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Benchwarmers: Providing a sportswear solution to improve player performance and safety

Australian company Benchwarmers have developed an innovative solution, through their functional sporting attire, to keep players warm when they are not on the field.

Their product, a body-length garment, is specifically designed to keep the most vulnerable parts of the body warm such as the upper legs, whilst keeping the arms free to allow players to regulate their own body temperature.

The item is ultra-lightweight and includes other features such as insulated inside pockets, a hood, a resistance to water and wind, as well as fully fleeced lining for extra warmth.

Creator of the product, Andrew Lauder, recently developed the Benchwarmer after his previous experiences as a coach on the sidelines.

“I identified that there was a problem years ago, he told Soccerscene.

“I was coaching young kids and was having to take down blankets and stuff to keep them warm on the benches.

“Some kids in football once they get a head knock or something, they go into a little bit of a shock and there was nothing to keep them warm on the bench apart from club hoodies or something along those lines, which was ridiculous.”

“Over the 2020 period I sort of started designing Benchwarmers, working out the features of how best to do it and have continued to go on from there.”

Lauder explained it was extremely necessary for grassroots players to keep their muscles warm on the bench before they came on, to avoid hamstring strains and other common soft tissue injuries.

“The main point is, especially with juniors and amateurs, they are sitting on the bench waiting for their time to come on and they don’t warm up like the professionals do,” he said.

“Professionals may say ‘let’s jump on the bike and get your legs moving’, but the kids and the amateurs they run on without properly warming up their body.”

The design of the Benchwarmers product.

Lauder has built up the product to a local and international audience and has found some success in doing so, despite it being a relatively new product.

“I put it out there to the kids, because that’s where I started it all,” he said.

“But at the moment it’s the amateurs in England who have started grabbing it and some clubs here.

“One thing that I get sometimes with the smaller clubs is they love it but they don’t want to pay for it. With junior clubs they are obviously volunteers and they are more hesitant to make the decision to spend the money. It’s crazy because you ask them every time, what do you have in the kitbag to keep the kids warm? They usually have nothing, just club jackets, which I don’t believe is sufficient.”

Lauder continues to invest his time into avenues which will grow the presence of his item, such as social media work, further marketing of Benchwarmers and listening to customer’s feedback.

“My main thing at this point of time is that I’ve been doing a lot of direct email marketing which I’ve put out,” he said.

“I am also building the Instagram and Facebook pages to target clubs and people to sort of get them onto it and that has started to work in some cases.

“Some feedback I’ve received by one of the clubs, for example, showed me the benefits of how important it is to be a lightweight product. One club wanted ten of them and wanted his manager to be able to put them into the kit bag and carry them from job to job. They don’t take up too much space, their waterproof, their fully lined inside, they’ve been developed with 40cm pockets on the inside which are insulated – all these things help.”

The creator of Benchwarmers hopes the product will continue to have steady growth here in Australia and overseas in the long term.

“In the future I wish that the Benchwarmers brand is in a hell of a lot of clubs and people are wrapped they have them for their kids,” Lauder said.

“Basically, I want them to think to themselves, why didn’t we do this or buy this years ago?”

Philip Panas is a sports journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on football policy and industry matters, drawing on his knowledge and passion of the game.

FIFA+ debut to provide greater global connection through football

FIFA+

FIFA have announced the launch of FIFA+, a brand-new digital platform designed to bring football fans together across the globe through having access to the game they love, for free.

FIFA+ delivers live domestic league games from around the globe, match stats, the greatest archive in international football, premium original content, immersive global storytelling, and much more.

Over 29,000 men’s matches and over 11,000 women’s matches will be streamed on FIFA+ in 2022, totalling over 40,000 matches.

“FIFA+ represents the next step in our vision to make football truly global and inclusive, and it underpins FIFA’s core mission of expanding and developing football globally,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said.

“This project represents a cultural shift in the way different types of football fans want to connect with and explore the global game and has been a fundamental part of my Vision 2020-2023. It will accelerate the democratisation of football and we are delighted to share it with fans.”

FIFA+ offers live coverage from Europe’s top flight leagues to previously unserved competitions from around the world in men’s, women’s and youth football.  From launch, 1,400 matches will be live streamed monthly on FIFA+, and rising rapidly.

Ahead of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, FIFA+ will be home to every FIFA World Cup and FIFA Women’s World Cup™ match ever recorded on camera, totalling more than 2,000 hours of archived content. For the first time ever, this entire archive will be available to fans.

Fans will have the ability to watch full-match replays, highlights, goals and magical moments all in one place. The FIFA+ Archive will launch with more than 2,500 videos dating back to the 1950s, with many more to come throughout the year.

