It was at about this time during 2013 that many began to speculate about the future of AFL star Lance Franklin and whether he would make the move from Hawthorn to the Greater Western Sydney Giants. Now, the Giants must be left wondering what could have been.
The predicted arrival of Lance Franklin to GWS promised so much. He would become the new face of the franchise, luring media attention, sponsorship opportunities, members and importantly larger crowds.
However, after the Sydney Swans made the $10 million investment into Franklin’s future these hopes quickly faded.
The figures show that his presence and influence at the Swans has already started to pay dividends in more ways than one.
Firstly, Sydney membership numbers have passed the 40,000 mark for the first time in the club’s history, up from 36,358 last year.
While Franklin would be first to state his presence is not the reason for the increase, Swans Josh Kennedy has admitted the arrival of the power forward has helped fuel Sydney’s record numbers.
“I think it’d be quite ignorant and naive of me to think not,” Swans midfielder Josh Kennedy has stated.
Some encouraging news for GWS was released last week, with membership numbers increasing by nearly 1000 to just under 13,500 thus far in the 2014 season.
These are positive figures despite disappointing average crowd numbers for GWS home games falling from nearly 11,000 in its inaugural year to just above 9000 at this point during 2014. This average is 8300 people below the second last placed Gold Coast Suns.
In comparison, Sydney’s average attendance at homes games has spiked by nearly 4000 from last year until now. In addition, when playing away they are attracting (on average) an extra 4400 people than they did during their 2012 premiership year.
With an increase of $2 million in corporate sponsorship in 2014, Swans CEO Andrew Ireland stated, “There is no doubt in a general sense Buddy is helping when you look at membership, attendances and corporate support, there’s no doubt he’s part of that.”
We all know that the Israel Folau experiment did not work out, but Sydney’s acquisition of Franklin has become a PR nightmare for the Giants.
Aside from the Giants’ surprise win in Round 1 over the Swans, Franklin’s outgoing persona, injury woes, car crashing incidents and most importantly high-level performances on the field have received more traction than any GWS story this year.
Following the second GWS versus Sydney rivalry clash of the year, the Sydney Morning Herald headline read “Sydney Swans star Lance Franklin stands tall in win over GWS Giants.”
Heath Shaw’s comic press conference while a wearing cricket helmet and the rumours of former NRL-star Todd Carney potentially being given a lifeline by GWS a fortnight ago, could not divert attention from Buddy’s late withdrawal from the game against the Bombers.
There is virtually no other player currently in the AFL system that GWS could acquire to rival the level of Franklin’s marketability.
The unfortunate reality is that if GWS continually fail to perform on field, Buddy will continue to be the centre of attention in Sydney.
Above all though, Franklin has been influential in helping the Swans win football games, storming into Coleman Medal favouritism and Brownlow Medal discussions, while the GWS have consistently underperformed.
Whether Franklin’s actions on or off the field are spectacular, poor or controversial, he will always be the story.
In February GWS chairman Tony Shepard declared the Swans’ signing of Franklin has “not been a good move” and that “with hindsight I’m relieved we didn’t get him. Not that we could have come anywhere near that price.”
Finances aside, he now finds his club competing against one of the AFL’s most marketable and popular players, left wondering what great effect he could have had on their club.
While it is widely understood that the growth of the GWS brand is a twenty to thirty year project, Franklin’s guaranteed presence for nine years in Sydney has already begun to have an impeding effect on the marketability of the western Sydney club.
While it requires patience, there is no doubting that the talented Giants will eventually become an AFL powerhouse and like when the Swans first came to NSW, their supporter base will develop over time.
However, at present and perhaps for the next eight and a half years, if I was young kid growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney, I know who I would want to be like – Buddy Franklin.