How Greater Western Sydney Giants chief executive David Matthews and captain Stephen Coniglio plan to navigate the coronavirus crisis


It’s easy to crack a joke about how that’s not much of a change from the norm for the Giants, but for all the club’s knockers, the reality is they have been trending in the right direction both on and off the field for quite a while.

The coronavirus pandemic will stop them from being able to build on the momentum they built up last year. Under normal circumstances, there was a chance of a record crowd for a non-derby fixture at Olympic Park on Saturday, and the #bigbigsound memes would probably be back in vogue.

Stephen Coniglio’s debut as GWS Giants captain will take place in front of an empty stadium.Credit:Getty Images

Minutes after their 89-point defeat to the Tigers, chief executive David Matthews predicted the Giants’ absorbing run to their first grand final appearance would lead to a “step change” throughout all aspects of the club’s business. The landscape now is certainly not so promising.

“The way I look at it is we’re a club that’s built on resilience,” Matthews told the Herald. “We know we’re facing some headwinds like a lot of businesses, sporting clubs and the community generally. The Giants Stadium strategy when we started it, one of our visions was to have this double header. It’s historic, and it still is. I think it’s going to attract a really big TV audience.”

Matthews has been in the thick of the AFL’s crisis talks over the last fortnight, with all club chief executives sharing ideas and opinions on how to navigate the tempestuous waters on a daily basis.

Giants CEO Dave Matthews believes the AFL expansion club still has a bright future.

Giants CEO Dave Matthews believes the AFL expansion club still has a bright future.Credit:Getty Images

The Giants remain a loss-making enterprise – last year, they reported a deficit of more than $850,000, and receive larger distributions of funds from head office than almost every other club. They and the Gold Coast Suns are sometimes perceived as luxuries, and so the COVID-19 outbreak naturally leads to questions over whether they are luxuries that the AFL can still afford.

The Giants surpassed 30,000 members last year. At time of writing they had 27,092 and counting for 2020, with a trickle of supporters continuing to sign up as an act of solidarity.

A bullish Matthews does not see any existential challenges on the horizon – at least nothing unique to them, anyway.

“All 18 clubs are part of the competition, part of the broadcast agreement, part of player agreements. We’re not a luxury for the AFL, we’re an investment that is returning for the competition at the moment,” he said. “To some extent, it’s the clubs who’ve had the historically bigger crowds are the ones who will be facing some more drastic financial consequences than us. We’re in good shape. Under the circumstances, as uncertain as it is, we feel pretty well prepared.

“While this absolutely throws up some business issues, the fundamentals of our club remain in place … the economics of the competition will absolutely change, and there will be drastic changes, but for what period remains to be seen. We hope we can work our way out of this.”

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For the players, it’s not quite business as usual. The current plan is for 17 games, not 22, and quarters will run four minutes shorter this year to preserve their bodies for the likelihood of short turnarounds between fixtures.

Coniglio acknowledges the situation is “bizarre”, but he has taken comfort from a video posted by actor Matthew McConaughey, who hoped that the values displayed by humanity throughout this crisis might make the world a better place.

“He was talking about how there’s lots of red lights in life, but it will eventually go green. That’s how we deal with these situations. For me and our club, it’s about how we get through this,” Coniglio said. “The AFL obviously changed a few things up, but maybe at the end this red light there will be a few changes we can build and make our game even better.”

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