COWLEY: The AFL won’t let the GWS Giants fail

Michael Cowley Columnist

By Michael Cowley, Michael Cowley is a Roar Expert

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279 Have your say

    Throughout more than a decade of covering AFL for the Sydney Morning Herald, I was frequently asked questions about the game, but none as regularly as the one which – despite my departure from the newspaper – has continued to follow me.

    It’s a simple, yet popular query, posed by both fans and foes of the game: “Will GWS make it?”

    There are a few versions: Will GWS survive? Is GWS a waste of time? Will GWS ever be successful?

    But the question about the future of the AFL’s newest club is effectively the same.

    And despite common sense arguing with me, my answer over the years since the Giants were little more than a glint in the eye of AFL chief executive, Andrew Demetriou, has been the same.

    Yes, they will make it/survive/be successful, because the AFL won’t have it any other way.

    As the club makes its way through it’s second season, I stand by that assessment, although I know other like-minded souls in the sport have wavered in recent times.

    The facts are these.

    Firstly, it’s not about winning a war of the codes in Western Sydney. It never was, but it was good publicity.

    Rugby league will always be the premier sport out west, but as the Wanderers showed this year in the A-League, there is abundant room for other codes to succeed and nurture support for their own games.

    GWS have almost 12,000 members, nearly 2,000 more than they managed in their opening season. Their merchandise sells well, and I know of many AFL fans west of Homebush who would love to have their own team to follow.

    But when will they follow?

    Having seen it all before, the reality is Sydney does like winners, and it’s still going to be some time before the Giants are winners.

    I have no doubt there are AFL fans in western Sydney who follow the Swans, and could jump to the Giants at some point.

    But tell me, would you switch from supporting a team which is always in the finals, to one unlikely to be there for some time? Well, maybe, but not just yet anyway.

    Some initial projections with the talent they would be able to stockpile from the drafts, were the club would be pushing for a flag in five years. We’re not hearing those same suggestions at the moment.

    I have no doubt they will snatch a win or two in 2013, just where and when it will come I’m not so sure. The two teams they beat last season – Gold Coast and Port Adelaide – have both taken steps up in 2013, and both have already beaten the Giants.

    Melbourne was tagged a potential winning game, and it looked promising for three quarters, only to end in disappointment. But they will catch someone off guard.

    A high-flying Essendon, in Melbourne, this week – with Giants’ captain Phil Davis and forward Setanta O’hAilpin to miss through injury – could potentially be ugly, and from then on you wouldn’t be backing GWS in too many of the upcoming matches until perhaps Round 19 at home against Melbourne.

    Winning seasons at this time seem a long, long way away.

    It was pleasing to see chief executive David Matthews recently quoted saying they would try and sign two or three mature-aged recruits for 2014.

    They badly need them. But, while money talks, it will still be interesting to see which quality mature players, answer in the affirmative.

    While their membership base is solid across Sydney and Canberra, translating that to decent crowds will continue to be a challenge for the Giants until they can consistently be competitive enough to be a chance in most games.

    And because the 12,000 members are split across Sydney and Canberra (and elsewhere), it appears Canberra members go to Canberra games, and Sydney members to Sydney games, and very few both.

    The 6,832 who turned up in Canberra last weekend for the loss to the Gold Coast – the smallest AFL crowd at the venue since games began being played there in 1998 – was not a promising sign for the season, nor a good look for the club and game.

    The 11,092 for the St Kilda game two weeks earlier at the same venue was however encouraging.

    How many arrive for their first game at Skoda in two weeks against Adelaide will be interesting.

    But anyway, back to point, the question which follows me.

    Yes, I still think they will make it. Yes it is still going to take time. Yes, it’s going to be a bit longer than many first thought, and yes, eventually, they will have a strong fan base in Sydney who will come to the games and watch them win.

    Those are the easy answers.

    The hard question to answer is how rough will the ride be for players, officials and fans before they do actually make it.

    The Roar welcomes Michael Cowley as an expert writer on the site. Michael spent 30 years working with the Sydney Morning Herald, covering a variety of sports and events including Olympics, World Championships and football grand finals. He covered AFL for more than a decade.

