The GWS corporate naming was certainly a very odd marketing ploy for a code that has long suffered an image problem that prevented it from appealing to the working class of Sydney.
What do the clubs say they stand for?
Gold Coast Suns
North Melbourne Kangaroos
Port Adelaide Power
St Kilda Saints
West Coast Eagles
A Giant Fredudian Flop!
In America, the NFL Superbowl is promoted as a kind of de facto national day. The AFL has never been able to do the same with its grand final because Australia’s first and most populous has never really taken to the game. Admittedly, the city has the Swans but it is a relocated Melbourne team. Furthermore, the AFL know that the demographic that attends Swans games are about as reliable as a cheesecloth condom. The only way they can be enticed to games is to give them a glamour full forward to cheer on.
It is the workers and tradies of the west that the AFL has long known it needs to get on side if it wants its image of being a national game taken seriously. In 2012, it launched the GSW Giants to appeal to this long alienated market. Unfortunately, it did so by dressing itself up like door-to-door salesman for a life-insurance company. In short, its whole image was plastic, insincere, corporate and on the move. It's first membership slogan was "stand tall", which was probably made so that the club's few spectators would stand up to conceal all its empty seats.
The Giants' mascot of G-man. Part hair-product commericial and part 1950s door-to-door toothpaste salesman.
Admittedly, initial marketing of the Giants was more sexual than corporate. Amongst rugby league fans, Australian football is often derided as GAYAFL. Rather than offer a counter to that perception, the AFL seemed to to embrace it a central part of its identity. Specifically, after choosing Rooty Hill RSL as its social homebase, a GWS website poll offered fans the choice between Giants, Pride, Rangers and Stallions for the team’s name. Taken in isolation, there would be no reason to think of a deliberate phallic focus but all four together had a common had a common denominator.
The club's graphic designer was obviously on board with the sexual marketing as he or she was forced to redesign the club's "G" logo after somehow weaving a penis into it. According to Fairfax journalist Richard Hinds,
It seems the same graphic designer also put a phallic bump that was almost 3/4 of a waist wide into the G man mascot. So large was the bump that it even cast a shadow down G Man's thighs. To make it even more sexual, the designer put the viewer from an around-the-ankles perspective. By way of comparison, other heroes in tights, such as the Phantom and Superman, are not drawn with such enhancements as it is against convention to include gentalia in products targeted at children.
The phallic marketing was playing with fire as a marketing love of puns risked everything being seen through the prism of the penis. For example, its 2019 membership slogan was, “Everything's bigger up close”, which could obviously be read as a response to a disappointing showing.
Despite a seemingly deliberate attempt to define the club by the phallus, it was more of a corporate feel that took hold. This probably can be attribute to the GWS acronym. It is a type of naming that is seen in corporate behemoths like KMPG, JBL, DHL, AT&T, AOL and ING where having a soul is meaningless for the bean counters that create them.
The AFL never explained why they named the club GWS. Aside from giving a corporate feel, it was an odd name because greater wester Sydney did not refer to any place that existed in terms of identity. I.e, whereas people said they were from “the west”, that they are “westies” or from “west Sydney”, they didn't say they were from Greater Western Sydney or GWS country. In short, GWS was a name that existed outside any kind of community social psychology.
Presumably the name was chosen because the AFL also wanted the club to play in Canberra and may have felt tagging “greater” onto the end of west Sydney somehow including Canberra. Alternatively, the virtual removal of a geographic market via the use of a GWS acronym would reduce the likelihood of alienating Canberreans. Whatever the reason, it left many commentators bemused when ideally they should have been enthused. As Fairfax's Daniel Cherny wrote in 2014,
While the choice of the GWS made the club look insincere, so was the decision to try to play in two different cities to represent both. In some regards, it was like a man refusing to make a choice between two ladies (or two other men) which ultimately resulted in both rejecting him. Sometimes it just isn't possible to have your cake and eat it too.
In addition to making the club look insincere, representing two cities made the challenge of community engagement so much more difficult. In a way, it was like an aspiring professional athlete trying to hedge their bets between two competing sports by playing one for half a season and the other for the second half of the season. Ultimately, the competitor that chooses one sport ends up at a superior level because all their resources go to the one goal. In Canberra, GWS competes with the Canberra Raiders who have around 12 home games to build publicity and forge a community connection. By comparison, GWS has three. In Sydney, GWS competes with 8 NRL clubs who have around 12 home games in addition to games against other Sydney clubs. By comparison, GWS has 8 plus a game against the Swans. While having two cities gives GWS two ponds, in each pond it increases the chance of GWS remaining small in both.
