The “Buddy effect” and Sydney’s rags to riches tilt at the flag are proving a box-office hit, with the Swans faithful flocking to the club in numbers rivalling the Tony Lockett-era.
Sports fans love a tale of redemption and the Swans’ recovery from near oblivion to become a genuine premiership contender is no different.
The Swans, with an average of 33,397 per game, fell only a few hundred short of matching last year’s home crowds, making the last two seasons among the most well patronised in the club’s history. They rank behind only 2006-07 and 1997, when Lockett was at his pomp.
The club’s pulling power was evident in its final three games at the SCG, with crowds averaging 38,000 to see the Swans continue their September charge against lowly ranked clubs St Kilda, Fremantle and Carlton.
They have also been a prime-time TV success, featuring in four of the top-10 rating games of the season.
“Once the team started to get on a roll it’s that added interest with not much margin for error,” Swans chief Andrew Ireland said.
“As it turned we were good enough to get there. When you look back and see no team has ever done it from 0-6 it is a unique season. Winning 14 out of 16 is a good run.”
A crowd of more than 40,000 is expected to pour through the turnstiles next weekend to see the Swans take on Essendon in a cut-throat final.
The SCG Trust believes the pulling power of superstar forward Lance Franklin, who arrived in 2014 on a mammoth $10 million contract, has helped put bums on seats.
“The Swans draw the most fans and have the largest average crowd of any of the football teams in Sydney,” SCG Trust chief Jamie Barkley said.
“And the Buddy effect means that fans come from every corner of Sydney regardless of the weather, the draw or the other reasons that keep them in front of the TV for rival clubs and codes.
“We’ve had more than 367,000 people through the gates this season, including the eight millionth Swans fan since the club relocated to the SCG 35 years ago.
“The atmosphere with 40,000-plus for the final will be as good as anything you’d see in n sport.”
The Swans are keen to downplay Franklin’s influence and believe their ability to regularly contend for the flag under John Longmire has been a major factor behind their popularity.
“You couldn’t say a player like Lance doesn’t help get people through the gate,” Ireland said. “People are coming to watch AFL footy games hoping for a great contest and for players to do what they do best.
“When Lance is on he clearly adds to that capacity from our team.
“The thing I’d stress is he’s part of a team, the fact the team has played finals regularly and three grand finals in five years is a big influence.”
The Swans have also become must-see viewing for football lovers around the country. Their clash against Adelaide was the most-watched Friday night game of the home-and-away season, proving again that it’s not only the big Melbourne-based clubs that can pull an audience.
“We now have a true national competition. People know when it’s a good game – that was typified by the game in Adelaide,” Ireland said.
“The ratings were strong all around . The AFL will be really pleased it doesn’t matter which teams are playing as long as they are playing well.”