Giants in name, dwarf in nature
In the realms of international business, companies named after initials such as KMPG, JBL, DHL, AT&T and ING are giants. In 2012, the AFL launched GWS in the hope it could join the transnational initial club. Although the use of initials for a name gave it a very corporate feel, it also made it feel soulless. This corporate feel contributed to its stands remaining empty and making dwarfs seem like a more apt nickname.
The choice of GWS as a name was odd considering no one in Australia says they come from GWS or even Greater Western Sydney. In fact, no one even knows where Western Sydney ends and Greater Western Sydney begins. By choosing to name a football club after a place that, in terms of identity, doesn't exist, the AFL was disassociating the team from any geographic or cultural stereotypes. It is not clear why it would do this, but the most probably explanation was that the corporate world of the AFL looked down upon Western Sydney. For some, such as media personality and Collingwood president Eddie McGuire, Western Sydney was a land of falafel eaters that draftees would soon want to escape from. As he said in 2011,
While Melbournians like McGuire see Western Sydney as a land of falafel eaters, people in Eastern suburbs of Sydney have looked upon the west as the region of the lawless and/or low class. In colonial era, it was the site of the battle of Vinegar Hill where Convicts launched a full scale insurrection only to be crushed. The western suburb of Blacktown was named after a school for Aboriginal children was moved from Parramatta to its site, resulting in the new school area being referred to as "The Black's Town." Further west, the Blue Mountain region of Penrith provided shelter to Irish bushrangers like Jack Donahue, the bushranger immortalised in the iconic ballad Wild Colonial Boy.
Although there is a lot of cultural character in West Sydney's history, in more recently times, it would be fair to that that there is a good reason why photos of the region (aside from the Blue Mountains) don’t appear in tourism campaigns for Sydney. In regards to environment, the Parramatta River is so polluted that if any fish are caught, they are really only safe to serve to mother-in-laws. In between the polluted rivers is what is typically referred to as urban sprawl polluted by people that the corporates in the east would be represented by GSW initials of Guns Wounds Stabbings or Grog Weed Speed. As for whether falafel eaters are the reasons for perceived undersirability, even though West Sydney has Ali Baba fast food shops, people born in the middle-east are very much a minority - less than 5% in most suburbs.
As for more relevant statistics, those in the west are more likely to be uneducated, particularly in Penrith. In what might also be a blow to national pride, people in Penrith are also more likely to be born in Australia. The one statistic that is particularly relevant for the AFL is that the west is rugby league heartland. Specifically, there are 9000 registered junior rugby league players in the west compared to 750 east. By way of comparison, there were 10 yoga studios in west compared to 85 in the east. For a football code that is serious about growing itself, it is the western market that needs to be cracked.
Aside from from the colours and geographic area, the mascot was another possible avenue to build a connection with Sydney, but again, it seemed the marketers had their thoughts elsewhere. The mascot was titled G-man and designed to resemble a kind of cross between a 1950s door-to-door salesman and a pin-up boy for a toothpaste commercial. If the marketers had wanted a more accurate representation of their region, then a couple of missing teeth or darker hair colour wouldn’t have gone astray.
Perhaps the only real attempt to associate with a Sydney image came in the recruitment of rugby league player Israel Folau. By recruiting Folau, the AFL was recruiting someone who was admired in the west. In some ways Folau was a success. The AFL trumpeted the fact that the money it paid him showed that the AFL was more powerful than rugby league. They also trumpeted that mentions of Folau in the media was worth millions of dollars in “brand awareness.” On the downside, “brand awareness” is more important for supermarket products that want to get known so that they will be tried out. Football clubs already have brand awareness, but brand identity is the key to get bums on seats. If anything, the fact that GWS could have so much awareness, but so few supporters, was a sign of just how much it had failed to build a brand.
After his first season in the AFL, Folau decided that he should play for more than money, and 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.
Ultimately, the design of the GWS brand showed a lack of identification with the audience that the club aimed to represent. In many respects, it was like prohibitionists trying to sell alcohol to a market they thought had an alcohol problem. For all its success on the field, GSW just didn't design an image that resonated.
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. If not pigmies, then definitely dwarfs looking for a mountain to claim as their own but not really sure of where that mountain is or how it should be conquered.
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.
|Offended by the description of your footy club? Maybe you would be better off watching a TV news report of your team's players in a recovery session standing around in the ocean looking cold. Alternatively, you could listen to news on the radio of your team 'training without incident'. If you are still concerned, then maybe have a read of stereotype formation and suggest a reason for a different steretype.|