The AFL’s reluctance to commit was also reflected in its transience regarding a home base. Initially, Blacktown was chosen. In preparation, the NSW government, Blacktown City Council, Cricket NSW and the AFL agreed to the development of an AFL/Cricket centre at Blacktown International Sportspark at a cost of $27.5 million. It was a decision they started to doubt after Collingwood president Eddie McGuire said Western Sydney was a land of falafel eaters that draftees would soon want to escape from. As he said in 2011,
McGuire’s prophecy proved correct as recruits allegedly looked at Blacktown and just refused to base themselves there. Admittedly, Blacktown doesn’t appear in many tourism brochures but neither does Adelaide. For that matter, neither does west Melbourne where Essendon and the Western Bulldogs are based. In fact, the suburb of Collingwood was literally Melbourne's toilet for most of the 20th century. For whatever reason, the AFL decided that it would be fair to continue to forcing recruits to Adelaide and west Melbourne but not to Blacktown. As a result, in 2013, it commenced work on a new base in the suburb of Sydney Olympic Park. In addition, the NSW government committed $45 million to upgrade the Sydney showground to host the Giants home games. The constant moving made it seem that GWS stood for Gone Walkabout Sydney.
Players were later housed at Breakfast Point on the Parramatta River. In theory, the ferry access to the city would make it easy for the recruits to experience Sydney’s night life. Unfortunately, lock out laws had largely killed that. In addition, the Parramatta River would offer fishing opportunities for country recruits. While it did that, heavy metal poisoning in the river ensured most of the fish were only suitable to feed to mother-in-laws which most of the recruits had yet to acquire.
To be competitive, the Giants were given 8 top 10 selections in the 2011 draft, 4 players that would be eligible for the 2012 draft and the ability to sign up to 16 current AFL players who were uncontracted for the 2013 season. They also signed rugby league player Israel Folau who was intended was intended to build “brand awareness” as journalists wrote stories about his progress.
As was to be expected, a team of boys and a rugby convert were thrashed in ther first season. The thrashing and personal difficulty of playing AFL were too much for Folau who quit the sport. He said he just didn’t have the passion, which was a polite way of saying he didn’t like AFL. Sydney rugby league fans then became “aware” that even for millions of dollars a year, their heroes don’t want to play AFL. It seemed the Folau's GWS story stood for Got Widely Seen but then Gone With Sense.
By their fifth year, in 2015, the Giants had become competitive and made their first final series. More final appearances followed in 2016, 17, 18 and 19. Despite the success on the field, its Sydney showground stadium remained largely empty for home games and even home finals. For all its success on the field, GSW just didn't design an image that resonated with West Sydney.
GWS has self annointed themselves as the Giants that are towering over the packs, but they are not giants. In regards to their pecking order in Sydney, they are very much at the bottom, more like the dwafes jumping up and down to photobomb Swans' fans in their Instagram posts. For the AFL, the Sydney dream was as far as it had ever been.
With initials for of a non-existent place for their name and a non-descript moniker, the Giants are about as sterile as an empty room in a hospital. This makes the team very difficult to joke about.
The lyrics do seem a case of the smallest dog barks the loudest.
The presumption is that they will have a rivalry with the Sydney Swans once they are successful. Perhaps the Swans will be criticised as a Melbourne import and the Giants as the genuine team (that plays in Canberra and has initials instead of Sydney in its name.)
Their current clash is called the Battle of the Bridge, which is meant to represent an east west divide. It is a titling that has annoyed Swans fans as they point out that their name is Sydney, not east Sydney while GWS isn't a region at all.
In 2017, the term “Great Western” was coined in reference to a perceived rivalry with the Western Bulldogs. Both teams receive AFL welfare for survival and both aim to represent the west of their respect cities (and a bit more with GWS). Furthermore, both teams receive benefits that aim to increase their competiveness on the field. In GWS’s case, it is favourable draft and academy concessions. In the Bulldog’s case, it is sympathetic umpiring. In the 2016 preliminary final, it was the battle between draft concessions and umpire assistance, with umpiring assistance eventually proving triumphant.