Top End of Town: Tom Harley on the Swans, GWS and what we can learn from Adam Goodes
Top End of Town
The newly-appointed Swans CEO on growing the code in a non-AFL state, the Swans/Giants rivalry and what we can learn from Adam Goodes
Tom, you’ve recently taken over as CEO at the Sydney Swans. What are some of your ambitions for the club?
The first thing is that it’s an absolute privilege to be involved in this industry. I started playing when I was six years old and vividly remember bouncing around grounds in Adelaide. It’s a privilege that’s amplified by having the responsibility of running this club in a non-traditional AFL market. We have some great opportunities here, but we are a non-Victorian club — there are only eight of us [from outside Victoria] — and each of us have had had our own challenges. We’re in the biggest city in Australia and we have great opportunities to grow the game.
The Swans seem to have an excellent grassroots program with great schemes to get kids involved with the game. Is this part of your strategy for growth?
I feel as though in Sydney we are half a generation away from being fully entrenched here. The AFL have a really strong development presence with a really clear remit to build the code. We do this through investing in physical facilities like change rooms — it’s a bottom-up approach. It’s one of the things I do find really humbling about working with the AFL industry in Sydney is you do have to work hard for traction; you have to make sure your product is really good. You have to make sure your first interaction is a really strong one.
The Swans haven’t had the best season so far on field. Is it more difficult to attract Sydney fans when you’re not winning as many games?
The first thing from a business point of view is we’re a football club and it’s important to define what you do. Football is the core art of the business and it drives very other aspect of our business. If we’re playing good football you can have conversations with your fans, partners and so on. For us as a team, our list [of players] is evolving. We have a very young team and we’re excited by that. But you get critiqued very deeply. We’d like to have more wins on the board. Still, we’re really buoyed by the young talent that’s coming through and hopefully our fans can see that.
How have your crowds been this year?
We’re averaging 31,000 a game and that’s a really strong number. If you go back to the early ’80s when the club first moved here and were told you’d be basically selling out the SCG for an Aussie rules game, we’d have taken that.
Has the arrival of Greater Western Sydney affected the Swans crowds?
We see Giants as almost validating the development of the game. Having an elite game of AFL in Sydney every weekend is great. There’s more media coverage and for the first time our supporters of the game have been able to make a choice. Double the content is good. We’re finding too that there’s a genuine rivalry between the Giants and the Swans. Since the introduction of the Giants all our metrics have grown, but I’m sure that within that mix there’s attention in the market for hearts and minds.
There’s been a lot of remorse about crowd behaviour towards champion player and former Swans captain Adam Goodes. How do you feel about that?
The documentaries The Final Quarter and The Australian Dream about Adam’s final years in his career is a really important conversation to have. That was very challenging time. The resilience that Adam showed and his leadership was an unbelievable thing to experience and there’s an opportunity now for greater education. We will be part of the conversation. I’d encourage everyone to go and see these films. They’re important films about the country. I’m not going to preempt how individuals will react. They may be Swans fans and be angry how one of their own was treated. But they’re very compelling films that need to be spoken about. There’s a saying — make sure you’re always on the right side of history — and we have an opportunity to be that now.
The next Swans home games will be against Carlton on July 13, and Geelong on July 28, at the Sydney Cricket Ground