    Michael Cowley
    Michael Cowley

    Michael Cowley spent more than 20 years covering sport for the Sydney Morning Herald, including 12 seasons as the paper's AFL writer. During that time he reported on the awful Swans of the 1990s, and then the successful teams of the past decade, including covering their premiership seasons of 2005 and 2012. You can find him on Twitter: @mick_cowley

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    The Crowd Says (279)

    • Roar Guru

      May 2nd 2013 @ 8:26am
      mds1970 said | May 2nd 2013 @ 8:26am | ! Report

      It took a generation for the Swans to truly establish their place in the Sydney sporting market. It may take GWS a generation to do the same.
      But is that a reason not to do it? No, it’s a reason why the generation should start now; so that when the time comes, we’ll be ready. The enormous TV money the AFL makes won’t last forever – but while it’s there is the time to invest it in the game.

      • May 3rd 2013 @ 1:26pm
        VOG said | May 3rd 2013 @ 1:26pm | ! Report

        Surely the issue isn’t if or when GWS will fail but which Melbourne clubs will fail or be relocated because of the money pig headedly wasted in Sydney (and Canberra) instead of being spent on them. If GWS and GCS remain a long term debilitating factor on the rest of the competition then itis a fail for the whole comp.

    • May 2nd 2013 @ 9:45am
      Damian said | May 2nd 2013 @ 9:45am | ! Report

      The crowds just aren’t coming, and I guess not many like to back a loser.

      Except for the Swans, the 2 Qld and GWS are struggling for crowds and some of the attendances that have been announced for those 3 clubs are inflated.

      I wish them all the best but I see a move to Canberra or Tassie if crowds don’t increase, perhaps not for another 15 years though

      • May 2nd 2013 @ 10:36am
        Christo the Daddyo said | May 2nd 2013 @ 10:36am | ! Report

        Moving any of the expansion teams to Canberra or Tas won’t happen. It’s far more likely one of the Melbourne teams might choose to do so however.

      • May 2nd 2013 @ 11:35am
        Moonshine said | May 2nd 2013 @ 11:35am | ! Report

        Inflated – evidence – were you at any of the games??/

        • May 2nd 2013 @ 11:52am
          Cameron said | May 2nd 2013 @ 11:52am | ! Report

          Gold Coast last year averaged 23,000 per home game, check all sporting websites as evidence, yet on T.V., it was obvious that there was only aboput 10-11,000 per game, except for games againts big clubs like Essendon, Collingwood and the Q-clash.

          • May 2nd 2013 @ 11:59am
            me, I like football said | May 2nd 2013 @ 11:59am | ! Report

            Gold Coast averaged 13,645 last year

            • May 2nd 2013 @ 12:03pm
              Moonshine said | May 2nd 2013 @ 12:03pm | ! Report


              provide evidence – 23K is nearly selling out Metricom and they never went close so you are just making this up.. The average for home games would be the yardstick – maybe they drew 40K if they played Collingwood in Melbourne because Collingwood has 50K members>>..

              • May 2nd 2013 @ 3:09pm
                Paul said | May 2nd 2013 @ 3:09pm | ! Report

                I’m thinking back to a conversation I overheard on a train in Melbourne, where a man claimed that he heard stadium staff about to announce a crowd figure saying “Hmmm, so what do you reckon we could get away with?”

                I used to think they simply measured the number of clicks at the turnstiles but apparently not.

          • May 2nd 2013 @ 3:16pm
            Nathan of Perth said | May 2nd 2013 @ 3:16pm | ! Report

            Go home, Cameron, you’re drunk.

            • May 7th 2013 @ 3:02am
              Von Neumann said | May 7th 2013 @ 3:02am | ! Report

              You would be naive to think this kind of rorting does not go on.

              I want to add one more thing: rugby union conversation (paraphrasing but context correct, as facts) “So how much money would it take to make this a ground record and take it *off of* the NRL?”


              Of course the GSW and gold coast crowds are inflated. Its the thing to do for smaller matches because people don’t/cant think critically, or go to the lengths. I have heard many conversations however about people saying the AFL crowds are inflated.

