Buddy: worth every cent and then some

While I hesitate to disagree with a sports commentator of the stature of Fairfax's Peter FitzSimons, on the subject of the Sydney Swans erring by recruiting Hawthorn superstar Lance "Buddy" Franklin, I fear my colleague is plain wrong.

As amusing as it was to read a large man with an ego describe another large man with an ego as a "dickhead" simply because Buddy looked a tad cocky after a winning last month's AFL grand final, it was FitzSimons' claim the Swans had abandoned or damaged their vaunted culture by signing Franklin I found particularly wide of the mark.

The Swans' famed "no dickheads" policy is a product of a group called Leading Teams, led by Ray McLean, a former school teacher brought in by the club and then-coach Paul Roos in the early 2000s.

The point of the "no dickheads" policy is not that you don't recruit dickheads, rather that the team does not tolerate dickhead behaviour.

The Swans have a history of taking a punt with bad boys, as they did with Warwick Capper, Tony Lockett and Barry Hall, and they are now so confident of their culture they rightly believe it is stronger than any individual. The tail doesn't wag the dog.

It's a given a team is taking a risk signing an athlete in a contact sport to a nine-year deal, however, long-term contracts are the new reality of AFL free agency, which is why the players wanted it so badly.

Victorian clubs have been bizarrely slow to recognise this as the new normal, while Sydney has chosen to embrace and exploit this market inefficiency. 

The Franklin trade is a classic US-style free agency deal, where a club signs a superstar not for what they can do for them in Year 8 or 9 of their deal, but Years 1 to 5.

Every club in the AFL competition could have signed Franklin on this type of back-ended contract but the Swans were the only ones with large enough cojones and the gorgeous beach 10 minutes from their home ground.

Punting on a colourful, talented 26-year-old playing another 200-odd games is a gamble calculated to bring new fans to a club whose popularity in Sydney has plateaued.

The template for this approach was forged in the mid-90s, when the Swans signed the tempestuous Tony Lockett and his marquee presence brought a surge of new interest and fans to the club. 

In 2014, Swans fans in Sydney are Swans fans. They're sold. They've got the jumper, scarf and flag already. 

With Franklin, the Swans are hoping to entice a new generation of fans to first embrace the buzz around their club, the refurbished SCG, then the game, and what better way than by signing one of the biggest sports stars in the country?

This is like buying Sonny Bill Williams, if Sonny Bill Williams wanted to only play league and didn't get injured. Would every single NRL club in the competition give SBW a nine-year contract?

Every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Ten mill might sound like a lot now but if it locks in an extra 5000 fans at every home game for the next four to five years, gets another 10,000 dilettantes buying Swans merchandise and deals a hammer blow to their new cross-town rivals, the Giants, it's money well spent.

The thing critics of this deal seem to miss is Buddy Franklin is currently worth $1.1m a year. In six or seven years, that's gonna seem cheap.

Alistair Lynch, the beneficiary of another 10-year deal brokered by Swans' CEO Andrew Ireland when he was at the Brisbane Bears/Lions, was so embarrassingly underpaid in the last years of his contract, Brisbane renegotiated to up his pay.

"I don't think the Sydney Swans would expect Buddy to play for the whole term," said Lynch last week.

"They'd be rapt if he did, but I'm sure they have got in the back of their minds that it might only last six or so years. If they can grab two more premierships in that time with Buddy, I'm sure they'd take the pain at the end."

The final big factor here is Buddy actually wants to join the Swans. He knows they can win and the rancour shown by Melbourne clubs about this deal is actually high praise because it reveals the depth of their hurt and fear their golden boy wanted out of Dodge.

Buddy wants to move to a glorious beachside suburb full of beautiful women and men who don't want to punch out his lights every Saturday night, figuring if Leonardo DiCaprio can make every second movie in Sydney, the city can cope with a 6' 6" hipster doofus with some tatts.

The Swans have spent the past 20 years trying to convince homesick kids to STAY in Sydney, and plenty like high draft pick Anthony Rocca just up and left and the Bloods got a bag of Sherrins in return.

The worm has now turned. This guy chose Sydney and he's not just any guy. He's the most exciting, exhilaratingly-freakish footballer of his generation. A Coleman medallist. A two-time premiership player. A magnificent footballer.

He chose Sydney.

As one reader wrote to me: "It is the Melbourne media fanning the flames of discontent about Buddy's move, yet it was to escape the Melbourne media Buddy chose to move to Sydney. Talk about hoist with their own petard!"

I think this will work out very nicely for the Swans, the AFL and Buddy, so lemme be the first member of the Sydney media to welcome you, Lance Franklin, to our fair city.

See you down at the Bucket List, Buddy.

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