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Inaccurate stereotypes on this site

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Sydney Swans

A lame duck?

     

The Sydney Swans are a club with a bit of an identity crisis. They are not sure if they represent South Melbourne or Sin City. Nor are they sure if they are the Swans or the Bloods. With so much confusion about who they are and what they stand for, it is quite understandable that in 30 years in Sydney they have never really inspired a loyal following.

The Swans' identity crisis can be explained by looking at its history. The club began its life as the South Melbourne Bloods. As the Bloods, the club built up one of the league's largest and most passionate supporter bases. In 1903 it was said that:

"South probably divide with Carlton the honour of the most strenuous and numerous following, and when they meet the barracking gets very wild and woolly."

In their nine years in the VFA, the Bloods won five premierships. They were a foundation club of the VFL and won premierships in 1909 and 1918. In the thirties, the club reached its zenith and won its third premiership in 1933. It was during this time that a decision was made to change the name from 'Bloods' to 'Swans'.

With their new softer connotations, a new culture began to bite and three successive grand final defeats followed. After the 1936 defeat, the Swans suffered decades of poor performances. For the next 45 years, they finished 8th or better only eight times. Their only final appearances were the 1945 grand final and the first semi-final in 1970.

It is interesting to speculate whether the Swans name contributed to the slide down the ladder. Some people say that a moniker only exists for marketing purposes and has no affect on team performance. Maybe this is true. If so, amateur teams around Australia are obviously being irrational for having a moniker when they have no need for sponsors. Furthermore, coaches who play Rocky style "eye of the tiger" music before games are obviously wasting valuable time that could be better spent on discussing tactics.

If team identity does have an affect on performance, maybe this explains why Sydney's coaches have never found success by encouraging the players to imagine they are Swans fighting for breadcrumbs.

Aside from speculating whether the moniker contributed to the slide in onfield success, it is also interesting to speculate whether the new moniker contributed to the club's decline in popularity. From a marketing perspective, the Swan moniker is not really promotion friendly. Whereas Brisbane has staged promotional events such as sending players to feed lions at the zoo, and Essendon has had its players pose for a photo in front of a stealth bomber, Sydney has never found emotional erectness by photographing its players feeding Swans at the park.

By the 1980s, the combination of poor performances and a name that didn't seem to be inspiring a new generation of followers had the Swans facing extinction. In 1982, the club moved to Sydney; believing it would ensure its viability for years to come.

The move to Sydney presented the club with a hard choice about which demographic to target. Sydney is arguably Australia's most class-conscious city. On the North Shore, would-be Prince Charlies talk about the pride they feel about playing rugby for their school. In the Eastern suburbs, the beautiful people try strike a pose as they jump on whatever is fashionable at the time. It is out west where Sydney's finest cultural expressions are to be found. It is where Ugg boots are the mainstays of shopping malls, utes turn eyes on the road and great linguistic expressions like 'oi' bring a tear to the eye of proud Australians.

As the Westies were never going to be endeared to a club with a Swan as its moniker, Sydney's new club targeted the North Shore private school schools and the Eastern Suburb trendies. The Opera House sign was added to the jumper and seemed to fit nicely with Swan logo to reinforce an image of high-class ballet.

Red and white equals pink

The upper-class image was further reinforced when the club was sold to medical entrepreneur Dr Geoffrey Edelsten in 1985. Edelstein instigated a marketing campaign based on razzmatazz, excitement and a carnival atmosphere. The doctor flew a pink helicopter and cheer girls waved their goodies at the crowd.

Capper

But the real spearhead of the campaign was a young Warrick Capper. Aside from his spectacular marks, Capper endeared himself to the crowd with long hair and an intellectual mastery that had his resembling the lead singer of an 80s glam rock band. (This potential was later realized when he was cast as a brain dead prisoner in the 93 movie, The Fortress.)

With Capper at the helm, the campaign struck a chord with the inner city professionals who were endeared by the circus atmosphere. Of course, once the razzmatazz became old hat, the support dwindled and the club once more tittered on the edge of extinction.

The club was saved by the AFL and a new promotional direction seemed intent on de-swaning the Swans' image. The new campaign spearhead was not the lead singer of a glam rock band, but a rogue in the form of Tony Lockett; one of the toughest and dirtiest players of the modern era.

