve had to become a lot more efficient and confident of our ability to grow participation without the funding thrown at us like in the past.
“Our funding will stay the same for the next five years.
“We’re engaging volunteers and engaging universities … trying to spend our money in better and more efficient ways.”
Connors senses the growth resulting from the AFL’s new baby is yet to materialise.
“Was the impact caused by the Giants? I’d probably say no at this stage,” he said.
“It certainly played a part in adding to our programs … but I think it (the fledgling AFL club) is in its first year.
“It’s very challenging to say whether they had a full-on impact on participation in the region.
“But what we have seen towards the end of the year, as opposed to the start of the year, is a significant interest in the Giants as a club.
“People have been asking a lot more questions.”
The 27-year-old has been looking after the region for six years – long before the announcement of the league’s 18th franchise – and recalls when the participation tally was just 2500.
He pointed to partnerships with the University of Western Sydney and a focus on schools as some of the main factors impacting growth.© AAP 2013