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Northcote City FC implements digital coaching as part of its long-term strategy

Although the deferral of state-wide football has created an enormous void for Victorians throughout 2020, an unlikely silver lining as emerged. Clubs have used the crisis as an opportunity to implement digital training platforms and build stronger community engagement through virtual channels.

Northcote City FC is the latest Victorian club to take this approach, adopting the digital platform My Personal Football Coach (MPFC) to add its current catalogue of mobile initiatives.

The club is optimistic that its digital strategy will do far more than provide a short-term solution to the COVID-19 induced lockdown and instead become a valuable asset for its football department.

Michael Skliros, President of Northcote City FC, said he was “thrilled” to modernise the club’s processes and that the platform will help to take player and coach development to a new level.

“From our perspective, we are renown for our junior program, and we invest heavily into it. As part of this we believe it is important to equally invest in both players and coaches,” Skliros said.

“It’s not a stop-gap, it’s a value add that is going to form part of the club’s overall philosophy. MPFC will contribute to our coaching program and help the club maintain its position as a leader by continually evolving its methods.”

MPFC contains hundreds of ball mastery skill videos and position-specific coaching drills that cover all ages and abilities. Crucially, the platform is designed to include many drills which allow players to train with minimal equipment and in small spaces, making it highly adaptable and accessible.

“We chose the MPFC because it’s one of the leading global platforms and is used by some of the biggest clubs and academies in the world. It’s run by academy coaches who have experience at leading EPL clubs and deployed at the some of the best academies in the world, like Chelsea FC and Wolverhampton,” Skliros said.

“Despite the lack of football this year we haven’t seen the interest drop off at all – the craving to play is at an all-time high. The people want something there to fill the void and the digital training satisfies that.”

Since adopting MPFC recently, Northcote City FC’s community has responded strongly, with participation rates for training being extremely healthy.

Up to 85 per cent of players in some Northcote City squads are actively using the platform.

“It has been a smooth transition. We are seeing teams with 80 to 85 per cent uptake, which is an extremely high rate for a new platform in any industry. You would think 30 to 40 per cent would be the benchmark to start with but we have had an extremely high uptake,” Skliros said.

For Northcote City’s coaching staff, MPFC is assisting them to communicate effectively with their players remotely. They are able to set tailored, individual training plans which the players can execute and then upload footage, allowing their coaches to provide constructive feedback.

Coaches can further set challenges for their players, track player attendance, and keep training fresh and exciting by tapping into the vast catalogue of specialised drills that are available on the platform.

The value of MPFC is very much a two-way street with players also benefiting from all of these features. Furthermore, the platform allows players to maintain competitive training standards by tracking their training loads and performance on team leader boards.

Along with the practical tools MPFC provides, there is a substantial opportunity for knowledge sharing. Northcote City FC has equipped its players and staff with a ‘Coach’s Pass’ to the platform, opening a world of podcasts, blogs, and analysis that anyone in the club can access to build their knowledge of the game.

“This is another example of the value of incorporating digital training and shows why it will become a part of the overall coaching philosophy. The services we are gaining will provide us resources to benefit every part of the club,” Skliros said.

While MPFC is assisting Northcote City FC to maintain momentum in 2020, the club has invested, and continues to invest in a range of other off-field tools to help its players and staff achieve on-field success.

“Our NPL streams are starting to move towards becoming elite-style programs with education on nutrition and the use of partner medical clinics where our players gain free treatment, physio, performance-based testing, and improved strength and conditioning,” Skliros said.

“We’re broadening out our program to include initiatives that target health and wellbeing and are committed to extend this experience to everyone, not just registered players, but family as well.”

“As part of this we have players in our program from ages four to 55 and have focused on inclusivity, social style competitions, and also begun a campaign for soccer mums.”

Northcote City’s approach to create a well-rounded, holistic program will form part of the club’s strategy to develop elite talent, build the strength of its community, and return to Victoria’s National Premier League (NPL).

Following a turbulent decade where the club won the NPL in 2013 before being relegated five years later in 2018, Skliros is optimistic that the board’s progressive approach will help it to realise its goals both on and off the pitch.

“There are a lot of things in the pipeline that we couldn’t deliver due to COVID-19, but we are still working on. There is a bigger focus now more than ever to get people active again and we are putting a lot of emphasis into the overall health and wellbeing of our community,” he said.

Chelsea the first EPL club to partner with Chinese social media giant Weibo

Chelsea F.C have announced a strategic partnership with Weibo, a Chinese social media platform which records more than 520 million active users per month.

The West London club already have more than eight-million followers and will produce content specifically designed for the Chinese audience. This includes employing a Chinese fan reporter at their Cobham training ground.

