Lawrie McKinna: A true survivor

Since 1986, when he first appeared for Heidelberg United in the NSL, Lawrie McKinna, the current Sydney Olympic CEO, has seen it all in Australian football.

After playing stints with Apia and Blacktown City, he eventually teamed up with David Mitchell at Sydney United and Parramatta Power in coaching roles, followed by Northern Spirit in his own right.

When the A-League commenced in 2005, Mckinna was involved at Central Coast Mariners and eventually became mayor of Gosford.

In recent times, he was CEO at the Newcastle Jets until the opportunity arose two years ago to take the helm at Sydney Olympic.

It is no coincidence that Lawrie McKinna faces one of the greatest challenges of his career in preparing the club to be ready for the start of the National Second Division in the winter of 2025.

Fittingly, on Saturday January 13th, a challenge match commemorated the first NSL  match between Sydney Olympic and South Melbourne which was played on April 2nd, 1977 at the Sydney Sportsground.

It was a unique day for football as it was the first code in Australia to form a national competition.

Lawrie McKinna is well aware of the famous players who appeared on that day, notably Gary Meier and Joe Senkalski for Sydney Olympic and former Socceroos, Jack Reilly, Billy Rogers, Duncan Cummings, Jimmy Mackay and Peter Ollerton for South Melbourne.

In fact, it was Peter Ollerton who scored the two goals for South Melbourne to secure his team’s victory.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Lawrie McKinna discusses the current state of Australian football, his vision for the success of the National Second Division and the significance of the Sydney Olympic v South Melbourne clash.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Looking back over all those years you’ve been involved in the Australian game, how do you see its current state?

LAWRIE McKINNA

When I first played at Heidelberg in the NSL, there were big crowds but we played at poor stadiums like Connor Reserve and Sunshine Reserve in the winter. Furthermore, we played in ankles of mud which was very much like playing in Scotland.

The current A-League stadiums are top notch with good surfaces and part of the criteria for the B-League will be for this to be replicated.

One of the glaring weaknesses of the A-League is the lack of media as the other codes receive blanket coverage.

If the game is trying to entice more support there is no incentive for the general sporting fan to follow it so this must be addressed.

However, the success of the Matildas is well known and the Socceroos popularity has never been greater so these strengths have to be built on.

R.S.

Do you think the right people are running the game?

L.M.

I don’t even know who is running the game since Danny Townsend left the APL.

I’ve never seen Nick Garcia, the new APL CEO, because he’s never appeared on television.

There are very large staff numbers at the APL but they’re invisible people.

James Johnson, the FA CEO, is their spokesperson and at least people recognise him but there still isn’t enough exposure of the FA Management to the supporters.

R.S.

Newcastle Jets, Perth Glory, Western United and Brisbane Roar are in survival mode.

Is this a satisfactory situation?

L.M.

This is not the only country in the world with financial problems so it’s a matter of getting the right owners who will commit for the long term.

However, it’s not a bottomless pit so better broadcast deals are required to bring money into the game.

R.S.

What do you see as the vision for the National Second Division and how can it integrate with the A-League?

L.M.

The admission of the first eight clubs is positive but a 12-club League is desirable.

We also need Adelaide, Brisbane and Tasmania to be represented to make it a truly national competition.

At the moment, a new television deal is being worked on to encompass the Matildas, Socceroos, Asian Cup and National Second Division and this was the major reason the new League was postponed until 2025.

R.S.

Will there be promotion from the B-League to the A-League?

L.M.

There won’t be for a number of years and the only way it could happen is if there is a bid for an A-League licence which would be in the vicinity of $10 million.

Eventually, there will be relegation from the B-League to the NPL and promotion upwards.

R.S.

Why should the B-League be more successful than the NPL?

L.M.

Simply, of the eight teams accepted for the B-League, seven of them were former, large NSL clubs who have strong community support and financial backing.

There’ll be more money spent to get better players into the League and also compensation will be provided to the clubs if an A-League club signs a player.

At the moment, there is virtually no compensation for the sale of NPL players to the A- League and if a player moves overseas , there’s usually a free transfer clause in their contract.

Also, contracts in the B-League will be for 2-3 years while in the current NPL they’re usually only for one year.

There’ll be more movement between NPL and the B-League with the aim to provide players with more games and opportunity which is one of the weaknesses of the current system.

R.S.

What is the main purpose of the match between Sydney Olympic and South Melbourne?

L.M.

Apart from recognising the famous match of April 2nd, 1977, we are attempting to reconnect the Olympic fans who haven’t identified with the game and the club since the end of the NSL.

At the Greek festival, I attended last weekend there was a lot of interest expressed about the B-League which resulted in some promising ticket sales for the match.

The venue at Netstrata Stadium is ideal and we intend to play our home matches there in 2025.

We also hope those former fans will bring their children to the games and create a new generation of supporters.

Coogee United: A club set to catapult through local grant

The Local NSW Grant has provided an important influx of funds for the success grant recipients enlisted, it will provide finances into specific areas of their respective clubs.

Upon the major list featured on the NSW Local Grant website, features a vast variety of football clubs across the state.

Coogee United is volunteer run community football club within the eastern region of NSW. Currently competing within the Eastern Suburbs Football Association, the club have entered their 21st season of operations having established foundations in 2003. As a staple amongst eastern suburb football within NSW, the club boast 25 teams, which 17 of those are male, and eight of those female.

The east side club where successful within the clubs application, Amy Singh lives and breathes football. Her involvement within Coogee United, echoes the all-important effect undertaken by those within her position across the nation.

As esteemed vice-president and representative of the Coogee United Board. She discussed the clubs ambitions in the wake of becoming recipients, of a much needed cash boost.

Singh talked about the impact the grant can have upon the club.