The Match Centre will allow football fans to immerse themselves in rich football data across 400 men’s competitions and 65 women’s competitions. A daily feed of news from around the world of men’s and women’s football will also complement and offer additional updates. Throughout the year, fans will enjoy interactive games including votes, quizzes, fantasy games and predictors.

From launch, FIFA+ will bring the game to life through exclusive, world-class titles including:

  • Ronaldinho: The Happiest Man in the World - An exclusive, feature-length documentary offering extensive access to and never-seen-before archive of one of the most iconic players to have played the game.
  • Captains: Season 1 - A ground-breaking 8-part series from Fulwell 73 (Sunderland ‘Til I Die, All or Nothing: Juventus) following six captains as they lead their countries through qualification for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. The series, which will explore each individual’s leadership traits, features Luka Modrić (Croatia), Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon), Brian Kaltak (Vanuatu), Andre Blake (Jamaica), Hassan Maatouk (Lebanon) and Thiago Silva (Brazil).
  • Croatia: Defining a Nation – This original feature-length documentary tells the story of how football unites and binds this nation and a group of friends who reached global recognition against the backdrop of the most extreme adversity.
  • Icons – A 5 x 26-minute docuseries showcasing five of the biggest game-changers of the women’s game: Wendie Renard, Lucy Bronze, Asisat Oshoala, Carli Lloyd and Sam Kerr telling their stories in their own words. Produced by Noah Media Group (14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible, Finding Jack Charlton).
  • Academies – The inside story of some of the greatest talent production lines in world football from Shoot the Company. Season 1 tells the story of RSC Anderlecht across 3 x 30-minute episodes.

FIFA+ will be available across all web and mobile devices, and across a range of connected devices soon. It will be available in five language editions (English, French, German, Portuguese, and Spanish), alongside an additional six languages to follow in June of 2022.

Eastern Lions president Bronson Justus: “The top league has been an eye opener”

The Eastern Lions achieved promotion to the top division of NPL Victoria for the first time in 2020, but this is the first year they’ve truly been able to experience the realities of it.

No one has been more at the forefront of that than president Bronson Justus. Having gone from vice-president to being appointed president in February of 2022, he is at the helm trying to build the club to its full potential – in what remains a trying time.

The Lions are still riding high from winning NPL Victoria 2 East in 2019, but they’ve only managed five wins in their top flight career so far.

Soccerscene sat down with Justus to discuss the growing pains that come with such a rapid rise up the footballing pyramid.

What were the initial challenges in being promoted to the NPL for the first time?

Bronson Justus: It’s been a tumultuous couple of years with COVID. In 2019, we finished as NPL2 champions, got promoted for the 2020 season, then a handful of games and the season shut down. Same thing in 2021. This year is probably the first year that we’ve really been able to see basically where we sit in terms of NPL Victoria (NPL1). The top league has been an eye opener.

The teams that have been there for a long time are well established, and they have some really good structures and some absolutely sensational players as well. But it’s been great for our players, because we’ve kept a good core group of the players we had in 2019. It’s certainly been a step up for them. They’ve certainly risen to the challenge which has been good to see.

Eastern Lions Wins 2019 NPL2 East

What did you need to establish as club president coming in this year?

Bronson Justus: The step up from NPL2 to NPL1 is significant. The policies, the processes, the structures, the organisation that the club needs to have to comply with Football Victoria regulations for NPL1 clubs, it is a big step up for clubs. I wasn’t there in those first couple of years, and I’m not 100% sure if the club was ready for how much of an impact that was going to have.

In 2020, we did have a new president come onboard. He started that process of bringing the club up to that high standard, which is expected in NPL1. There was a lot of work to do. Unfortunately he had to resign at the beginning of this year, and I came in as vice last year. This year, the committee basically said that’s the role of the vice – to step up if the president steps down. I was lucky enough to be given the position.

In terms of what I have been looking at, it’s carrying on a lot of the work the previous president started, and also bringing my background in business and governance to the club. That modernisation of our policies and our processes is important, because there’s a big expectation of volunteers to commit more time. If we expect volunteers to commit more time, we need to be a lot clearer as to what the expectation is, of that time and when we need them.

If you go back a few years, it would be a call-out to say ‘could you turn up on Saturday and give us a hand?’ Whereas now, we basically have a list of tasks that need to be done every day. Whether it’s canteen, ground marshalling, ticket sales, getting the media box ready or preparing the rooms for the visiting teams – there is quite a lengthy list of tasks that need to be done. We just need to make sure we’ve got people ready to go for those tasks that need to be done. The modernisation of what we’ve previously done is just to be organised and structured.

