Preston Lions FC: A sleeping giant is awoken with new $3 million grant

With one of Australia’s most passionate fanbases and a history of on-field success, it seems inconceivable that less than a decade ago the Preston Lions FC was on the brink of financial collapse. But despite its recent struggles, a resilient leadership team has led the club out of darkness and towards a bright new dawn.

Following a triumphant 2019 season which ended in promotion, the crowning jewel in Preston’s redemptive arc is the announcement of a new $3 million government grant to redevelop its facilities – meaning the club will finally have the infrastructure to match its lofty ambitions.

“The club recognised that we operate in a competitive environment and we needed to significantly improve the state of our facilities if we were going to attract and retain players, coaches, sponsors, members, and families,” said Zak Gruevski, Preston Lions FC President.

“Furthermore, we need to continue to improve our facilities if we are to meet our ambitious plans of playing at the highest level of NPL in Victoria, and possibly in the National Second Division.”

The funding marks a dramatic turnaround for the club. Struggles on-the-pitch saw Preston relegated twice, in 2009 and 2011, and things were no better off-field, with crippling debt almost forcing the Lions into bankruptcy in 2012.

But just a few short years later fortunes had changed again, and this time for the better. Thanks to the dedication of the Debt Demolition Fundraising Sub Committee, fundraising efforts managed to eradicate the debt in 2014, giving the club a new platform of hope and financial stability.

Gruevski, a life-long supporter of the Lions, was elected President in 2015 and has already overseen drastic improvements to the club’s stature and home ground, B.T. Connor Reserve in Melbourne’s north.

“At the time I was elected, our objective was to build a strong and united team of professional and passionate people to create a sustainable future for the club,” Gruevski said.

The club’s main grandstand at B.T. Connor Reserve

“Prior to 2015, the club’s facilities were extremely run down and not fit for purpose but thanks to the dedication of our passionate people including the committee, supporters, and sponsors, the club has been able to emerge from a difficult period to deliver significant improvements.”

Although recent investments have already enhanced the state of Preston’s stadia, the new redevelopments will take the facilities to an entirely new level.

Work is expected to commence in early 2021 and be completed towards the end of the year. Among a raft of improvements, the Lions’ new pavilion will include the following features:

  • A purpose built social area with state-of-the-art kitchen and bar facilities to accommodate up to 220 seated guests
  • Full access viewings onto the main playing pitch with floor to ceiling glass doors and windows
  • External undercover seating for up to 200 patrons
  • Six purpose-built change rooms, with associated medical facilities to accommodate players, medical staff, and officials
  • Media/meeting room facilities with access to high-quality audio-visual amenities including a 6 x 3 metre electronic scoreboard (funded by club sponsors), audio visual (AV) projection facilities, as well as AV throughout the ground
  • Canteen and restroom facilities for patrons (including those with disabilities) accessible external and internal to the pavilion

According to Gruevski, the facilities will create enormous benefits for those at the club, but also people in the wider local community.

“The new pavilion will provide state of the art facilities where the entire Preston family and other visitors can enjoy café, restaurant, and bar facilities in a fully enclosed environment whilst still being able to watch unobstructed. The facility will prove particularly popular for parents and visitors during the week on training nights, particularly in Winter.” Gruevski said.

“In addition, it will provide the club significant revenue opportunities before and after games to accommodate patrons as well as the potential for use on weekends for functions and events.”

The announcement comes during a time where debate has raged around the state of Australia’s footballing infrastructure. A victim of chronic underinvestment, the issue has drawn commentary from some of the game’s leading figures and has been exacerbated by a strong rise in participation rates, causing a strain on grassroots facilities nationwide.

But despite the negative sentiment surrounding Australia’s football amenities, the path forward will be paved by cooperation and goodwill between clubs, administrators, and government, and the Lions have set a positive example in how this can be achieved.

“The club has adopted a partnership model working closely with the City of Darebin to develop a football precinct that the club and the community can be proud of and enjoy for many years to come,” Gruevski stated.

“Whilst the club has contributed to a number of the infrastructure projects at B.T. Connor Reserve, the majority of the funding has come from council. The club has provided the ‘justification’ to council for investment in facilities which had previously been neglected for many years.”

A digital render of the refurbished pavilion.

Prior to the season’s cancellation due to COVID-19, Preston was preparing to compete in Victoria’s NPL 3 in 2020.  It was set to be the club’s first venture back into the NPL system since suffering relegations in 2009 and 2011.

The recent promotion back to the NPL and upcoming redevelopment signal an exciting new era for the Preston Lions FC. The club’s approximate 350 players – and much wider community – have good reason to rejoice, for the facilities-upgrade represents far more than just tangible benefits it will provide.

The state-of-the-art complex signifies that the proud club, which once competed for 13 years at Australia’s top level (the now defunct National Soccer League), is once again a force-to-be-reckoned-with in Australia’s highly competitive domestic sports landscape.

“With significant improvements in facilities and the implementation of quality football programs for our men’s, women’s and junior teams, we aim to attract and retain quality footballers and their families who want to be part of the next phase of the club’s journey to competing at the highest level of competition possible,” Gruevski said.

“The sleeping giant that has awoken is now in a strong position to leverage its wonderful history to create a bright and successful future.”

Landmark $304 million funding for Sunshine Coast sporting venues

The Queensland Government has confirmed that there will be $300 million funding commitment for Sunshine Coast’s Olympic venues, including a $148 million stadium upgrade to host football matches.

