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Only the brave – Sydney FC CEO Danny Townsend’s greatest challenge

When Danny Townsend was appointed CEO of Sydney FC in August, 2017, he could never have envisaged the pressures which Australian football would be confronted with in 2020

A national competition in the A-league which has its very survival threatened had been losing public support for the last few years.

Now a major dispute with the P.F.A over players’ wages, conditions and entitlements, the diminution of television and commercial backing and an uncertain starting date for the next season, have made this year the worst in the fifteen year history of the competition

Danny Townsend is a creative thinker but he will have to apply all the know – how gleaned in the formation and growth of his brainchild international company, Repucom, to combat the forces at work against the prosperity of the A-League and his own club.

In this interview with Roger Sleeman, Danny Townsend discusses the hurdles the game is facing and attempts to provide the answers to overcome them.

ROGER SLEEMAN

You completed the double on August 30. What is the aftermath for Sydney FC?

DANNY TOWNSEND

It was a fantastic achievement in surpassing Sydney City, South Melbourne, Marconi and Melbourne Victory as the club with the greatest number of titles in national competition so it’s something we can all look back on with pride.

ROGER SLEEMAN

What were the pros and cons of finishing the season?

DANNY TOWNSEND

For the game it was important to resume the season after the COVID-19 interruption.

Particularly for our club, so the players could complete the mission to secure the Double and go back to back Champions.
Also, continuity was important because the wider community and football supporters needed something to inspire them given the difficult times brought about by the pandemic.

Certainly, it was a positive winning the Double in these difficult times.

ROGER SLEEMAN

At the moment, coverage for the game on tv, radio and print media is next to nothing.
Your thoughts?

DANNY TOWNSEND

This is disappointing but COVID-19 has created an inflexion point for the game to rebuild and examine media and many other issues.
We have a strategy and all stakeholders in the code from the FFA, the Professional Leagues and down to the grassroots must play an important collaborative role in rebuilding the game .

We’ve always talked about high participation rates and interest in football – we have the numbers and enough support to justify having coverage on the front and back pages every day.
However, this has never been capitalised on and it’s a clear failing in the game to date.

Now is the time to do something about it – we have no choice.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Do we have the right people on the Board of FFA and executive talent in the organisation to take the game forward?

DANNY TOWNSEND

The people are there and in James Johnson we have a CEO with the right credentials who unfortunately has taken up his position at a particularly difficult time.  It’s not just up to the FFA  but we must separate the Professional Leagues.

These organisations need to be entrepreneurial and hire the most talented and innovative people.
There are plenty of good people in football but we need to be bold and take some risks.

There should be a mixture of competencies which allows the game to move forward as a collective.
It isn’t about one single board member or executive but about senior figures in the game working together to achieve the necessary outcomes to take the game forward.

Fortunately, Sydney FC Board members provide me with the support to do the job I want and critically, I have the best people around me to make it happen.

ROGER SLEEMAN

How much longer will it be before the A-League clubs become independent from the FFA and will the current incumbents led by Greg O’Rourke still administer the competition?

DANNY TOWNSEND

The FFA has indicated to the clubs they support the process of an independent League.
However, there are processes to be followed which will ensure the separation is carried out in a professional and orderly manner.

I can’t really comment about how the unbundling will take place and what it will finally look like.
Nonetheless, Greg O’Rourke demonstrated great initiative in getting the competition back and running again after the COVID-19 layoff.  Many people on the periphery have no appreciation for the operational and commercial challenges the League faced and to finish the season was a significant achievement by Greg, his team and all the clubs.

Sydney FC CEO Danny Townsend – Image Sydney FC

ROGER SLEEMAN

You ran a multinational success story in Repucom for twelve years. What can the game learn from your business experience?