              I only know they want to give the impression.

        • May 2nd 2013 @ 6:19pm
          Ian said | May 2nd 2013 @ 6:19pm | ! Report

          Not wanting to get into code wars or anything like that, but based on what I saw of the crowd at Manuka on tv last weekend, I’m very skeptical that there were really nearly 7k there. The ground holds about 13k and no way was it half full. I suspect there were really 4-5k there. To get to 7k they must have counted all the shoppers at Manuka over the road.

      • Columnist

        May 2nd 2013 @ 1:49pm
        Michael Cowley said | May 2nd 2013 @ 1:49pm | ! Report

        I think by 15 years’ time Tassie might eventually have it’s own team, and who knows with Canberra. I certainly think if Canberra had their own team not just part-owning GWS, the people would get right behind it and it could be a success as there are some sound footy roots in the capital.
        I would also be very suprrised if GWS haven’t enjoyed some success by 2028 too.

        • Roar Guru

          May 2nd 2013 @ 2:01pm
          TomC said | May 2nd 2013 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

          My impression of Canberrans, having lived here for a few years, is that they’re more likely to rock up for rare special events than regular ocurrences.

          So I’m not sure the ACT would get behind a dedicated Canberra team. Particularly when the old VFL clubs are still so popular.

        • Roar Guru

          May 2nd 2013 @ 2:01pm
          TomC said | May 2nd 2013 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

          My impression of Canberrans, having lived here for a few years, is that they’re more likely to rock up for rare special events than regular ocurrences.

          So I’m not sure the ACT would get behind a dedicated Canberra team. Particularly when the old VFL clubs are still so popular.

          • May 2nd 2013 @ 4:38pm
            Long John Silver said | May 2nd 2013 @ 4:38pm | ! Report

            My impression of Canberrans, having lived here my whole life and being one myself, is that you are partly right and you are partly wrong.

            You are right in the sense that Canberrans (like most people) hold rare occurrences in higher regard then common occurrences, which is one of the reasons that every now and again the Giants have got more through the gate then the Raiders or Brumbies in Canberra on a weekend.

            Your uncertainty about whether Canberrans would get behind our own team is where you are slightly wrong. A Canberra based AFL team would be supported in the same way as the Raiders were in their early days, as most peoples dearly beloved second team, then gradually over time more and more would start to hold this Canberran team in higher regard as they are exposed to them more and eventually they would become their first team and their old VFL club would become their second favorite team.

            • Roar Guru

              May 2nd 2013 @ 4:58pm
              TomC said | May 2nd 2013 @ 4:58pm | ! Report

              That actually makes more sense. Cheers LJS.

            • May 7th 2013 @ 3:06am
              Von Neumann said | May 7th 2013 @ 3:06am | ! Report

              Long john silver, not to burst any bubbles, but a canberra team would not be viable in the AFL. for many reasons, including market saturation, lack of support, ect.

              Your premise that they climb gloriously to number 1 – i do believe you carried out that fantasty and built a situation to fit it.

              not to be bad, but we all make these logical failures at times. even myself. but I can assure you canberra AFL won’t be for a long time, if ever.

        • May 2nd 2013 @ 6:21pm
          Ian said | May 2nd 2013 @ 6:21pm | ! Report

          I think an AFL team could have done ok in Canberra if they had started before the Raiders and Brumbies were established. I don’t think it would now.

    • Roar Guru

      May 2nd 2013 @ 9:48am
      Peter Wilson said | May 2nd 2013 @ 9:48am | ! Report

      Good luck to GWS.

      Not sure what you mean by “fail” but the GWS will never fold and pack up their bags and go back to Melbourne.

      If they were privately owned they would probably have folded by now, but the reality is that they are bankrolled by the AFL and they will throw whatever money at them they need to keep them going.
      To shut down the club would be a PR disaster for the AFL marketing department

      I sense they are in for another bad year, worse than last year.
      Most of the members are from Canberra or Melbourne and there is not that much interest in GWS in Sydney, especially since Izzy left.
      Most of their Sydney crowds are made up of Victorian expats supporting the team they are playing.

