User:Srootes/AFL expansion into Western Sydney; The Battle of the Codes

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For years the suburbs of Western Sydney have been dominated by the code of Rugby League. However, after the establishment of the AFL team Greater Western Sydney Giants, the AFL has been doing its best to turn the tides. This past year the AFL has been most determined to enter the new market and gain the biggest market share of supporters in the area as possible. They have held clinics in schools to get kids interested, paid councils to rejuvenate fields and have advertised so that their exposure is wide and far spread. The National Rugby League (NRL) has been most affected by the entrance of this new club and has taken the move personally. From the beginning the NRL have fought the introduction of the AFL in the area. Not willing to give up one of their most populated talent pools areas, the NRL have been working just as hard as the AFL to maintain the number of supporters in Western Sydney.

For this essay I will look into what the AFL has done to ensure their growth in the area, using documents for proposals, newspaper articles and other sources of media. I will also be examining the response of the AFL's main competitor, Rugby League and how they have tried to maintain membership numbers in the area. As a comparison I will also look into the reactions of both codes when the NRL expanded into Melbourne by establishing the team Melbourne Storm.


AFL team Sydney Swans will now have hometown rivals in the form of the GWS Giants,

The plan for the Greater Western Sydney (GWS) Giants has been in motion for over three years,the expansion of the AFL into Western Sydney is part of the AFL’s strategic vision to have an AFL match played in New South Wales and Queensland every week by 2015[1]. To achieve this dream, the concept of the GWS AFL team was born.The task of creating a sustainable AFL club in a region strongly dominated by the code of Rugby League, with soccer coming second only in participation rates was never going to be easy[2]. But the AFL were determined to make it work and have shown over the past three years through financial and community investment that they are committed to the West and are here to stay. On the other hand there is the NRL who have not been in a turf war this tough since the super league wars of the 1990’s. The AFL’s decision to place the 18th club in the heartland of rugby league was always a risky move by the AFL and the NRL, as a result have had re-examine some of their procedures to find a way to maintain their stronghold on the Greater Western Sydney region.

AFL; Breaching Enemy Lines[edit]

With many challenges facing the club before its inception, the AFL and its Sydney game ambassadors knew that a creative approach would need to be taken to get the club noticed and to grow a support base. The first challenge facing the GWS club was that of gaining the 18th AFL licence. This meant the club meeting specific criteria set out by the AFL board. These criteria included;

  • coach
  • club staff
  • players
  • training facility
  • partners
  • playing stadium[3]

The GWS Giants have been very smart in whom they have hired in their coaching and club staff as well as the players they have signed. The people that have chosen are either well known people within the game or have high profiles in other circles. By doing this, the club hopes that the GWS brand awareness will grow

Coach; the GWS Giants signed AFL coaching legend Kevin Sheedy on a three year deal. This appointment of head coach was a great step forward for the club as Kevin Sheedy is one of the most recognised faces and name in the games history[4]. This fact alone meant that with Kevin Sheedy as head coach the club received some much needed credibility.

Players; to help with boosting the profile of AFL in Western Sydney, the Giants have worked hard to secure some high profile athletes to play at the club. This hard work paid off with Israel Folau switching codes to play with the Giants in their debut season. Folau was a good option from the team as he originally hails fro the Minto region.

Israel Folau has been a great asset to the promotion of AFL in Western Sydney,

Having a player with background in the area will hopefully give the community a sense of pride in their team. Other high profile signings include Rhys Palmer, Phil Davis, Callan Ward, Sam Reid, and Tom Scully who will join the giants from various AFL sides around the country [5]. Outside of these six high profile signings, the Giants have built the team with young athletes fresh out of academies. This action shows once again the commitment that Giants have to Western Sydney and the future of the game. The club is looking to build into the community not simply insert a ready made team to ‘represent’ the area.