DANNY TOWNSEND

You need the best people to execute your strategy like you require the best players on the pitch to win trophies. We’re in a competitive marketplace vying for recognition with other sports and entertainment mediums.
Therefore, we have to work harder and become more creative and innovative in our work. At Repucom we had a good solution but we had the best people to bring it to life.  In Football we have the best game and we just need talented people to capitalise on the opportunity.

In the past the game has probably been guilty of complacency, particularly in our failure to link grassroots with senior football.
The grass roots really need to be tapped into because it’s a huge marketplace which is already aligned with the sport.  We are in the entertainment business and we need to think like that when we think about the Professional Leagues.

ROGER SLEEMAN

How can the game attract more funding from business and government?

DANNY TOWNSEND

Once again, it’s about creating value and the private and public sector will respond.
By selling the health and wellness benefits of the sport, we should have access to more government grants.  Our sport is comparatively poorly supported by state and federal government compared to our counterparts, so we need to set that straight.

Also, the success in winning the Women’s World Cup should be leveraged to unlock the scale of our game to the community and in turn the private sector. In the past 3-4 seasons, Sydney FC has made giant strides, but we can only do so much. Being a big club in an ordinary competition isn’t going to help our club grow further.

Being a great club in a great competition is really going to set the pathway so we must work as shareholders in the game to grow a better competition. For the League to prosper, it’s a must for other clubs to perform better on and off the pitch.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Steve Corica brought a number of young players through the ranks last season.
Will this be the continuing trend or will marquee and overseas players still be sort after?

DANNY TOWNSEND

The rationalisation of the competition and the current CBA negotiations are affecting our cost base so naturally there’ll be more of a reliance on domestic talent to drive results on the pitch. The club has invested in a five-year program for the Academy and a few players have already gone overseas to ply their trade.

Nevertheless, foreigners have a place in the game eg: Cameron Devlin who trained next to Brandon O’Neill and Milos Ninkovic every day became a much better player before moving to Wellington and Trent Buhagiar has learnt a lot from Adam Le Fondre in the past two seasons.

However, young players shouldn’t believe they have a sense of entitlement to make the grade because nobody gets a guaranteed starting place at this club or any other club.  The foreign player market has shifted so I still think you will see quality and high profile foreign football talent in the A-League and W-League into the future.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Do you agree the media concentrates too much on off the park events, rather than what is happening on it?

DANNY TOWNSEND

I agree with this statement, so the game has to do a better job of controlling the narrative.
In the absence of reliable communications, the game suffers so information flow is essential to prevent the media from filling in the blanks.
All stakeholders in the game must communicate clearly and more often to achieve a fair balance in reporting.
Currently, only one side of a story is being publicised so let’s assist the media in producing more accurate stories based on better quality transparency whether the news is good, bad or ugly.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Where do the CBA negotiations currently sit?

DANNY TOWNSEND

The CBA is currently on pause as clubs are working with their respective playing groups. The cuts mentioned in the media aren’t correct as individual club contracts and situations are all different with the mix of contracted and uncontracted player’s conditions varying widely.

Critically, all clubs want to look after their players but they also have a fiscal responsibility to ensure the club’s survival.  This is not a burden that lies solely with the players as cuts need to be unilateral across all functions of football which will recalibrate the game’s cost base.

ROGER SLEEMAN

Is it true that James Johnson will intervene if the current stalemate is not resolved?

DANNY TOWNSEND

The FFA and James Johnson have offered support to help the situation if necessary.
However, there are two parties involved in these negotiations. The clubs who employ and pay the players and the players themselves via the PFA.

The FFA as the regulator can get involved but James Johnson is doing the right thing by letting the parties work through the process as adults to try and find a suitable outcome.  I remain very confident that will be the result.

Sekulovski hits the ground running in Preston Sponsorship Management role

Naum Sekulovski might be in the twilight of his playing career, but he won’t be finishing up with football or his beloved Preston Lions anytime soon.

The former Perth Glory star has taken on the role of Sponsorship Manager for the 2021 season.

Preston has always been a club that has enjoyed enormous support from its community and its playing members.