      Like the Swans, their following will drop by another 20-30% this year.

      • May 2nd 2013 @ 11:03am
        Here Come the Warm Jets said | May 2nd 2013 @ 11:03am | ! Report

        The main thing is Peter that you have wished them luck. Thanks for offering support for the GWS which is genuinely appreciated.

        • May 7th 2013 @ 3:08am
          Von Neumann said | May 7th 2013 @ 3:08am | ! Report

          Here come the warm jets:: nice spin you put on that one.

          The fact remains that no one in sydney ever really wanted the team. It might be bankrolled by the AFL, but it will be a money pit. With no ladder out of it.

      • May 2nd 2013 @ 11:06am
        clipper said | May 2nd 2013 @ 11:06am | ! Report

        The Swans average is 25,716 this year – an increase on 2012 when it was 24.981 – don’t forget the SCG is still being developed, so the capacity is limited.

        • May 2nd 2013 @ 11:39am
          Moonshine said | May 2nd 2013 @ 11:39am | ! Report


          Soccer troll who apparently has a an opinion on AFL new team. If they were privately owned they wouldnt have been set up in this way because owners would want instant results. The WSW is privately owned (by the FFA) and bent the eligibility rules for instant success and sale – are other soccer supporters happy with this as no other new club got such concessions as they did..

          • May 2nd 2013 @ 11:52am
            NY said | May 2nd 2013 @ 11:52am | ! Report

            Well the other clubs are the one’s who all said we would come last, allowed to the concessions, and then got some egg put on their face. Now everyone is whinging about it after the event.

            We would’ve still came 1st or 2nd with 1 less foreigner anyway, so the point is irrelevant.

        • May 2nd 2013 @ 1:28pm
          Diablo said | May 2nd 2013 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

          The Swans v Geelong game drew only 37K viewers on FTA television in Sydney. That’s the real indicator of how ‘popular’ the sport is in NSW.

          • May 2nd 2013 @ 2:20pm
            Australian Rules said | May 2nd 2013 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

            There might have been 37k on 7mate.

            But that game also drew 300k Fox viewers…and considering the majority of Foxtel subscriptions reside in NSW, you can reasonably add a chunk of that number to the overall viewers. What that chunk actually is, is anyone’s guess.

            • May 2nd 2013 @ 2:59pm
              Diablo said | May 2nd 2013 @ 2:59pm | ! Report

              Really? The 300k was Australia wide and the 37K was Sydney only on FTA television. So you think those 300K viewers were mainly from Sydney?

              • May 2nd 2013 @ 3:11pm
                Paul said | May 2nd 2013 @ 3:11pm | ! Report

                And not Melbourne and Geelong?

              • May 2nd 2013 @ 3:59pm
                Australian Rules said | May 2nd 2013 @ 3:59pm | ! Report

                “Mainly from Sydney”..?

                No, just a chunk, as I said.

      • May 2nd 2013 @ 12:33pm
        Australian Rules said | May 2nd 2013 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

        I like Peter’s contributions…

        “Most of the members are from Canberra or Melbourne and there is not that much interest in GWS in Sydney”
        “Like the Swans, their following will drop by another 20-30% this year”

        …never mind assertions without facts…Keep up the good work Pete!

        • May 2nd 2013 @ 1:29pm
          Uncle Collo said | May 2nd 2013 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

          Bit like us AFL supporters saying “all members of soccer clubs in Australia are from Europe.”

          • May 2nd 2013 @ 1:54pm
            Australian Rules said | May 2nd 2013 @ 1:54pm | ! Report

            It’s like claiming: “the ALeague’s TV audience dropped this year”…without actually checking what the numbers were.

            As I said, I like Pete’s input.

      • Columnist

        May 2nd 2013 @ 2:01pm
        Michael Cowley said | May 2nd 2013 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

        Hi Peter. I think we all knew from the beginning it was going to take time for GWS, and cost the AFL a fair amount of cash. They knew that too, and still went ahead with it and will continue to support the club, but bankrolling it is off the mark.
        There will always be debate about whether the Israel Folau experiment was good or bad for the Giants. Certainly on the park it didn’t lead to much, but off field it did wonders for the club’s profile, and there is no way they would have got as much exposure as they did in the lead-up to, and in their first season in the competition without him.
        There are expats at games, just as there are at most sports, and at Giants’ games some are watching the team they supported back ‘home’ but, having been to a few GWS games, I don’t think all those dressed in orange would be expats cheering the opposition.