On the back of Lockett's roguish demeanour, the Swans partially erode their ballet and chardonnay image and there was some optimism that they might finally gain some working class fans. However it was wishful thinking to believe self-respecting working men were ever going to jump on board a team called Swans. Community attitudes were generally of the vein:

it is going to take a lot more than shrewd marketing, appealing to the Chardonnay set or to women (who make up over half of the Swans membership and following)" (Jeff Cook)

The aerial ballet followers get four to five games on free to air a week. when the Swans were given a prime time slot against St Kilda they got smashed in the ratings, as is the case with most AFL games shown in Sydney" (Scott Brooks)

After Lockett's retirement, the club felt the need for another criminal style bad boy as its promotional face. This came in the form of Big Bad Bustling Barry Hall, (or Bazza for short.) A guru consultant was also hired to alter the way that the players thought of themselves. After much discussion, it was concluded that reverting to the Bloods name might help find some on field success:

"The Sydney crowd may barrack for the outfit named after a graceful white bird, but the players who take on the Brisbane Lions on Sunday know themselves and see themselves as 'The Bloods'. They are blood brothers, who abide by blood rules - a code of honour and a statement of intent drawn up in 2003 to fight perceptions of the easy-beat pretty-boys who were referred to, sneeringly, as 'the Swannies' by teams who operate under more aggressive monikers such as the Bombers, Eagles, Power, Crows and, significantly this week, the Lions."

The change in thinking seemed to realise the desired effect and the players appeared to show a greater willingness to fight for the hard ball. Often this left the players with their head split open with blood spilling down their face. For Sydney fans, this was a tremendous advertisement for the code. It was equally pleasing to see players returning to the field with their head bandaged up in what has been referred to as the 'Crimean War' look. It was a look that New South Welshmen had seen in the classic 1989 State of Origin when a young Benny Elias returned to the field with his head bandaged up in a turban, and proceeded to win the game for the Blues.

In 2005, the aggressive culture took the club to another grand final. The opponent was the West Coast Eagles; a star-studded team that on paper looked almost unbeatable. But in keeping with the cliché that a champion team will always beat a team of champions, Sydney played above themselves to claim their first premiership since 1933.

Despite the win, the club still has its problems. The fact that it needs to spend so much time de-swaning its image seems to indicate that perhaps the Swans brand is really nothing but a lame duck afterall.

As the club appears to be using more references to Bloods in media releases, perhaps it is laying the foundation for a return to its original name. If the club does change its name, it may gain a working class following and so become the first football club to unite Sydney's splintered classes. Any culture of relevance is built from the bottom up. As Sydney has discovered over the last 30 years, trying it build it from the top down merely results in insignificance.

Roy Morgan research

Sydney Swans supporters are:

2001 when compared to other Australians

  • 23% more likely than average to be male;
  • 36% more likely than the average to have eaten at Pizza Hut in the last four weeks;
  • 22% more likely to say the Government is doing a good job running the country;
  • 15% more likely to say TV advertising often gives them something to talk about.

2004 when compared to other AFL supporters

  • Made up of 88% New South Welshmen
  • 16% more likely to be the top AB Socio-Economic Quintile
  • 14% more likely to earn $70,000 or more per annum
  • 28% more likely to have used the TAB to place a bet
  • 26% more likely to love doing as many sports as possible
  • 23% more likely to believe that a percentage of everyone's income should go to charity
  • 78% more likely to have gone to an RSL Leagues or other club

2006 when compared to other AFL supporters

  • Made up of 87% New South Welshmen
  • 20% more likely to be a manager 

    Club song sydney swans theme song

    Cheer, cheer the red and the white,
    Honour the name by day and by night,
    Lift that noble banner high,
    Shake down the thunder from the sky
    Whether the odds be great or small,
    Swans will go in and win overall
    While her loyal sons are marching
    Onwards to victory.

    Rivalries

    The Swans don't have many rivalries. A cynic may argue that this is because the Swan's fans are such a transient bunch, every year starts afresh. But contrary to perception, there are fans who cheer year-in year-out and there are some teams which are more hated the others. 

    Nth Melbourne Kangaroos- In theory, the Swans should have a strong rivalry with Nth Melbourne. The Kangaroos defeated the Swans in the 96 Grand Final. In the 98 and 99 seasons, Nth played five "home" games in Sydney; trying to bludge off the Swans good work in raising the profile of the AFL in Sydney.