Training Facilities; The GWS Giants and the AFL are winning over the west in with one very simple method, financial investment. An integral part of the expansion plan was to renovate and improve the playing and training fields through out western Sydney. The AFL has most recently invested $20 000 dollars into a flood light development in Wollondilly, among a handful of other suburbs receiving the same treatment[6]. The AFL has also invested in ground improvements adding AFL posts where they can. These developments have often meant less travel time for juniors. In stark contrast, councils in Western Sydney feel as though the Rugby League has not invested in the same manner despite regularly using the facilities, making the AFL’s commitment a welcome change[7]. The AFL has also set up academies in ACT and in the Western Sydney area, particularly Blacktown where a partnership has been formed between the council and the Giants. Money from the AFL has been poured into improving the Blacktown sporting facility

Partners; The GWS Giants have partnered with the automotive company Skoda as the major sponsor of the team. The company believe the Giants are a sound investment because of the similarity of visions and strategic planning the club and company have for their respective organisations[8]. Skoda will have the home stadium named after them.

Playing Stadium; GWS have secured rights to have Sydney Showground as their home stadium. The NSW government has backed the club approving of the improvement plans for the stadium. GWS Giants are also partnering with the Royal Agricultural Society in the renovations. Once the renovations are complete the Giants will have their own home stadium that will seat 25 000 spectators, electronic scoreboard, public address system and will be a multi use venue, being shared between all the codes if need be[9]. AFL in the ACT has also negotiated a deal with the Giants that will see the development of AFL in the ACT. Regular games will take place at Manuka oval in Canberra throughout the season as a result[10].

In an attempt to engage the potential membership base and the wider community in the ACT, the GWS Giants collaborated with marketing agency Coordinate to create a competition where the public could design and choose the uniform strip that the team would wear when playing in Canberra. The campaign was fully interactive including a website where designs could be posted, the use of social media and other conventional methods of marketing such as news articles (Canberra Weekly) and radio announcements (FM104.7 and Mix 106.3)[11].

The GWS Giants take community involvement as being an integral part of the club. Being based in an area where about 46 per cent of the residents are from non English speaking backgrounds means that there is an opportunity to make Aussie Rules their sport that they love to play and support. To foster this relationship, the club has formed partnerships and initiatives with different communities to promote health, harmony, education and employment. Partnerships involve local councils, and/or government departments such as the current “living in harmony” program[12].

The GWS Giants have worked hard as a club to get to the position they are in today, only a few months away from embarking in their debut season. In working to meet the criteria set out by the AFL, the Giants have ensured that through their work a strong foundation for the club has been set so the club can be sustainable and profitable in Western Sydney. The main strategy has been to show the community that the club shares the same values in sport, are community minded and are dedicated to keeping AFL in the area for many years to come.

National Rugby League; Defending the line[edit]

The code of rugby league is split down the middle in its reaction to the expansion of AFL into western Sydney. On one side there are the officials and board members who are confident in the code’s position in the West, firmly believing that the long and rich history has provided a strong enough foundation for the code. On the other hand, there are the board members and officials, such as Gus Gould, who have drawn the battle lines and are ready to fight the expansion till the end. These people believe that the code needs to be proactive in its response to the presence of the GWS Giants, in order to maintain its strong hold on being the preferred sport in western Sydney.

Statistics from this year show that participation rates in the under sixes teams in Penrith are up 11% and Parramatta were up 10%[13]. If statistics don’t lie then the NRL can breathe a sigh of relief, as these show that code is not in as much danger as first believed. These statistics are the results of a century of the code being present in the region and relationships that have been built over that time[14]. With this school of thought the next course of action for the code is simply to keep building on these relationships. The money and programs that the AFL is throwing into the region cannot undo one hundred years of the sport being in the region and the pride that the community takes in that rich history.

The NRL will need to fight to keep grassroots rugby league the preferred sport in western Sydney,

The proactive arm of the NRL has developed three main strategies in response to the increased presence and popularity of AFL in western Sydney. The first strategy has been the collaboration of the four CEO’s of the NRL premiership teams in the west. These men have been meeting since august of this year to discuss strategy in managing this problem. The second strategy is for the code to emphasise their commitment to the development of junior players in western Sydney. This has been done through the Western Sydney Academy, with focus being placed on the fact that the academy is new and shows the NRL’s commitment to the region. The third strategy is perhaps the most obvious, it involves the NRL manufacturing the draw so that the GWS Giants are up against a blockbuster NRL match every time they play at home in Bankstown[15].

