Lance Franklin’s controversial move to Sydney rather than the Giants killed what little faith the AFL hierarchy still had in COLA.
But speaking on the cost of living allowance before the league’s historic first all-Sydney final on Saturday, AFL chairman Mike Fitzpatrick said the main thing was that Franklin had gone to the city.
Fitzpatrick admitted being disappointed when the bombshell was dropped in late 2013 that Franklin would join the Swans in a record deal.
The widespread assumption had been that if the star forward left Hawthorn, it would be to join GWS.
Sydney’s coup shone a harsh light on COLA, which was supposed to help teams in non-traditional AFL states retain players.
“I was quite disappointed – I reckon at the time, I was the last defender of COLA in the executive and the commission,” Fitzpatrick told ABC radio.
“I felt expansion in the north was really important.
“That announcement convinced me I’d been wrong for a long time.
“If COLA worked the way I thought it worked, then Sydney were probably out of the equation.”
But Fitzpatrick is rapt with the effect that Franklin has had on the game’s profile in Sydney, saying the Swan is one of those rare players who transcends the sport.
“The best thing that happened, either way, was that he went to Sydney,” Fitzpatrick said.
“Having someone of that talent in the Sydney market, it’s just been terrific for us and it’s a bit like having had Tony Lockett in that market.”
Fitzpatrick is bullish about the Giants, saying they can become much bigger than just a niche team.
He said they already had a bigger supporter base than some established rugby league teams.
“My personal view is that the Giants can become a very big football side,” he said.
“They can become a very big team and a very big club.”
The Giants joined the AFL in 2012, a year after Gold Coast.
While the Suns are yet to make a finals series, Fitzpatrick is also confident about how they are developing.
He said the Suns were putting down solid roots in the notoriously-difficult southeast Queensland market.
“We had a long discussion at the commission with the Suns when we were up in Brisbane a few weeks ago,” he said.
“I’d say that the new leadership there … we’re very comfortable with where they sit.
“I’m actually very bullish on Gold Coast … we believe the roots have taken.”
Fitzpatrick said it would be much harder to start expansion clubs in NSW and Queensland now, noting that rival football codes had become stronger in the last few years.
“If we wanted to be Australia’s game, we had to really be Australia’s game – we couldn’t be concentrated in the southern states,” he said.
“We just weren’t represented in Queensland and NSW in the way that we felt the great Australian game of Australian Rules should be.
“The long view – and it’s a 20- to 30-year view – is that we need to become the dominant sport in those states.”