        • May 2nd 2013 @ 2:20pm
          Diablo said | May 2nd 2013 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

          That’s not entirely true Michael. Dermott Brereton predicted that GWS was going to take Sydney by storm and some silly AFL official predicted that the AFL was going to leave all other sports in the dust as major spectator sports in this country. They weren’t the only ones by a long way.

          Since the AFL gets constantly beaten by SBS in the TV ratings then it’s perfectly logical to assume that most of the support is due to the ‘expat’ factor. Why so few viewers in a city of 5 million when the sport is on FTA television?

          • May 2nd 2013 @ 2:26pm
            Australian Rules said | May 2nd 2013 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

            You see…this is where it helps to provide real quotes from real sources.

            Andrew Demetriou 6 March 2012:

            “I’m on the public record as saying we don’t expect to dominate, particularly in this market,” Demetriou said.

            “If we can increase our penetration and increase awareness of AFL in NSW, particularly in Greater Western Sydney, that would be a real bonanza for us. But I’m under no illusions that we would dominate in this territory. NRL is well embedded, as it should be. It’s been here over 100 years and you’ve got to respect that.

            “As I said before, we just want to give people another option. It’s OK to follow GWS and OK to follow Penrith, I hope.”

            So there it is.

            • May 2nd 2013 @ 2:48pm
              oikee said | May 2nd 2013 @ 2:48pm | ! Report

              I think he said that recently, along time before he stole Israel Falou and around that time he also declared war.
              No matter which way you look at it, when you steal other codes players then war is declared.
              We won that war, and even soccer has won that war. In retaliation, they declared war and have sent a shockwave into Melbourne’s heartland by selling out the biggest game of the year with-in hours.
              The big Man U.
              Watch Demtriou turn up and grovell. hehe. Gallop checked mate him. Everything from here on in with be pure comedy and white tissue paper.

              • May 2nd 2013 @ 3:13pm
                Paul said | May 2nd 2013 @ 3:13pm | ! Report

                Man U aren’t going to Melbourne. Liverpool are.

                Folau now plays rugby union. Is that a sign rugby union declared war on the AFL?

            • Roar Pro

              May 2nd 2013 @ 11:10pm
              West said | May 2nd 2013 @ 11:10pm | ! Report

              Why didn’t he mention football and the Wanderers?

              Its not a battle with Penrith or the NRL that AFL need to win.

              • May 3rd 2013 @ 8:11am
                Australian Rules said | May 3rd 2013 @ 8:11am | ! Report

                They didn’t exist then.

            • May 7th 2013 @ 3:34am
              Von Neumann said | May 7th 2013 @ 3:34am | ! Report

              There it NOT is, Australian Rules.

              Nice little alternate argument. How about you address the actual topic?

              The man was talking about different commentators, dermet, and an afl official, not necessarily the CEO of the AFL.

              Then, you realigned his context for him.

              He is talking about popularity — while you are talking about being slighted.

              AFL is caught with its pants down.

      • Roar Guru

        May 2nd 2013 @ 9:56pm
        Peter Wilson said | May 2nd 2013 @ 9:56pm | ! Report

        Fair go fellow sports fans, why be so unwelcoming.

        I am merely agreeing with the author that the AFL can’t afford to let GWS fold.

        GWS will still be here in another 150 years, by which time the AFL will have teams based on Mars and Uranus.

        • May 3rd 2013 @ 8:12am
          Australian Rules said | May 3rd 2013 @ 8:12am | ! Report

          Au contraire Pedro…I said that I liked your input. It’s fantastic!

    • Roar Guru

      May 2nd 2013 @ 9:56am
      TomC said | May 2nd 2013 @ 9:56am | ! Report

      There’s one assumption this article makes that I think is worth challenging: that the AFL will always be in a position to prop up a struggling team in GWS.

