GWS Giants chairman Tony Shepherd has called for the AFL to consider the reintroduction of the controversial 'cost of living allowance' (COLA) for Sydney clubs amid a disastrous 2022 season.
After establishing themselves as genuine finals contenders over the previous few seasons, including making the 2019 grand final, the Giants have tumbled to 16th on the ladder with two games left to play.
Shepherd offered the suggestion during an interview in which he admitted the Giants were working with the AFL to improve crowd numbers at their homes games.
Part of the problem for the Giants, Sherpherd posited, was the consistent challenges they've faced since joining the league in 2013 to retain the high-quality talent they've drafted.
Several of the Giants' best players have left the club since being drafted in the club's first few seasons, with the likes of Jeremy Cameron, Taylor Adams, Devon Smith, Dylan Shiel and Adam Treloar among a long list of players to move on from Greater Western Sydney.
The Giants have a similar fight on their hands this year with the likes of Tim Taranto, Jacob Hopper, Bobby Hill and Tanner Bruhn all having been touted as potential trade targets for rival clubs.
Speaking on 3AW's Sportsday, Shepherd said the cost of living in Sydney was substantially higher than in other AFL centres around the country.
As such, he said both the Giants and Swans ought to once again get consideration from the AFL for the additional expenses borne by players.
“There‘s two things you’ve got to understand. The cost of living in Sydney is a lot higher than in Melbourne and significantly higher than Adelaide or Perth or Brisbane, so that has an impact on player retention," Shepherd said.
"And there’s always that get-home factor for guys that come up from Melbourne.
“We have always worked on the basis that we can‘t keep all of our first-round draft picks and some of them will leave.
"We compensate that by trading and hopefully maintaining our list and we’ve got some really good people that we’ve acquired at very low rates that have done extremely well for the club.
“It‘s an issue we’ve had from the start and we can work through it. It would be very helpful if there was, like we had previously, some sort of cost of living adjustment so that we could at least allow for the significant, higher cost of accommodation for both players and staff.
“That‘s another problem for us is getting the experienced staff in AFL because they come up here and they’ve finally got to pay a lot more for rent or houses than they did in Melbourne or Adelaide or Perth.
"So that cost of living is an issue for us, there’s no doubt about that.”
GWS Giants searching for answers amid dismal AFL season
The COLA was a source of frustration for many Melbourne clubs for years, with former Collingwood president Eddie McGuire a vocal opponent.
The AFL announced it would phase out the payment in 2014, following outrage in the wake of Sydney's recruitment of Lance Franklin and Kurt Tippett on hefty contracts.
The payment officially ceased in 2017, however Shepherd believes it will be a crucial instrument in helping GWS continue to attract fans.
The 2022 season has seen an average of just 6103 fans attending Giants home games, their lowest since joining the AFL, excluding the Covid-19-impacted 2020 season.
“We’re a long way off the pace. You know how fickle Sydney is – if you’re not winning, they don’t come, that’s for sure – but there is Covid reticence for crowds still having an impact in some games in Sydney,” he said.
“Big games, like against the Swans and that, earlier in the year we got a good crowd there, but there is Covid resistance.
"I think frankly our fans, because we weren’t playing in Sydney for a couple of years in some respects, sort of lost interest and were waiting for us to come back. We will correct that over time.”
Shepherd pointed to the fact that it was only this season that the club has been able to resume visits by players to schools in Western Sydney, an activity the club regularly undertook prior to the onset of the pandemic.
He also said the club was investing heavily in community programs in order to boost numbers, as well as the possibility of a marquee home game at the SCG against a prominent Victorian side.
“You‘ve got to optimise everything to get the people to come to the stadium. Giants Stadiums is a lovely, great little stadium so it’s just a question of working out the marketing and the timing and ensuring the growth in community football – which was growing quite strongly before the pandemic but now slowed down during the pandemic – gets the attention that it needs,” he said.
“Like, our boys went out to the schools in western Sydney for the first time in two and a half years last week. We‘d have a group going out to western Sydney schools every week in previous years.”
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