The AFL’s new club Greater Western Sydney Giants will play home games at four home venues in 2012, and three in 2013, meaning they won’t have is the solidity of a single spiritual home for the club.
Their primary home venue is the Sydney Showground (Skoda Stadium), which is operated by the Royal Agricultural Society, yet this ground will also be used for a range of other activities including the Royal Easter Show.
The second home venue in Sydney is ANZ stadium, originally the athletics venue for the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, and although the capacity is now less than for the Games, it can still hold over eighty thousand spectators.
The established AFL team in Sydney, the Sydney Swans, have an average attendance of just thirty-three thousand spectators for the games that they play at ANZ Stadium. In such a big arena, even that size crowd results in a lack of atmosphere, which lessens the feeling of intimidation for opposition players and encouragement for the home side.
The first GWS first game, a local derby against the Swans, will be played at ANZ. While the Swans have a substantial membership base, GWS have (as of January 2012) only secured around 4000 members, which will result in Giants fans being outnumbered by their counterparts in a half-empty stadium.
While the former Olympic stadium has been the site of historic sporting achievements, it has not yet established a tradition as an Australian football venue, and so the sense of place has not been established in this context.
The third home venue for GWS will be Canberra’s Manuka Oval, as the AFL are keen for GWS to establish a presence in the ACT as well as New South Wales.
While this may provide GWS with a larger fan-base, it is unlikely that many fans from Sydney will travel to Canberra (and vice versa), given that GWS’s primary home venue is almost 300 kilometres from Manuka Oval.
The fourth home venue, Blacktown Olympic Park, while it was the home ground for GWS in 2011 when they were playing in the North East Australian Football League (NEAFL), will only be a stop-gap home while renovation work on Skoda Stadium is finished.
Sports fandom is often compared to religion, and one of the key aspects of this is the place of worship, in the case the stadium. The stadium becomes a sacred place where fans feel a connection to their team and those around them.
It becomes a place of pilgrimage and fans will revisit the site of significant moments in the team’s history and further develop their bond with the team.
In addition to the place of worship, another aspect of religious veneration is the use of iconography in the form of statues and other religious paraphernalia to honour the significant figures within the religion.
In the case of sports worship it is common for this veneration to include the erection of statues of players, images of current or past teams, or the naming of parts of the ground after significant individuals.
Without one designated home venue it will be more difficult for GWS to develop a sacred site, and to develop the levels of identification that their fans are supposed to feel. Given the lack of ground ownership, it will be difficult for GWS to personalise a ground in this manner.
It remains to be seen if the nomadic lifestyle of GWS in its start-up years will impact on either their on-field and off-field success.