Our worst fears have been confirmed, there is a new superpower in the AFL.
Following their 36-point triumph over the Sydney Swans, it is clear that Greater Western Sydney has given this year’s premiership race a severe shake-up.
It is a huge changing of the guard, and one the AFL will be most pleased with given it is the first time both Sydney teams have reached the finals together.
The Giant’s success will certainly help the AFL in expanding their brand, considering both teams reside in a rugby league dominated state.
The Swans’ have been in the finals race for an extended period of time now, appearing in 14 of the past 16 finals series’ including two premierships. It’s a fantastic record indeed, but now there is a new challenger for the premiership and they may be looking to unseat the Swans as the best AFL team in Sydney.
This begs the question, with still a low fan base, and the AFL world (largely in Melbourne) knowing so little about GWS, is the AFL ready for the Giants to win this year’s flag?
The short answer is no, they are not, but you can’t stop a team from winning a grand final based on the lack of fan support or attendances they receive.
The first hurdle the AFL has been hit with since the Giant’s win over the Swans is their home Preliminary final to be played next weekend.
The Qualifying final game against the Swans saw 60,222 people pile into ANZ Stadium on Saturday afternoon, a great crowd, although a large majority of these supporters belonged to the Swans faithful.
Week three of the finals will see GWS return to their home patch at Spotless Stadium in Sydney, a stadium that can hold a maximum capacity of 24,000 people. Whether it be against Hawthorn or the Western Bulldogs, there will not be half the amount of spectators we saw at Domain Stadium, the MCG, ANZ Stadium and Adelaide Oval.
Having a Preliminary final that will attract such a low crowd will be of a concern for the AFL, who are just as about gaining revenue as they are about fairness and equalization to all clubs.
The Giants have earnt the right to play at their home ground, but so too did the Swans and Cats, who finished first and second on the AFL ladder before having to play their ‘home games’ at ANZ Stadium and the MCG respectively.
It is true, the SCG holds a capacity of 46,000 whilst Simonds Stadium can currently only hold approximately 27,000 (due to ongoing construction with the ground), both noticeably smaller than ANZ Stadium and the MCG.
Although despite the lower capacity of these two grounds in comparison to the chosen ones, and the fact that Geelong versus Hawthorn is one of the great modern day rivalries, both the Swans and Geelong would have fair arguments in wondering where their desired home final was last week.
It doesn’t seem right that the AFL gets to pick and choose where a team gets to play their home final based upon expected ticket sales/attendances, it is inconsistent and confusing at the same time.
This is highlighted even further when it’s considered that AFL Chief Executive Officer Gillon McLachlan announced the Swans would have been allowed to play at the SCG if they were playing any other of the top eight sides instead.
This shows how much the AFL does want GWS to succeed this year, and you can’t blame them, having a Preliminary final in an area where the AFL wants the game to grow is a huge win.
If the Giants do reach a grand final, which they are certainly more than capable of on last week’s effort, it will be a huge reason for the AFL to applaud yet possibly cringe at the same time.
It would be a fantastic achievement, for the AFL’s newest club to reach a grand final in the fifth year of their existence; however, this would see the lowest supporter base of any of the AFL’s clubs be tasked will filling plenty of seats on grand final day.
If the Giants were to face off against Geelong or even Adelaide in the grand final, expect the opposition’s spectators to swarm the Giants faithful in terms of overall presence at the ground, not ideal when most grand final days see a much more even spread.
The AFL isn’t quite ready for GWS to hold the premiership cup aloft in 2016, but they would love to see it happen and so too would most of the football community.
AFL and Australian Rules Football alone in New South Wales and Brisbane still takes a backseat role in terms of where it sits on their sporting agenda, despite improving progressively.
Both expansion clubs, GWS and the Gold Coast Suns feature under 11,000 members each, but with a deep run in this year’s finals, the Giant’s membership numbers should be expected to boom prior to the 2017 AFL season.
With these numbers currently down though, it could be years before the AFL is truly ‘ready’ for GWS to win a flag, especially with GWS’ membership numbers only taking up roughly 10% of the MCG’s capacity as it is.
The AFL may not have time to wait though, especially as GWS loom as a huge threat for this year’s premiership.