Football Victoria CEO Kimon Taliadoros: “We have a demand for playing football exceeding the ability to provide opportunities”

Kimon Taliadoros played for some of Australia’s biggest clubs in the National Soccer League, and joined Football Victoria (FV) as president of the federation in 2015 before becoming Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in February of this year. He spoke to Soccerscene about the challenges he has faced so far at FV, increasing participation in football, and how sport serves as an escape for many in our community.

Q. What challenges have you faced as CEO of FV?

Taliadoros: Football has the most significant challenges, however the most significant opportunities, because we part of the global game. Within Victoria, we have an extremely competitive marketplace with Melbourne effectively being the hub for Australian sport, and Australia’s national sports – cricket, AFL, basketball, and netball. The extremely competitive local market competing for resources, support and athletes remains the ongoing challenge for football.

Q. How can FV further engage upcoming athletes to win them over to football?

Taliadoros: We believe that if we can attract people to try football in any of its numerous formats – small-sided, full-sized, social football, futsal, boys, girls, men, women, people of all backgrounds and genders – and we can produce an enjoyable game day experience we can continue to develop that relationship with the sport, that will turn into a lifetime engagement with the sport in a number of different ways – as a player, as an official, as a volunteer or as a fan. We hope to engage with someone who enjoys the benefits of a lifetime relationship with football.

Q. How important is having pathways for inclusion in football?

Taliadoros: It is critical that football is accessible for all. It is Football Victoria’s obligation to ensure that it is available to everyone. From a gender perspective, we set ourselves a target of 50/50 participation by 2027 back in 2018, and we committed to achieving that not only from a playing perspective but also from a refereeing, coaching and administrative perspective. At the very heart of our purpose is to ensure the football experience is available to everyone who lives in Victoria.

Q. Phil Brown mentioned increased participation in Powerchair Football is a goal for Capital Football, does FV have any similar goals?

Taliadoros: We intend to expand all our programs in Victoria until we meet demand, including for blind football, AAA, women and girls, wheelchair and power football. This satisfies the goal of being accessible, which is a really important word, ensuring it is available for all. This covers a range of criteria, including the format, the cost, and the convenience. This has been the heart of our role as Football Victoria, as custodians of the game, and it remains our goal.

Q. The price of playing football in Australia is often discussed, how can we make it cheaper to play?

Taliadoros: It is a significant challenge for the football ecosystem. The football economy has historically relied on a user-pay system, so the grassroots has subsidised the football economy in Australia. There are two ways we can try to address the pricing issue. The first is to increase the supply of football, which would lead to a reduction in prices through more football more often, more clubs, and more facilities. The second element of that is being able to generate a football economy that results in the professional game being able to contribute to the development of football in much the same way as cricket, AFL, and NRL – the most popular professional sports in Australia – invest significantly in their communities.

Q. How do we achieve that?

Taliadoros: It’s the growth of our key brands. Our Socceroos, Matildas, our underage teams, and the FFA Cup. All those commercial brands and assets that are critical to being able to generate a commercial outcome that can be invested in grassroots to further develop and grow.

Q. Does the disruption from lockdowns have the potential to drive up prices and make football more inaccessible?

Taliadoros: Not necessary, the disruption may have an impact on clubs from an income perspective. From a sports perspective, the demand is high at all levels, increasingly so from a community sports perspective. Community sport is increasingly being recognised as essential to our social fabric, so that has resulted in a very strong interest in participation. I wouldn’t have thought that would have been an impact on cost, but certainly, it would have affected families in certain ways.

One area that has been affected, because it has had such a significant effect on small businesses, is the strain on clubs who typically rely on small businesses for sponsorship and support. There has been an impact on clubs from a revenue perspective. The other area we have seen impact is the number of volunteers. They have come in fewer numbers, which means the demands around COVID Safe community sport are considerably greater, so there has been an additional strain on clubs to put on their community football.

Q. We are seeing how important sport is to society, is football an escape for people in these times?

Taliadoros: Without a doubt. We know this because we’ve had three lockdowns, and for every lockdown we’ve had this year in Victoria, we’ve had constant demand on our communications that clubs are provided with the latest information to enable them to get back to playing as soon as possible. This is essentially driven by their players, their coaches, and their local communities. We have very strong evidence that community sport from a football perspective has a greater demand now, perhaps even more so than ever before.”

Q. What will be the biggest challenges for FV this year and going forward?

Taliadoros: Our biggest challenges remain the same as they have been for the past five years, and even before that. We have a demand for playing football exceeding the ability to provide opportunities. This generally means facilities, which is a challenge. The second greatest challenge is to ensure that we can drive effective take-up and participation from women and girls. We need to leverage the incredible Matildas, the home of the Matildas that is being built out at La Trobe, and the Women’s World Cup arriving in two years. Those are the two greatest challenges that will remain for Football Victoria.