Comparison with the Melbourne Storm[edit]

The Melbourne Storm is a NRL team that came into existence during the Super League wars. There had been talk for many years about the league expanding into Victoria, and the Victorian Rugby League was eager to see a partnership formed. However, finances, poor attendances at trial matches and the league wars kept postponing the expansion plans. The inception of the club finally occurred in 1998, alongside the beginnings of the National Rugby League[16], the end result of nearly twenty years of work and the club has never looked back building the a team and culture that has won three premierships.

The example team should encourage the GWS Giants as it shows how well a rival code can do despite being in a region known for its support of another. If the Giants along with the AFL continue their hard work in the west of Sydney, the results will eventually show and the club will reap what they have sown.


To conclude this argument, it would be safe to say that the line between the business, politics and sport of this issue is hard to define. The AFL has embraced the business side by creating a fully integrated marketing plan to launch the GWS Giants into western Sydney. This marketing plan has helped the AFL in understanding its target market, knowing what they wanted and needed and have been able to provide this because of the organisations deep pockets. The NRL has had to take a different approach to the issue as a result of the league not having the same financial backing as the AFL. Therefore the NRL has taken the political side, with claims that the AFL are ‘playing dirty’ and treating the expansion team as invaders to their homeland. The strategies have revolved around board members and clubs taking action to stop the spread of AFL in the region. Then there is the sport component of the issue, a component that can be quickly forgotten about when the media focuses on the business and political aspects. With sport seen as a business and a form of entertainment now days, we can often lose sight of what the games should be about, that is the promotion and development of sport in Australia.


A link to the presentation that supports this paper


  1. GWS Giants website. "A bold vision", GWS Giants, Sydney, 2010. Retrieved on 27 October 2011.
  2. Wilson R. "GWS face some giants", The Daily Telegraph, Sydney, November 20 2010. Retrieved on 29 October 2011.
  3. GWS Giants website. "A bold vision", GWS Giants, Sydney, 2010. Retrieved on 27 October 2011.
  4. ABC News. "Sheedy the right fit for west Sydney; AFL", ABC News, Sydney, November 09 2009. Retrieved on 27 October 2011.
  5. Paton, Al. "GWS Giants cash too good to refuse, admits Callan Ward", Herald Sun, Melbourne, September 07 2011. Retrieved on 1 November 2011.
  6. Wu, Andrew. "How the AFL is winning over the west", Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, August 13 2011. Retrieved on 30 October 2011.
  7. Wu, Andrew. "How the AFL is winning over the west", Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, August 13 2011. Retrieved on 30 October 2011.
  8. Skoda. "Skoda Australia named as GWS Giants major sponsor",, Sydney, November 17 2010. Retrieved on 30 October 2011.
  9. GWS Giants. "Team GWS unveils plans for new home", GWS Giants website, Sydney, June 17 2010. Retrieved on 1 November 2011.
  10. AFL Chairman's Report. "Chairman's Report", AFL website, Melbourne, 2010. Retrieved on 31 October 2011.
  11. Coordinate - GWS Giants webpage. "Coordinate; Make your Mark", Coordinate Agency website, Canberra, 2011. Retrieved on 30 October 2011.
  12. GWS Giants. "Working With Communities; where we live, work and play", GWS Giants website, Sydney, 2010. Retrieved on 29 October 2011.
  13. Walter, Brad. "Ground Zero: why commission must tackle 'sporting apartheid'", The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, August 23 2011. Retrieved on October 27 2011.
  14. Reid, Brent. "The stats that prove rugby league has nothing to fear in western Sydney", The Australian, Sydney, August 13 2011. Retrieved on 30 October 2011.
  15. Walter Brad. "Western union: club bosses meet to fight AFL threat", The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, August 10 2011. Retrieved on 1 November 2011
  16. Fagan, Sean. "Evolution of Storm; Melbourne Storm club history", Melbourne Storm website, Melbourne, 2011. Retrieved on 1 November 2011.