The chants of “Ma-ke-don-ia” on game day bring goosebumps to all in attendance at BT Connor Reserve.

Even whilst playing at the relative depths of State League 1 for this former National Soccer League heavyweight, Preston has been able to rely on the incredible support of its fans who vote with their feet year in, year out.

However, it is the ability of the club to mobilise the support of the business network within its community that is truly impressive.

In recent years, the Preston Lions committee has enjoyed enormous success in mobilising the support of the business community within its ranks, signing on an extraordinary amount of sponsors a trend that has well and truly continued into 2021.

“At the top end of this year, back end of 2020, [Preston Lions President] Zak [Gruevski] approached me about taking on the role of Sponsorship Manager,” Sekulovski said.

“I’m coming to the twilight of my career as a player, so I’ve always wanted to understand how I can get more involved behind the scenes.

“I’m always going to have that football attachment and I’m interested in the business side of running a football club, so I jumped on board.”

Outside of football, Sekulovski works in pharmaceutical sales, meaning he felt he had a skillset that would allow him to hit the ground running in the role.

A cursory glance at the club’s social media feed over the last few months would demonstrate that Preston’s support goes far beyond boots on terraces and that Sekulovski has certainly gotten off to a fast start.

Since taking on the role, the Preston mainstay said he has been blown away by the business support afforded to the Lions.

“It’s been a really big eye-opener for me and one that I’ve really tried to translate over to the players and the people at a junior level,” he said.

“To be honest, the level of support has been a bit overwhelming.

“At last count, we’ve ticked over 100 sponsors for the year. We’re in a really, privileged position, but we’re here because of the hard work of all the people that have been on the committee over the last few years.”

Preston has kicked off its own “Preston in Business” program of business events for sponsors and is providing corporate hospitality on gameday, which started with a historic night of football at BT Connor Reserve when the club took on Melbourne City in it’s season opening match of the NPL3 Vic season, attracting a bumper crowd on the night.

The club saw another massive turnout last Friday night for their NPL3 Vic clash with Melbourne Victory, showing the Round 1 turnout was no flash in the pan.

“To have that many businesses and invited guests attend our first President’s Club function for 2021, it just made sense to have a program like “Preston In Business” that we could use to help those sponsors engage with and leverage off one another.

“We’ve got so many diverse businesses in our group.”

Following 2019’s State League 1-winning season, not even the loss of the 2020 year could slow Preston down.

“I think success breeds success,” Sekulovski said.

“And it’s not just about the men’s program. We are striving to get to the heights of Victorian football at all levels and we are firmly in the frame of mind that when a national second division presents itself, we want to be a part of that discussion.

“We’re a united front across our men’s, women’s and junior programs and everything is coming together.”

Facilities have also been a major agenda item for the club and redevelopment of BT Connor Reserve, which has been aided by the City of Darebin Council, as well as the generous donation of money and services from the Preston business community has been crucial to the club’s drive forward.

“I think we’re really only just scratching the surface of what’s possible in terms of our partnership with Council and Government,” he said.

“The administration of the club has been working so hard over the last six or seven years and it’s thanks to a passionate group of volunteers which makes the progress we’ve made extraordinary.

“To see that pay off with the night we had against Melbourne City and our new partnership with them, it was incredible.

“I grew up watching Preston. That Friday night I left the sponsorship stand to go and see some of the game with the rank and file and sitting there with so many people in the industrial back streets of Reservoir at our first official night game was something special.”

Preston remains on the lookout for businesses looking to support their charge forward.

Anyone interested in supporting the club or joining as a sponsor/partner should contact Sekulovski or Preston via their Facebook page or club website.

Image Credit: Preston Lions Football Club

NSW Government pledges more than $4 million to community sport

Community soccer

The NSW Government’s Local Sport Grants Program is set to provide over $4 million to more than 700 community organisations across the state.

