On Saturday 26 May, the Greater Western Sydney Giants played their first match at their home ground, Skoda Stadium. A small boutique stadium, it’s capacity is 25,000. Estimates for the first game crowd ranged from 15,000 to 18,000. Instead, the first match was witnessed by a midget 11,887 people. The poor attendance drew criticism as to whether the expansion to Western Sydney was the right move for the AFL. I however say that only time will tell, as history will show us.
One of the first expansion clubs, the West Coast Eagles, on its first home game, attracted a crowd of 23,897 at Subiaco Oval, a ground that holds 43,000. This is from a state where football was strong and established – the stadium record attendance for Subiaco Oval is from 1979 when 52,781 people watched the WAFL grand final. Capacity wise, the Brisbane Bears did better with 17,795 fans witnessing their first match at Carrara Oval, which held 22,000, however their average attendance for the season was 8,965. The Eagle’s average attendance for home games in their first season was 24,434.
From 1987 to 2011, the West Coast Eagles, in an AFL friendly state, averaged growth of just over 2%/year in Home game attendance average. Brisbane, in a non-AFL friendly state, averaged growth of over 6%/year. Likewise, Fremantle has experienced almost 3% growth in average home game attendance since 1995, Sydney, over 3% growth in a non-AFL friendly state. In fact, the only two non-Victorian clubs to experience negative growth since entry into the AFL are the two South Australian sides, Adelaide Crows and Port Adelaide Power. It should be noted that South Australia and Western Australia are considered AFL-friendly states, while New South Wales and Queensland are considered non-Friendly due to the dominance of Rugby League. Yet, the average growth in these states exceeds that of the AFL friendly states.
In contrast, home game attendances since 1987 for Victorian clubs have all risen, by an average across the clubs of 4.5%.
As you can see, where attendance has been low in a club’s first match, it is not cause for alarm. Almost every club in the league has experienced growth since 1987, and the clubs in the non-AFL Friendly states have done better than those in the AFL-Friendly states. GWS and Gold Coast will both experience club growth with time. To take the words from a famous ad, It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.