The pressure is on Sydney in Saturday’s AFL grand final and the club’s ‘twin-tower’ investment is under close scrutiny.
Unless the Swans start winning a few premierships, the near-$14 million splurge on Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin and Kurt Tippett will be dismissed as a waste of money.
In 2013, the club signed Franklin on a nine-year deal worth a reported $10.3 million.
Another $3.5 million over four years was forked out for then-Crow Tippett.
Despite continued questions on Tippett’s worth, the Swans’ hierarchy remains committed to its high-rise investment.
Tippett‘s contract was extended for a further two years last February – at a reported cost of $1 million per season.
In signing the pair, the Swans took advantage of the additional 10 per cent cost of living allowance (COLA) in their salary cap.
It had provided the club with an extra million dollars to spend on players – something it quickly exploited.
The concession has since been scrapped by the AFL, and rightly so, putting a squeeze on the Swans’ capacity to fit their current playing list under the salary cap.
If the Swans flop in Saturday’s grand final against the Western Bulldogs, questions should be raised about the financial constraints placed on the current list by Franklin and Tippett’s contracts.
Already, the Swans have let many players go to accommodate both deals.
Shane Mumford’s departure to Greater Western Sydney was forced by Franklin’s arrival, as was Andrejs Everitt’s exit. He has proved a handy swingman at Carlton.
And now, again because of salary cap issues, the Swans face the prospect of losing another key player.
Midfielder Tom Mitchell – whose contract ends this season – has averaged 28 disposals per game in 2016.
In addition to Franklin and Tippett, the Swans possess an all-star midfield of Dan Hannebery, Luke Parker, Josh Kennedy and Kieren Jack, meaning they can’t afford Mitchell.
Ironically, he seems set to join Hawthorn – the club the Swans raided to get Franklin.
Mitchell can be replaced, with rising stars Callum Mills and Isaac Heeney seriously impressive this year.
But Heeney will be out of contract at the end of 2017 and Mills the following year and, again, it’s hard to see Sydney keeping both.
Though the departures of Adam Goodes, Ryan O’Keefe and Ted Richards will cut some slack in the cap, that is offset by the back-end constraints in the contracts for Franklin and Tippett.
The bulk of Franklin’s payments are about to hit the club.
He received $700,000 for each of the 2014-15 seasons, reportedly $200,000 per season less than his contract at Hawthorn.
The payments increased to $1.2 million this season, and will remain so until the end of 2018.
And from 2019 till 2021, Franklin’s pay is set to rise from $1.3 to $1.5 million, after which it decreases to around $1 million for the 2022 season.
Under this wondrous arrangement, as Buddy gets older and slower, he also gets richer.
Unless the AFL increases the $10.3 million salary cap, Franklin’s contract will chew up around 10 per cent of the Swans’ total player payments over the next few years.
Tippett’s extended contract adds to the Swans’ problems and he is set to pocket $1 million each for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
The gamble on Franklin has paid off in marketing terms.
Since he joined the club, the ‘Buddy effect’ has increased membership sales, while merchandising revenues have spiked, adding $1.8 million to the club’s bottom line.
Major sponsors QBE, Citi and Volkswagen recommitted on increased deals, while signage rates and demand from corporates boxes grew.
But for fans in the cheap seats, this is not how Franklin’s impact will be measured.
Fans only care about one thing: premierships. And to justify the twin-tower gamble, the Swans must win at least two in the next three years.
By 2019, Franklin and Tippett will be well over the wrong side of 30 and on the slide, and so too will the Swans.
And in the form of the Western Bulldogs, Sydney’s investment faces its toughest examination yet.