Nottingham Forest considering shipping container stadium

Nottingham Forest are exploring the idea of utilising shipping containers to house additional temporary seating spaces at the City Ground, a move inspired by Qatar’s Stadium 974.

Shipping containers might be used to fill in the edges at the Trent End of the stadium, for which at the present time has a capacity of roughly 29,500. The modifications, which would not require planning clearance, would provide a provisional seating plan for approximately 500 more supporters.

Forest has long wanted to expand the City Ground, and in July of last year, Rushcliffe Borough Council approved the project, which would initially focus on reconstructing the Peter Taylor Stand.

The design is to bring the capacity of the stand up to 10,000, with Forest also planning on increasing the Bridgford Stand as part of a long-term vision to bring the City Ground’s to a total amount up to 38,000.

Forest had planned on starting the work the past summer but The Athletic reported in March that this could be pushed back to 2024 due to the complications associated with the planning permission and other considerations.

The previous season the club made their long-awaited return to the Premier League after a 23-year absence with the club consistently playing in front of sell-out crowds. Forest is seeking short-term solutions to satisfy the high demand for ticket sales, due to the plans to increase the stadium in size were hindered. 

The shipping container design is inspired by Stadium 974, one of eight venues used to host matches at last year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

The unique idea behind the Stadium 974 was constructed largely of shipping containers because of the nature of its architecture, it was the first stadium of its kind to be easily dismantled and reassembled in the history of the World Cup, with its name mentioning the number of shipping containers used in its creation of the stadium.

The stadium, which hosted seven World Cup matches, had a capacity of 44,000, the whole structure is to be demounted and reassembled elsewhere.

Nike Pacific Brand Director Nick Atkinson: “We have so much equity and history to elevate women’s sport”

Nick Atkinson

Before becoming Brand Director of Nike Pacific – an organisation he’s been part of since 2015 – Nick Atkinson knew very early on that he’d be working in football.

Growing up in Wales of the UK, he was brought up through the school, college and university system that paved the way for his passion to come to life.

From starting off with his first training session at Wick Dynamos in West Sussex, football has been a consistent part of his life.

In this interview with Soccerscene, Nick discusses his role of Brand Director in more detail, Nike’s involvement with the Matildas, working with Sam Kerr and giving back to the grassroots level.

As Brand Director, can you outline your role in helping promote football?

Nick Atkinson: I’ve been involved with Nike since 2015 and even before becoming part of the swoosh family, football has very much been something I am deeply passionate about.

I remember during the final round of my job interview for Nike, I was asked why I wanted to join the team. I didn’t give a great answer, but I had said that I wanted to work on a brand that propelled the game of football and had close ties to the World Cup. And I feel that my love for the game really shined in that moment.

Since taking up the role I’ve been fortunate to be part of so many firsts – seeing how football can uniquely unite and inspire people and nations.

With Nike’s level of global impact, I am aware of the responsibility and part I play in shaping how our athletes are seen, and leading this work on home soil has been a dream.

The Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand for example, was a major project that I led. It was Nike Pacific’s most significant investment in a sporting moment yet – from unmissable out-of-home, a world-first tiktokumentory, football accelerator legacy programs to the first female football-led retail door – the Dream Arena.

I’m immensely proud of what we, as a team, achieved to build a better game for all. It makes all the work we do behind-the-scenes so satisfying when we know it means that the next-gen athletes will have new-found heroes to look up to.

On a local level, after personally playing eight to nine seasons in Victoria’s state and metro leagues, I knew I wanted to get Nike involved as there was so much potential for impact at that level.

Seeing so much success in the sport both at the domestic and international level is a true highlight.

Nike proudly sponsor the Matildas; how do you reflect on FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023?

Nick Atkinson: I’ve worked with both our national teams (Matildas and Socceroos) for many years and have had so many amazing moments – I even remember a free-kick competition with Brett Emerton and Mark Bresciano in 2016 on ANZ Stadium!

If you look at the Socceroos performance in 2022, you can say it’s the ‘greatest assist’ before the 2023 Women’s World Cup because they had set that benchmark for performance and awareness across the country and reignited football.

This year’s tournament has undeniably been a generational moment for sport and culture, having the global tournament on home soil and the home team of the Matildas was the moment to accelerate sport into the future – we know sport creates change, and this was the largest accelerator of women’s sport and culture for the next five years.

The Matildas post tournament are now household names and have shown the world the power of women’s sport. From record-breaking crowds, jersey sales and viewership – the Matildas continue to inspire us all with their captivating performances and genuine love for each other, their fellow athletes and the game.

It felt like it’s been a while coming, but we saw the nation finally galvanise and get behind our national teams – and without a doubt, we’ll look back on the 2020’s as the greatest decade of women’s sport.

Living and breathing football in both my professional and personal life, I can say that we’ve got such a unique Australian football identity. We’re in arguably the most dynamic period that Australian football has ever seen and we’ve opened the sport up to the most diverse audience, which is so exciting and refreshing.