This grant will be game changing for our women’s program within Coogee United,” she said.

The newly encountered funds are all to be dedicated towards the women’s program at Coogee United. Primarily targeted towards high quality training grounds and adequate training equipment.

Additionally, funding will be provided towards women’s teams for new club apparel.

Amy Singh touched upon how the specific areas the grant finances are allocated towards, can attract new participants.

“When attracting women to a new sport it is key we break down barriers to participation. Safe, welcoming facilities, along with female specific, well fitting kit is key to ensuring participants are comfortable within the sporting environment. It takes courage to take up a new sport, so we want to make it as accessible as possible.”

The interest in which women’s football has experienced in over the last 5 to 6 years is described by Singh as “burgeoning.”

In the wake of the 2023 women’s world cup, there has been a spike of female participants over the age of 18 who are determined to become involved in football at an entry level.

Singh elaborated upon the importance of the two way relationship between female club participants and football.

“Being able to introduce women to football at any age is so important not only for the obvious health and wellbeing physical fitness aspects, but also as football (and many team sports) provides enormous mental health benefits, and a sense of belonging within our footballing club community,” she said.

We are committed to providing a high quality, but affordable football club experience to our members. We see football as a community first, and rely heavily on an army of volunteers to deliver our aims.”

Singh discussed the long-term aspirations for the club.

“Coogee United currently do not operate a youth system. Something in which club representatives are opting to change over the course of the upcoming seasons ahead,” she said.

“Long term, we would love to be able to re-start the junior arm to our club. We know football is growing in popularity amongst junior participants too.

“However to be able to do this we need to ensure we have the required funding, volunteers and available facilities to be able to deliver a well structured and managed junior football program.”

The NSW Community Grant funds regardless of the amount provided on behalf of the NSW Government, has the capacity to transcend football clubs in whom are success applicants.

Coogee United have made their aspirations concise. It is now of speculation as to how other successful applicants seek to prosper with a new influx of finances.

Venezia FC: cultivating a unique fashion and branding profile

The heritage, the charm, the biennales, the architecture, the art, the canals, the fashion and now football has been added to that list.

Venice boasts a wealth of cultural treasures, and for the first time in 19 years in 2021 the city had its own football team, Venezia FC, playing in the top division of Italian football.

Despite the city’s brilliance and beauty, Venezia FC’s path to the top has been far from conventional. Over the past couple of decades, the club has faced financial chaos, backroom turmoil, relegations, and takeovers. Yet, despite these sink-or-swim moments, the few years prior to being promoted to Serie A, have seen the club flourish on the world stage in a completely new way.

Despite players and fans needing to travel by boat to the 11,150-capacity Stadio Pier Luigi Penzo, the club has ascended with a clear Moneyball philosophy and a marketing team that has transformed them into a true powerhouse in style and with the highest level of craftmanship to the making of clothes.

The kits have been an undeniable success, generating the kind of buzz and headlines usually reserved for Nigeria and PSG releases. The home kit sold out on its first day of sale, and since then, 95% of online sales have come from outside Italy. Venezia FC has truly gone global.

Naturally, any marketer understands that successful brands don’t just provide products to purchase; they offer something to be a part of. While selling items is beneficial, selling a lifestyle is even more effective.

Before long, the website of Venezia FC began featuring poetic essays about the city and interviews with esteemed cultural figures like Cecilia Alemani, the artistic director of the Biennale. The post-match report adopted a passionate editorial tone that is rarely observed in the realm of football.

Ted Philipakos, the former Chief Marketing Officer of Venezia FC, is one of the key architects behind the club’s rapid success both on and off the field. As the club started to emerge from its depths, the former NYU sports marketing professor managed Venezia’s transition from Nike to Kappa – a change that has significantly transformed the club ever since.

Venezia’s fairytale return to prominence has been widely chronicled, but a lesser-known story is how the club swiftly transitioned from the verge of collapse to flourishing once more.

The club’s initial connection to the fashion world came through a scarf created in collaboration with the New York collective Nowhere F.C., produced in 2017 featuring in a photoshoot in NYC.

Under the art direction of Fly Nowhere, Venezia FC’s marketing, creative strategies, and merchandise were managed between New York and Venice, providing the club with global visibility through a stylistic perspective for the first time.

In February 2020, Duncan Niederauer, the former CEO of the New York Stock Exchange spearheaded an ownership restructuring and assumed the role of president, a time when the club was undergoing one of the most dramatic rebranding’s in recent football history. The club aimed to align its identity more closely with the city’s renowned classical art and architecture.

The Winged Lion, central to both the club’s logo and the iconic Piazza San Marco, received a redesign. The kits were revamped to emphasise the club’s signature green and orange colour scheme, enhanced with subtle gold features, creating one of the most visually striking combinations in world soccer. Suddenly, Venice boasted a soccer team as glamorous and stylish as the historic buildings lining its canals.

Venezia FC will be vying to be promoted once again to the Serie A in a two legged playoff against Cremonese over the next week, with avid enthusiast of football culture will be hoping to see more of what has been famously described as “football on water” being played at the Pier Luigi Penzo Stadium once again in the top division.

The Isuzu UTE A-League and Liberty A-League clubs can take learnings for some of the techniques and strategies that have worked so well at Venezia FC, whether that is partnerships, kit launches stylishly shot around the teams home city, or even if its to standout by not having a typical football club badge, Venezia FC has set the standard on how to market their merchandise through social media platforms as well as having an upmarket boutique store.

Philipakos noted a shift in the global football landscape he said via the esquire website:

“There was a technological evolution, a generational change and a psychographic shift, where this new generation had an entirely different relationship with football.”

It is important for teams around the country to understand that a club doesn’t need a top player or be playing in the top division for them to have a huge following on social media, understanding the marketing aspect will be enough.

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