From an observer’s point of view, the evolution of GWS over the past seven years reveals a club battling a plethora of issues.
These issues are not behaviour based but more about trying to cope with a raft of circumstances evolving after the club was established. As an outsider looking in, I don’t think the AFL adequately considered the issues around the largesse it bestowed on GWS and the complexities associated with managing them effectively.
In this regard, the AFL should be firmly in the crosshairs. I’ll borrow from Paul Keating, and have a dig at the AFL for giving us GWS, “the obsession we had to have.” The AFL’s expansion philosophy for the western suburbs of Sydney smacked of impatience and an unabashed desire to take advantage of what it saw, among other things a potentially untapped market.
I’ll cut the AFL some slack here, the proposal to establish GWS was backed by the other club presidents, so it wasn’t without support.
The generous, but necessary draft concessions were always going to be a list manager’s nightmare and player movement at GWS has been a revolving door. Apart from the player management issues, the other downside is the impact it’s had on GWS’ reputation as a destination club.
The amount of talent pillaged from GWS during its short history is mind-blowing, but hardly surprising given the bounty of talent acquired in the early days.
Another developing problem for GWS is their experienced and ageing marquee players. They have to develop and retain their own clutch of experienced players as they no longer have the luxury of being able to throw around money and draft picks with the abandon of the past to improve their list. Player retention is arguably their number one priority.
As mentioned above, the issue around GWS as a destination club is significant. Even if GWS has the currency to negotiate the acquisition of key players from other clubs, it’s unlikely to be seen as an attractive destination if their success on the field deteriorates. This same issue will also impact player retention from within its existing list.
There’s little doubt that the AFL’s benevolence and commitment to the accelerated success of the Giants has set them up for failure in the medium to long term. Since its inception in 2012, GWS really has existed in a bubble.
The draft concessions and other inducements gave them a good leg up in the short term but there were obvious problems with the AFL’s approach and they have been criticised by various AFL luminaries for being too trigger happy in their approach to establishing GWS.
If it was possible for any club to have too much of a good thing too quickly, then GWS is about as close as it gets. How well GWS have managed these circumstances will no doubt be the subject of much discussion if, or should I say when, the Giants’ fortunes start to deteriorate.
One would hope that GWS are strategically prepared for a seamless transition to a more “normal” operating environment enjoyed by the other 16 clubs (Gold Coast excluded) now that they’re on equal footing, but it seems unlikely.
Finally, home town support for the GWS has been underwhelming but hardly surprising in its formative years. The GWS team has enjoyed some success over the past three years and membership has almost doubled since 2015, but is still only around the 25,000 mark forming a trifecta in the bottom three with Brisbane and Gold Coast.
Average home crowd attendances have remained almost static over the same period with an average of around 12,000. Whether these issues impact on its on-field performance is questionable, but it does impact the marketability of the club as a whole, and that’s an ongoing concern for the AFL.
At best, I give GWS another two to three years as a competitive outfit before the worm turns and its on-field success begins to wane. The AFL will need to keep its powder dry and actively consider risk strategies to avoid another expansion club crisis.
No one wants to see such a scenario, but the circumstances as outlined above makes this outcome more likely than unlikely.