What did you make of user/social media engagement throughout the World Cup – was there anything significant you or your team saw in relation to aspects like shirt sales?

Nick Atkinson: We started working on our plans almost the day after the bid win got announced, so we were 100% ready going into the Women’s World Cup.

We have so much equity and history to elevate women’s sport at Nike, so this wasn’t new for us and has been a journey we’ve been on for a very long time.

When you look at a Matildas match, it is so different compared to the Socceroos. For example, lots of school trips and big groups of young fans, so that is really amazing.

One of the things that we anticipated was going to happen, was the emergence of new voices wrapped around this game. We knew this moment would be successful because it opened opportunities to grow and nurture these new voices in the game. That was one of the rewarding elements, to see different sections of the media and social platforms emerging to give us a new and youthful perspective on the sport.

Our partnership with TikTok saw the creation of 1000 Victories – one of the most successful pieces of media that we worked on through the Women’s World Cup.

This was co-created with a young generation of fans who emerged with a point of view on football and women’s sport. That enriched the game and really took it to new heights, making it bigger and more diverse and gives people a bunch of ways to be involved.

Sam Kerr is hugely popular in Australia and overseas – what was it like building her brand campaign?

Nick Atkinson: It’s been amazing, this is something I’ve personally worked on for a really long time, I’ve enjoyed and am so proud of.

It’s not only Sam but the whole group that we’ve had a relationship with for so long now and that has allowed us to get to know who they are as individuals as well as athletes.

To build a brand plan, you do need to have that full understanding of a person or team to work out how to best approach it.

I placed Sam in her first brand campaign for Nike in 2017 for the launch of the Mercurial Superfly 360 boots. That was at a time where she had just came off winning a Golden Boot in the NWSL and we knew at that point, we had a superstar on the rise.

We featured her in the launch campaign for the boots using billboards and the like, as well as an athlete experience at Rebel. We had an incredible turnout, not only from supporters but across the entire community.

At that time, it was clear that Sam had that star power to take her even further which proved to be the case. Fast Forward and she’s shared a few Mercs with Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe.

I’ve had the privilege to get to know Sam over the many years of collaboration and it has helped us build a strong, authentic platform and brand around her journey.

There’s nothing that we believe in more at Nike than listening to the voice of the athlete and doing work that resonates with them – such as their values and beliefs, and what they stand for. An example of this is something we’ve always told Sam, “We’ll get it right on the pitch first and then build from there.”.

The journey has been amazing and to be part of that is truly special. Our goal is to support Sam and build her brand while she’s delivering ground-breaking performances on the pitch and creating an unbreakable connection with fans.

More broadly, at Nike we believe that it’s not a one-person team with the Matildas by any stretch.

We have an incredible roster of athletes across the Matildas such as Elle Carpenter, Steph Catley, Kyah Simon, Alanna Kennedy, Mackenzie Arnold, Hayley Raso and more, and we’re focused on supporting and elevating the whole roster.

Our brand investment in the Women’s World Cup was the single biggest investment we’ve ever made in this country to elevate the team. We were prepared, we started early and I believe played a critical part in connecting the fans and the team.

Matildas brand stories:

All For Tomorrow

Sam Kerr – Flip The Game

Show the World Your Victory

You are also supporting Fitzroy Lions Soccer Club – what is it like switching back to the grassroots level and giving back?

Nick Atkinson: Football would not happen without volunteers at the grassroots level – it’s an area of the game that we really believe in and want to have a positive impact.

I shared my story coming through the UK, starting out in grassroots football, and being one of those kids that had to hustle for rides from other people’s parents, or ride my bike to games with my brother, and wear my boots until they fell apart, I know what a huge enabler it can be for kids.  Getting involved in Fitzroy Lions has been a real personal love of mine.

We’ve been partnered with Fitzroy Lions Soccer Club since 2018 – they are an incredible organisation where many of the kids come from refugee families and football plays a critical role in uniting that community. It’s where you really feel the power of the world game.

Our relationship started simply, going down to training sessions to meet the team and see what they’re about – they are a rare team in Australia that offers a route into structured league football for kids whose parents can’t quite afford it normally, in a sport that can be quite expensive to play. Through the time spent with them, I really got to know the kids and their families.

It was so enriching and an awesome experience where the club simply provides the opportunity for everyone and eliminates those barriers that people face when looking to play.

So many of us at Nike live and work around those communities so it’s a great opportunity to directly support people related to what we do. We’re proud to be part of something like this and seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces when they’re playing on the field is a real highlight in my career.

Excitingly, like many other grassroots clubs, they have seen a 200% increase in girls participating this season which is so encouraging.

In addition, we’re in the fifth year of naming rights for the Nike FC Cup and recently announced the Nike FC Accelerator Program. This is a four-year commitment with Football Victoria to drive gender equity in the sport by increasing the number of female coaches and giving better access to football at The Home of Matildas.

Overall, we want to provide equal opportunities and this is the legacy that Nike wants to leave in the long run to drive the sport forward.

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