To add to the ventures into the Chinese market, Chelsea has also launched Chelsea FC China TV, a regular weekday series that features interviews, discussion, highlights and other football related content.

Chelsea Chief Executive Guy Lawrence was delighted to announce the news, citing the strategic partnership will help the club to build a stronger relationship with its Chinese audience.

“Delivering high quality, quick-to-market content and bringing our Chinese fans closer to the club are two key aims of Chelsea’s China strategy,” he said.

“Through this strategic partnership with Weibo, we will be able to grow our offering of original and China-specific content across the country.”

Chelsea were the fastest-growing European soccer team on Weibo last season, according to an official release. As of the end of August, they were the fourth most followed club on the platform, behind only Barcelona, Manchester City and Manchester United, who boast more than ten million followers.

Zhan Sheng, General Manager of Sina Sports, the company which owns Weibo, echoed Lawrence’s sentiment.

“Having already successfully worked with Chelsea on a number of projects, Weibo and Chelsea FC will continue to collaborate further. The key areas of our focus moving forward will be on delivering bespoke multimedia content formats, operating fan communities, as well as new and upgraded commercialisation models.”

“Weibo has continued to increase its investment and support in the sports industry since the inception of its vertical sports platform. With an increased impact in the sports industry in recent years, Weibo has now formed a comprehensive ecosystem linking event organisations, clubs, athletes, media, and KOLs. It’s a unique style of social media communication on Weibo which will provide Chelsea FC with the platform to increase fan participation and commercial monetisation.”

Caroline Springs George Cross FC: A historic club reborn and revitalised

Relocating from a traditional home will usually mark the start of a new era for a football club. Modern facilities provide dramatic improvements for players, fans and other stakeholders to enjoy, and a new environment can often create an uplift of atmosphere.

For Caroline Springs George Cross FC, the mid-2019 move to the state-of-the-art City Vista Pavilion and Sports Field has done all of the above – but also far, far more.

The club has used the transition to revitalise its football program and open an industry-leading hospitality precinct, increasing opportunities for income diversification and the creation of an intimate sense of community.

“Prior to the move we utilised three different venues. It has been enlightening for the club to amalgamate all of our teams and for the first time in a while, the club has been united from a participation point of view. We are now all at one venue where teams and families interact and watch each other play and train. It also means we can have community and NPL Juniors all at the one club,” said Mark Sultana, Caroline Springs George Cross FC President.

Formerly Sunshine George Cross, the club has a rich 74-year history and a deep connection to Melbourne’s western suburbs.

“We are a very old, but very progressive football club. In 2019 we had a change of name to match our new home. We have created a really special culture and are highly united across all areas,” Sultana added.

From a business standpoint, the hospitality precinct, dubbed Georgies on Vista, has allowed the club to build a sustainable income stream which is not solely reliant on traditional methods like sponsorship.

“It’s a full hospitality precinct including a bar, function room and restaurant. It’s a fully functional business but we also use it to give back to our community. We offer specials for members and players, while kids eat free,” added Liza Djuric, General Manager of Caroline Springs George Cross FC.

“Parents have a comfortable space when they are waiting for their kids and it really unites people during training and on matchdays.”

The precinct features two synthetic pitches and two grass pitches. Credit: Dorian Mifsud.

As well as the hospitality facilities, the City Vista complex features cutting-edge amenities for players and coaches. The $13 million reserve boasts two synthetic pitches and two grass pitches, with space for 4000 fans.

Although project was heavily funded by the Melton City Council, the Georgies also made a significant contribution of approximately $1 million.

While securing funding was an enormous achievement, the relationship the club shares with its council is very much a two-way street. The club has approached its relations with the broader community much the same as it has with its members, promoting inclusion and engagement to great effect.

“It’s a testament to our venue that Western United FC chose us to base themselves out of. They use our facilities six days per week to train, but we also support the local community,” Sultana said.

“The school across the road uses our facilities for their P.E classes and we support other local schools by hiring out our grounds. The public can also use our grounds when we aren’t using them and there’s times over summer where the grounds are booked out for tournaments.”

The club has a 20-year lease on the complex, with an option to extend another 20 years beyond that.

With the deal undoubtedly a huge win for the club, Sultana and Djuric emphasise that it was a result of hard-work and dedication from many past and present administrators.

“A lot of people over a number of years have sacrificed a lot to have this facility granted to us. People like Eddie Gauci, who was integral to our conversations with council. He has sadly passed away, but his legacy will not be forgotten. Countless other people including committee members, coaches, presidents and volunteers sacrificed a lot for our club to be where it is today,” Sultana said.