    In their time in Sydney, the Kangaroos damaged the image of the code and so forced the Swans to once more play in half empty stadiums. So annoyed, the Swans even promoted one game with a "boo a roo" campaign. However, it seems that Swans fans don't hate the Roos for one SCG match at the height of the feud only drew 14,000 spectators. 

    Melbourne Demons (manufactured)- The Swans are trying to manufacture a rivalry with the Melbourne Demons with an annual ANZAC day clash at the SCG. In theory, it represents the war of two cities. However as the Swans are a relocated Melbourne club, the Swans don't have the civic appeal that gives the rivalry some real grunt like a State of Origin clash.

    Collingwood Magpies (manufactured) - The Swans are trying to manufacture a rivalry with Collingwood. Again, it is a top-down rather than bottom-up rivalry.

    To build up the hatred, advertisements depicted the Collingwood president, Eddie McGuire, in a sombero accompanied headlines such as "remember the Alamo." (Victoria is south of the NSW border just as Mexico is south of the American border.)

    Humour aside, the rivalry is being built up with the same super hype that Ruper Murdoch used to sell Super League in 1997. If Eddie McGuire is to be believed, a clash between the Sydney Swans and the Melbourne club is meant to rival a State of Origin or Bledisloe Cup game. Of course, television ratings and crowd figures say otherwise.

    Essendon Bombers - Perhaps the only genuine bottom-up rival is with Essendon. The Swans beat the Bombers by a point in the 96 preliminary final and the two clubs usually have very close games. The two clubs also have a middleclass supporter base thus the 'sameness' that makes for good jeering. Unlike Collingwood, Essendon games don't need massive promotion to draw a crowd in Sydney.  

    Carlton Blues - In the late eighties, matches against Carlton were eagerly anticipated in Sydney. Perhaps it was due to Carlton's then yuppy image which likewise appealed to the club chardonnay of Sydney fans.

    Sydney Swans jokes

    1) It was the day of the Grand Final when the officials took a call from the gatekeeper. "There are two life members of the Swans and they have lost their tickets." "Throw them out!!!" said the executive. "Whoever heard of the Swans having life members. "

    2) On a crowded train going to the SCG, a fan decked out in red and white colours proudly had a large Swan sitting on his lap. Sitting directly opposite, at face level with the Swan, was an old codger in red and black colours. " They won't let you take a pig into the SCG you know" he said loudly. "Its not a pig, its a Swan,  ya dickhead" said the fan in the red and white colours. "I wasn't talking to you" replied the old codger.

    3) "Almost a touch of synchronised swimming about the Swans..... minus the peg..."

    Icon

  • Tony Lockett - A most unswanlike full-forward. When he played for St Kilda, Lockett exposed the nose catilage of a Sydney player and gave an up-yours to the SCG crowd. Was also the target of a joke when Sydney fans wrote "Lockett" on a pig and released it onto the ground. Later he was traded to Sydney and became the crowd's darling.
  • Paul Kelly - Barrel chested midfielder with a ton of courage that inspired the SCG banners 'Kelly Country.'
  • Warrick Caper - High flying pretty boy with a terrible hair style modelled after an 80s glamour rock band. A historical skeleton in the closet that everyone hopes will fade into history, but sadly, just wont go away.
  • Troy Luff - Fluffy Luffy as he was affectionately known, didn't have the type of name that strikes fear into the hearts of opponents. Delisted four times but never gave up and in one year, finished the season as the league's premier center half-forward.
  • Darren Cresswell - A semi-walking example of all the injuries that can suffered by a football player. On one occasion, television footage showed him in agony as he knocked his dislocated kneecap back into position. Was subsequently told that straightening his leg would have done a better job.
  • Dale Lewis - Mop of hair made him a Tom Baker Dr Who look-a-like.
  • Boby Skilton - An old South Melbourne player who never played on the SCG, never did training on a Sydney beach and was never cheered on by a Sydney crowd. Even so, the Sydney marketing department tells the Sydney fans that Skilton is their icon.

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  Was this more interesting than a news update of players in a recovery session standing around in the ocean looking cold or of a team 'training without incident'?