The Sunshine Coast Stadium will receive a $148 million upgrade to ensure it attracts world-class sport, recreational and entertainment events.

On top of the stadium upgrade, there will be a $142 million commitment towards improving the new Sunshine Coast Indoor Sports Centre, connected to the Kawana Sports Precinct. $14 million has also been committed for the Sunshine Coast Mountain Bike Centre.

The stadium upgrade will include with two new grandstands boosting its permanent seating capacity to more than 10,500, with the existing grass mounds at either end giving the venue a total capacity of approximately 14,500.

During the 2032 Olympics, additional temporary grandstands will be installed boosting its capacity to 20,000 where it’ll host football matches.

The stadium is proposed to host the football preliminaries and quarter-final matches during the Games, but the upgrade will benefit the community, including its Rugby League tenants with a potential in the future to locate a larger scale football club in that ground once the National Second Tier exists.

The dual projects, which will see the Kawana precinct become a hub of community and elite sport, can be a barrier broken down for a potential Gold Coast A-League or NST club to build using one of the city’s best rectangular stadiums.

Early site works including the demolition of the existing western grandstand are expected to commence later this year, with construction earmarked to start in 2025 and be completed in 2027.

Sunshine Coast Mayor Rosanna Natoli mentioned how this funding would be a game-changer for the region and it’s professional sporting future.

“Today’s funding announcement follows years of research and planning and will deliver lasting economic and social benefits before, during and after hosting the Games,” she said in a press conference.

“The validation process the projects went through, including independent panel reviews, was extensive and demonstrated the importance of these venues for our region.

“These venues will provide high-quality competition and training facilities for our local athletes, increase participation in sports and recreation across the region, and will have capacity to host major sporting events.

“That, in turn, attracts more tourism dollars which benefits our local businesses and their staff.

“I want to be very clear – these venues are being built for our community.

“They will provide a place to train, to play, to watch our favourite teams and to cheer on our kids from the sidelines.

“Importantly, these venues will be leading-edge in accessibility to accommodate the many para-sports, athletes and spectators in our region.”

This is an important step forward in the Sunshine Coast across all sports as they prepare for a massive 2032 Olympic Games, and clearly the stadium upgrade has the potential to play a big role with football in Queensland if used correctly outside of the games.

Shedding the light on Germany’s unique 50+1 ownership model

Football in Germany enjoys widespread popularity due to its top-tier play, the highest average attendances in world football, affordable ticket prices, and a vibrant fan culture. A significant factor contributing to this is the 50+1 ownership rule.

Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke famously once said in 2016 via the Bundesliga website:

“The German spectator traditionally has close ties with his club, and if he gets the feeling that he’s no longer regarded as a fan but instead as a customer, we’ll have a problem.”

The 50+1 rule safeguards this – the rule refers to the requirements that club members hold 50 percent plus one additional vote of the voting rights to ensure a majority. Essentially, it means that clubs, and consequently, the fans retain the final say in their management, rather than external influences or investors.

According to the German Football League (DFL) regulations, football clubs are prohibited from participating in the Bundesliga or the second division if external investors hold the majority control.

Essentially, this means that private or commercial investors cannot take control of clubs and implement measures prioritising profit over supporters’ interests. The regulation protects against irresponsible owners and preserves the democratic traditions of German clubs.

Historically, German football clubs were non-profit institutions managed by member associations, and private ownerships was entirely prohibited until 1998. The introduction of the 50+1 rule that year helps explain why debts and wages are kept in check and why ticket prices remain significantly lower compared to other major European leagues.

It should be noted that clubs have adapted to these changes in different ways, resulting in various forms of member ownership. Many Bundesliga teams are legally structured as limited or joint-stock companies, established as subsidiaries of the main club, which often includes other sports departments and/or women’s teams, to manage the men’s first team. Some of these companies are even publicly traded. Clubs in leagues below the DFL-regulated Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 also follow similar approaches, partly to ensure compliance in the event of promotion.

Using Bayern Munich as an example, the shareholders of the men’s first team (FC Bayern München AG) are the members’ club (FC Bayern München e.V. – 75%), Adidas (8.3%), Allianz (8.3%) and Audi (8.3%). With Bayern’s now 300,000+ members being the largest membership of any sports club in the world, it is not difficult to comprehend why they are one of the well structured football clubs in the world, by primarily being debt-free which German clubs are.

In Germany, discussions of financial issues or Financial Fair Play violations are virtually non-existent, whereas news of economic struggles and FFP sanctions is common in other European leagues.

German football fans have turned their passion for football and for their clubs into power and forcing change whenever they are not content with a decision such as when the DFB confirmed that Bundesliga football would be televised on Monday night, fans boycotted the initial Monday night matches, it was then cancelled by the DFB.

While private investment could elevate German football to new heights, the fans are opposed to it.

It’s the fans and their principles that make football in Germany so special. The 50+1 rule may appear outdated in the modern era, but it’s a model that many fans have advocated for in other places. Football is for the fans, and in Germany, things are as they should be.

The 50+1 rule would greatly benefit the decisions and the structure of football in the Isuzu UTE A-League men’s and Liberty A-League women’s with all the controversy that has plagued the game over the years. If there is transparency and communication between member fans and the clubs hierarchy, it would put the priority of fans to the top as they are the most important aspect of where the revenue comes from and would improve the decision making process.

From the football landscape in Australia where the fans are often unhappy with the relationship between them and their club’s ownership, German football seems to have got that blend working positively.

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