Importantly, in addition to supporting its members and the surrounding areas, the reserve was also designed in a gender-neutral manner, something which is increasingly important in the modern football ecosystem.

This has allowed George Cross to heavily promote female participation in the area and offer genuine career development pathways for women who are eager to pursue coaching or administrative positions.

Georgies on Vista has created a sustainable revenue stream. Credit: Dorian Mifsud.

“We have female-friendly change rooms and access and gender-neutral facilities. The club is committed to drawing female participation across the board. We have girls from all age groups and ensure our women’s teams train and play on our main pitch,” Djuric said.

“We are committed to this even across the board and committee. We have female coaches and self-nominated to the Change Maker Project, a Football Victoria and Vic Uni led program which is all about driving football clubs to achieve 50/50 participation.”

With a state-of-the-art facility now in place to complement the club’s passionate fanbase, the President believes Caroline Springs George Cross FC is in a prime position to compete in the highly anticipated National Second Division.

‘We have taken this club from being mainly comprised of part-timers into a professionally run organisation. When the Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) put out the expression of interest for the working group, we took it upon ourselves to contribute,” Sultana said.

“We are an old NSL club with a strong brand and supporter base. We have one of the best facilities and believe we are in a good position to be issued a license when the time comes. The licenses need to be given on a criteria base and from a capability standpoint, we will have all of the components ticked-off.”

Australian football needs to further explore the potential of Twitch

Twitch continues to be one of the world’s leading platforms to live stream content and Australian football should build their presence on the service.

The FFA launched the E-League in 2018, a competitive Esports league where professional gamers played and represented A-League clubs in the FIFA video game series.

The league is broadcast on the Amazon subsidiary Twitch, with viewing numbers impressive across the board.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the opening night of the E-League saw 138,000 people tuning into the show, a figure which was bigger than most A-League games in the past few years.

Speaking at the time of the launch, former FFA head of commercial, digital and marketing, Luke Bould, explained that the idea behind the E-League was to attract a younger audience and build awareness of the A-League’s brand.

“We’re being entrepreneurial, we’re taking a risk. We have to be there and for us it’s a strategic advantage, there’s a million plus people playing this game and we don’t have enough fans of the A-League. We can try and influence them through this media,” he told SMH.

Bould claimed the E-league’s opening night attracted a larger social media following than any other streamed event covered by the FFA (including Bert van Marwijk’s unveiling before the 2018 World Cup).

“That’s the strongest thing we’ve ever done in terms of social platforms, whether it’s live press conferences, it’s by far the strongest thing we’ve ever done,” he said.

Fast forward two years, the E-League now has over 6,000 followers on Twitch and just under four million video views.

The Esports competition has engaged fans successfully on Twitch, but there are more options that Australian football can take advantage of on the platform.

Those in charge could develop strategies to encourage the sizeable E-League fanbase to further engage with real life A-League content, on the same service.

The issue is, there is no official A-League account on the live-streaming service.

The absence of this could be seen as a missed opportunity.

La Liga recently became one of the first major European sports competitions to join Twitch.

On the service, they now broadcast behind the scene’s footage, preview and review shows, special programs on featured players in the competition and much more.

The Spanish competition’s partnership with Twitch also allows for collaboration opportunities which benefits the streaming community.

Could the A-League enter a similar partnership on a smaller scale?

Since Fox Sports has currently cut back on producing A-League magazine shows, it could address a current hole in the market.

Producing exclusive real-life content on Twitch could also see more young football fans flocking to the platform, in addition to those who are already interested in the E-League competition.

It helps that Twitch is an extremely popular platform for a young audience (a market which Australian football administrators are currently targeting), particularly male.

According to Globalwebindex, 73% of Twitch users are aged between 16-34, with 65% of all users being male.

Another possibility for the Australian game is to follow the likes of famous clubs such as Real Madrid and Juventus, as well as leagues such as the English Premier League, in broadcasting live matches on the platform.

Real Madrid and Juventus have their own channels on the service and they have broadcast friendlies and youth team matches.

The English Premier League live-streamed matches on Twitch for UK users earlier this year for the first time.

With murmurs that the FFA Cup is set to be broadcast on YouTube next season, it may not be the worst idea to showcase some of those games on Twitch instead.

It would open up potential commercial opportunities for the present and the future, on a platform where Australian football needs to increase its visibility.

It could not only benefit A-League clubs, but also maximize the exposure for NPL clubs competing in the cup competition.

If Australian football is serious about its focus on engaging a digital audience, Twitch needs to be further entrenched in its plans.

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