30th September, 2018
The West Coast Eagles’ win on Saturday demonstrates that sometimes it makes sense to sacrifice a small advantage if it makes you more competitive – and that’s true for businesses and sports teams alike.
On the final siren last Saturday, as an entire state cried out in jubilation and a suburb in Melbourne had its head in its hands, there was a moment of bravery that slipped by the wayside.
Two years before all the high-flying, tough play and tough in-and-unders, there was a moment of courage that paved the way for the Eagles’ triumph.
Namely, the decision to change the dimension of the team’s home ground.
While strictly not the Eagles’ decision, the new stadium in the form of Optus Stadium was designed with one thing in mind: the MCG.
Both the Eagles and cross-town rivals the Dockers previously played out of Subiaco Oval, and it was a largely successful ground for the teams.
Aside from having to deal with travelling across the continent and putting up with a hyper-partisan crowd, opposition teams had to deal with something fairly unique for Australian football ovals: the ground’s dimensions.
Instead of being rounder, or an oval, Subiaco Oval could be described as ‘long and skinny’ as opposed to other grounds, which were shorter, but fatter.
Subiaco thereby offers players more space to move at either end of the ground, but less room to roam on the wings.
In a game that is increasingly about positioning and hitting space, this gave the Western Australian home teams a big advantage.
Opposition clubs (particularly Victorian clubs) would play virtually all their matches on bigger, rounder ovals – suddenly, they had to get on a plane for four-and-a-half hours, be relentlessly booed and then try to alter their game on the fly.
It was tough, and by and large, they lost.
But, of course, the principle also works in reverse when those western state teams came to visit Victoria.
To say the Eagles’ record in Melbourne had been horrendous over previous years would be an understatement.
For example, the Eagles won just two matches in Victoria in 2017.
Apart from the fact the squad needs to travel far more than other sides, playing on the different dimensions of the MCG and Docklands threw an additional spanner in the works.
So, when it came time to design the brand-new Optus Stadium, there was a key question to be answered:
Do we keep the dimensions of our ground the same and maintain our advantage, or do we change to improve our record in Victoria?
Regardless of whether it’s fair or not, each year the season’s success comes down to one game at the MCG – it got a reminder of that in 2015.
In that season, it only played one match at the MCG during the regular season.
So, it rocked up to the MCG for a Grand Final in 2015, and was handily handled by Hawthorn in a game where the Eagles barely fired a shot.
In 2018 by comparison, West Coast had a perfect record at the MCG.
Giving away what has traditionally been a strength to chase an ultimate dream is something a lot of businesses can learn from.
It can be hard to see something your business does well and simply give it up entirely to chase a big, hairy, ambitious goal (BHAG).
The Eagles’ BHAG was a premiership, and it knew to achieve that it had to become a lot more comfortable with playing at the MCG.
Whether it was its original intent or not, the Eagles profited from a decision to give away a traditional strength.
It’s comfortable to do something you do well, and to do it over and over again.
After all, you’re good at it.
But by doing the same thing very well, you may be placing limitations on what you could achieve.
Photo credit: Michelle Couling Photography.