The Local Sport Grants Program comes as a fantastic development for the state’s community sporting organisations who have faced immense obstacles as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The program provides sporting organisations with the necessary funding to increase and remove barriers for potential participants, purchase sporting equipment and to improve infrastructure with 831 grants awarded to a total of 728 sporting organisations representing 58 unique sports.

The Local Sport Grants Program grants sporting organisations with up to $20,000 for projects which are focused on sport development, sport access and facility development. It reaffirms the NSW Government’s commitment to ensuring that grassroots and community sport can once again thrive in the wake of what was a formidable year prior.

The NSW Government’s Minister for Sport, Geoff Lee, acknowledged the welcome reprieve that the Local Sport Grants Program will provide for communities across NSW as they move to overcome the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The pandemic, bushfires and floods have created significant uncertainty for local communities across NSW,” he said.

“Sport is the glue which keeps local communities together, and these grants acknowledge the importance of sport within our local communities, plus recognise the considerable contribution our army of sporting volunteers make on a daily basis.

“The Local Sport Grant Program is structured to help increase participation, improve facilities and increase investment, particularly in women’s sport, enabling more women and girls to participate.

“Whether it’s providing opportunities for people with a disability to play football at Randwick Football Club, purchasing jerseys and equipment for the Wiradjuri Warrior’s women’s rugby league teams or buying uniforms and equipment for multicultural kids at Rockdale City Raiders Football Club, these grants play a vital role in giving everyone the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of sport.”

For further information on the Local Sport Grants Program, you can find it here.

Tasmanian Liberals commit to $10 million facility investment

A majority Gutwein Liberal Government has promised to invest $10 million towards facility upgrades across four locations.

A majority Gutwein Liberal Government has promised to invest $10 million towards facility upgrades across four locations, promoting increased participation for community sport.

There are over 38,000 Tasmanians participating in football, so facility upgrades are vital for continual growth for the game. Despite Tasmania missing out on holding games for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, the facilities investment would benefit the state’s push to host base camps for international sides coming to Australia.

The following facilities will be part of the investment to reaffirm Tasmania’s commitment to football:

Valley Road, Devonport – The home of Devonport Strikers with 170 registered players will see new funding go towards a new building, additional pitch, new changerooms and lighting.

Birch Avenue, Launceston – The home of Launceston United with 633 registered players is one of the largest clubs in Tasmania. New funding will assist with improved drainage, safety fencing & new and enhanced lighting.

Churchill Park, Launceston – The home of the Northern Tasmanian Junior Soccer Association has 1878 registered players and hosts the annual Launceston Tournament – drawing 1000 junior players to the facility. Funding will deliver new lighting, new changeroom and clubrooms.

Lightwood Park, Kingborough – The home of Kingborough Lions and 552 registered players is the largest club in southern Tasmania. Additional funding will welcome new changerooms and clubrooms.

“Today’s announcement is a huge win for Tasmanian football,” Football Tasmania CEO Matt Bulkeley said.

“We’re extremely grateful to Premier Gutwein and Minister for Sport Jane Howlett for their continued support of the World Game in Tasmania.

“By recognising the magnitude of this opportunity, they have made sure tens of thousands of Tasmanians will benefit from the legacy of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, despite Launceston missing out on hosting tournament matches.

“Football is Tasmania’s most played team sport, and we are proud to lead the nation as the state with the highest proportion of female players in Australia at 28 per cent.

“We know that whenever a Women’s World Cup is played, participation spikes the following year – with the 2023 World Cup being held in Australia we’re expecting this increase to be through the roof, particularly among women and girls.

“In addition to positioning Tasmania to welcome the world’s best players for training, the upgrades to Churchill Park, Birch Avenue, Valley Road and Lightwood Park will also ensure football has the necessary infrastructure to accommodate more growth, and make sure the World Game is Tasmania’s game for many years to come.”

Tasmanians will head to the polls on May 1 for the state election, where a majority Liberal Government will be able to begin the upgrades process.

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