The AFL has had a presence in the northern states for decades, but it takes detailed analysis to see the relative success of these clubs.
There’s an absolutely huge disparity in actual members and crowd averages between the two states which of course is directly influenced by form or lack thereof.
The Suns have a better home crowd average than GWS, although GWS is hamstrung a bit by Manuka and its capacity.
If we look below the AFL level we find that at grassroots level in 2017 across the Sydney basin there were 84 senior men’s and women’s teams in Sydney, 39 around Newcastle and 19 around Wollongong for a total of 142 senior teams.
If we look at SE Queensland in 2017 it is quite similar. There are 146 senior teams playing from Tweed Heads through to the Sunshine Coast that is also probably a similar geographic spread to the Sydney basin.
Working on a football to population basis. per capita SE Queensland would seem to be a fair way ahead and if we look at the state of senior community football in 2012 there were 92 senior teams in SE Queensland.
Even without the Brisbane Lions being perennial finalists like the Swans and although the GC Suns have given a boost to football on the GC – which was always traditionally strong – it seems SE Queensland football has grown independently of the Brisbane Lions’ success or lack thereof.
This sort of contradicts an argument by some who claim that lack of Swans success would see the crumbling of grass roots football below it.
What has really boomed in SE Queensland is women’s football. In 2011 there were only six senior women’s teams, four under 18s teams and six under 15s teams, in 2017 there were 28 senior women’s teams, 18 under 17s, 22 under 15s, 31 under 13s and 20 under 11s. They are specific girls teams, although it would be fair to say many under 11s would probably play with the boys at that age, so under 11s may be not fully representative.
Eight more clubs have been allocated women’s licences for 2018 according to an AFL Queensland article. Queensland – after Victoria – is probably the second strongest state for women’s football, a great achievement.
At a junior level both areas have similar type numbers, Brisbane have around 8,000 juniors, Gold Coast claimed 2,950 this year, Sydney juniors claimed over 10,000 across its two zones (GWS and Swans) a couple of years ago, although these numbers are generally without Auskick club numbers – yes that word Auskick! – which are usually around 40 per cent of any clubs base.
Sunshine Coast as well as Newcastle, Illawarra and the Central Coast all have varying numbers through their junior associations, with Newcastle and the Sunshine Coast having good growth over recent years.
I suspect that a top four spot for either the Suns or Lions will see a grass roots interest spike in SE Queensland as it has in the last couple of years in Sydney because of GWS and the Swans. A decade ago SE Queensland was quite comfortably ahead of the Sydney area, but now particularly at junior level Sydney seem to be moving ahead.
Combined Swans and GWS membership – 79,832*
Combined Brisbane and GC membership – 33,027*
*Figures at sixth September 2017
Combined home crowd average Swans and GWS – 23,297 (no finals included)
Swans – 33,398, GWS – 13,196
Combined home average crowd Brisbane and GC – 15,059
Brisbane – 16,455, GC – 13,663