What’s been the focus in a business sense?

Bronson Justus: The other thing that I’ve focused on since coming in is sponsorship as well. There’s a significant cost increase in competing in NPL1. Not only from a competition perspective, but also from a requirement of what is expected from NPL games. Increased security at games, medical staff, the level of coaches that you have for your squad. That all adds cost to the organisation.

Sponsorship is very important to that, and bringing in a bit of a corporate focus to our sponsorship. Making sure our sponsors are getting value for money, making sure there’s good opportunities for engagement with our network. Making sure we have a sustainable relationship. We prefer our sponsors to come on for a number of years – we don’t want people coming in and out, we want to build up relationships with people.

All of those things are important to us and something we focus on heavily because we need to maintain those really strong relationships. We’ve got some great sponsors on board. This year and last we’ve had some new sponsors come on board, and it’s about making sure there’s value to the sponsors when they get involved. We are going for that broader corporate sponsorship.

Does being a club that’s only just come up to the top level affect sponsorship?

Bronson Justus: There’s obviously much greater exposure in NPL1 with the televising of games. That elite level of football within the state attracts a different type of spectator as well. You’ll have spectators that on game day, a good number of people are not necessarily a supporter of either team, but they’ll come to watch a really good standard of football. It’s the increased eyes that you get at NPL1 level for our sponsors that if they do come on board, we give them the absolute best opportunity to get in front of the most eyes as possible.

What are the challenges facing the NPL across the country in 2022?

Having stability has been a challenge. We’ve noticed in our players – and I’m sure other clubs have had that similar experience – that haven’t come off the back of a full season. The last two seasons have both been interrupted, so the fitness of players have been affected by the COVID interruptions. The cost for clubs and the cost for players themselves can be a bit of a challenge.

In NPL1, there is a lot of cost involved in actually just being able to get a team onto the park in terms of not just physical dollars, but the time commitments and resource commitments that are required.

Everyone is busy, and coming out of COVID, the world is getting back to some form of normality. People are having to work twice as hard and have less time to commit to their hobbies and things like that. That challenge is going to be the same for all clubs across the state.

What were the aims of the Gippsland Cup?

Bronson Justus: The Gippsland Cup wasn’t a money-making exercise. It really was a long-term strategy for the club to build a broader support base. The end result of that will be that we’ll be a bigger club and have a wider audience. Ultimately, we would love to see that result in more members and attendances at games.

It was a partnership born between the club and the Gippsland region, and it’s about taking football to the regional communities that ordinarily wouldn’t get to see that level of football being played. Our initial intention certainly is to have an annual event, and Destination Gippsland and Latrobe City Council have been fantastic in supporting that. But we would also like to be able to play one or two home games during the season up in Morwell or the Gippsland area to build up that supporter base.

Gippsland Cup attracts soccer aces | Latrobe Valley Express

Coming back to the FV, they’ve got some fairly strict guidelines regarding the quality of surface and quality of playing surfaces. To organise the Cup was good, but to play games throughout the season, that’s something we’ll have to work closely with the Latrobe Valley Soccer League on. FV needs to ensure that the playing surface isn’t going to pose a risk to players of opposing clubs.

We just need to make sure we work closely with the Soccer League to make sure we have facilities that meet the standard. The Latrobe City Council is keen to have not only football come up to the region, but potentially other sports as well.

Does potential relegation change anything in your growth strategies?

Bronson Justus: Our number one goal is to remain in the top league. We’re extremely confident that we’ll be able to do that. In the unfortunate event that we did end up in that relegation zone, we would continue on the strategy that we have to build out that supporter base and continue to grow the club as we are.

How does social media help the club’s growth?

Bronson Justus: It’s something that we actively work on with our Instagram and Facebook, and we’re very active on that. We’re using that as an outlet for promotion of games, for highlights and player profiles. All of this is important for us to connect with the community. We’d like to broaden that out to platforms like TikTok as well, but we’re not quite there yet.

How are you investing in women’s football?

Bronson Justus: We will field our first female team in 2022 as well. We’ll have a girls under 11s team and that is one of the big focuses for the club – to build out our female participation. We’ve got some big plans to field women’s teams across all of the age groups, and even a senior team if we can build it out that far.

It is a long term strategy for the club, and something that we’re very keen to see happen. It will broaden out the club membership and make sure we have appeal to a diverse group of people, not just on men’s football. Particularly with the Women’s World Cup coming up, it’s something that we want to make sure we ride that wave of euphoria that will come with that.

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