      The AFL are an extremely well run organisaton, but they are vey dependent on TV rights for their revenue, which means there’s quite a lot of risk. There might come a time when they simply can’t afford to keep pouring millions of dollars into a dubious investment.

      As a Canberran I’m not too worried about the poor crowd on Saturday. Quite a lot of factors brought the crowd down. I expect there’ll be a better attendance whn the Giants play the Bulldogs in July.

      • May 2nd 2013 @ 10:04am
        Damian said | May 2nd 2013 @ 10:04am | ! Report

        How does GWS rate on TV in Sydney? Or even Australia wide

        • May 2nd 2013 @ 1:28pm
          Uncle Collo said | May 2nd 2013 @ 1:28pm | ! Report

          About 20 to 30k on FTA into Sydney, which is actually 20 to 30k MORE than the NRL, Super Rugby and the soccer simply due to it being on FTA and the others not. Then add in all of Australia on FTA and Fox Sports and the numbers start going up significantly. Remember Sydney is not “all of Australia”. But you wonder sometimes the way people from there carry on.

          They are doing things a lot differently now to the old chock raffle era when the Swans moved up there.

          It is pay tv content which ultimately pays and that comes from across all Fox Sports customer base. Take away that content and people are not going to buy Fox Sports are they!?

      • May 2nd 2013 @ 3:14pm
        Paul said | May 2nd 2013 @ 3:14pm | ! Report

        It helps when you’re not funding representative teams to head overseas.


        • May 2nd 2013 @ 3:18pm
          Nathan of Perth said | May 2nd 2013 @ 3:18pm | ! Report

          Given that Baseball Australia and Ice Hockey Australia also fund rep teams overseas, I don’t think that’s quite as much of a drain as it would seem 🙂

    • May 2nd 2013 @ 10:02am
      Australian Rules said | May 2nd 2013 @ 10:02am | ! Report

      The Giants are a year old.

    • Roar Guru

      May 2nd 2013 @ 10:04am
      mastermind5991 said | May 2nd 2013 @ 10:04am | ! Report

      I agree. The match against Essendon this week has the potential to be ugly, even record-breaking as far as Essendon is concerned.

      The Giants’ injuries, poor form and inability to run out matches, as well as Essendon’s red-hot form at the moment, could be the perfect ingredients to a 200-point win for Essendon. That’s how I see it, though it’s unlikely to happen.

      The Giants are suffering from the dreaded second-year syndrome, just like the Suns did last year. But as the years progress, the Giants, like the Suns, will learn from this experience and it could spur them on to future success.

      That said, I see the Suns and Giants as long-term AFL clubs. Also remember, it took some time for the Brisbane Lions and West Coast Eagles; within years of their establishment, they started to win multiple premierships. Same for Port; two Grand Final appearances in their first eleven years, winning in 2004.

      • Columnist

        May 2nd 2013 @ 2:07pm
        Michael Cowley said | May 2nd 2013 @ 2:07pm | ! Report

        Good point about the second year syndrome Mastermind, and experience is what these young kids need more than anything right now …. although some wins wouldn’t go astray for the sake of confidence and enjoyment.

        • Roar Guru

          May 2nd 2013 @ 9:41pm
          mastermind5991 said | May 2nd 2013 @ 9:41pm | ! Report

          It appears the Giants are improving in a few areas, especially the fact that they are staying in matches for as long as they can.

          But their biggest Achilles heel remains trying to complete the matches. We saw in Round 4 against Melbourne that they led by 19 points at three-quarter-time and their first ever MCG victory beckoned, only to be blown off the park in the final quarter by the under-fire Dees and be beaten by 40-odd points.

          And last week, they crawled to within seven points of the Suns in Canberra, but some ill-discipline from Jeremy Cameron and again the struggle to compete late in matches, eventually led to a 44-point defeat.

          If the Giants can get one or two wins this year, they should still be happy, but at the Draft they should consider recruiting experience rather than a big name in Buddy Franklin. The Giants’ most experienced player league-wise, Chad Cornes, is proving his worth at the Giants but his injury will definitely hurt.

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