Rydalmere Lions FC: How diversifying income can lead to a financially sustainable club

At the grassroots level, many sporting clubs rely heavily on sponsorship dollars and player fees to drive their financial strategy. While this is a stock-standard approach, diversifying income streams can create enormous benefits for clubs and protect them from becoming overly dependent on one or two areas of business.

Based in Sydney’s inner-west, Rydalmere Lions FC is setting a new standard for economic diversification, branching out from traditional means and setting a positive example for the rest of the football industry.

After officially completing the takeover of a community bowling club, Executive Committee Member Elias El Khoury spoke exclusively to Soccerscene to discuss the club’s ambitious plans and the importance of creating a well-rounded commercial strategy.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has been disastrous, but it has also taught us a lot. Football needs to stand up on its own. Clubs can’t just rely on a sponsorship model,” El Khoury said.

“Diversifying income is critical. As a result of COVID-19 we’ve seen a number of clubs struggling and go public with requests for help, with some potentially going to hand in their NPL licenses. This is a direct result of sponsors either withdrawing their support, or being unable to support these clubs any longer,” El Khoury said.

With the takeover of the bowling club now complete after a four-year process, Rydalmere FC is in a position to use its new space to build its community presence and form a sustainable business model.

Rydalmere Bowling Club prior to being taken over.

“We don’t want to be seen as just a football club, but truly a community club. There have been some hurdles along the way, but we asked the council for a temporary license to operate the bowling club to prove ourselves. We’ve renovated the premises to make it livelier and give it a connection to younger families as well as traditional users,” El Khoury said.

“There are spaces to hire for social and corporate functions, other outdoor functions, barefoot lawn bowls and more. There are no membership fees at the moment, the local community is encouraged to use and benefit from the facilities.”

The concept of becoming a community-centric club is a deliberate strategy that the Rydalmere FC’s board is aiming to achieve. The concept creates a very beneficial two-way street where the club is supported by the people while also serving them with services that extend far beyond football.

El Khoury, a commercial lawyer who specialises in commercialisation strategy and business growth, believes many of Australia’s most successful clubs have shared this trait.

“All of the most successful current NPL and former NSL clubs have it in common – a genuine community connection embedded in passion. This is what drives football forward and keeps the likes of Marconi, Sydney United and so on going. Having that ingrained link to the club means patrons will come and support the club regardless of results on the pitch,” he said.

“The fanbase isn’t made up of the casual patron seeking entertainment but people with real ties to the club. Not that there’s anything wrong with the more casual patron, it is just a different type of model that requires a lot more from the club in terms of persuasion and selling that message of entertainment.”

It is only fitting that the biggest winners of Rydalmere Lions FC’s financially sustainable model will ultimately be the people.

El Khoury, along with the club’s other administrators have detailed their long-term plans to reinvest into the football ecosystem by tearing down barriers of entry that impact some families.

“Our vision is about creating pathways. In the end we want to create an environment where kids get to play for free, that way we are not limiting talent coming through the system. It would encourage more kids to attend and would remove finance as a restriction for some kids. Admittedly it’s a long-term goal, but with initiatives like the bowling club we can work towards creating the environment where player fees are zero, or as close to zero as possible,” El Khoury said.

Lions juniors lending a hand during renovations.

The idea of an ecosystem which provides equal opportunity for all kids is an exciting prospect, but Rydalmere Lions FC also believes by standing on its own two-feet, it will be able to allocate more resources towards player development turning football into a more realistic career path for the region’s next generation.

“Whether you’re for or against the transfer system, there is a need for pathways and funding to go back into grassroots football. It is so important for keeping clubs alive and dreams alive so unless money can flow freely, kids will hit a certain age group and disappear because football isn’t a viable career path,” El Khoury added.

“We know that as a club, in order to have a positive impact, we need to set our own standards first before leaning on FFA, Football NSW or other administrative groups. Four years ago, we built up a governance structure to create a sustainable business model so that way the club can rely less on funding from third parties to improve facilities and invest in technical resources to assist players in developing a career in the game.”

Outside of Rydalmere Lions FC’s commercial strategy and community ties, the club’s short-term goals involve improving its infrastructure and seating capacity.

These are undoubtably exciting times for the club from Sydney’s inner-west and El Khoury is optimistic that on the back of a sustainable strategy, the future looks bright.

“Everyone is surprise with what we’ve achieved, but we want more. We have a strong supporter base and we want to build a grandstand for the spectators. This will expose us to a wider range of football competitions and potentially the National Second Division when it arrives,” he said.

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.

NSW Football Legacy Fund delivers LED lighting for Collaroy Cromer Strikers

Collaroy Cromer Strikers Football Club (CCSFC) in the Manly Warringah Football Association (MWFA) are a grant recipient in Round 2 of the NSW Football Legacy Fund for 2023-24.

This will go towards the construction of 100 lux LED floodlighting at Inman Park, located within Northern Beaches Secondary College.

The NSW Football Legacy Fund is a $10 million investment from the NSW Government.

This program’s primary focus is the support of the growing women’s football scene through new community facilities, participation initiatives, development programs and international/ tourism engagement.

CCSFC was the eighth largest club in NSW in 2023 and only recently became the biggest club per participation in MWFA with over 2,000 members.

The MWFA itself was the largest association in NSW in 2023 and had an impressive 10% participation from local northern beaches council communities with 20,000 members.

Cromer High's LED lights by day.

Soccerscene spoke to David Manson, CCSFC Vice President of Girls/Women’s Teams, on this player influx and the new project for the club.

“The club executive team had dedicated a lot of time in arranging the ability to utilise the ground at Cromer High through the Council,” he said.

“The club growth has been finding it difficult to allocate training enough training space on its existing fields within suitable hours.

The Football Legacy Program has given CCSFC a grant of up to $68,000 with a co-contribution from the club itself of $68,000 for the lighting installation specifically. The club also invested another $60,000.00 for the Irrigation ($45,000.00) and the lighting development application ($15,000,00) costs.

“Once the access was granted, the club committed to the installation of an Irrigation system and then new sports field lighting.

“The costs to install lighting is significant so applying for the grant to fund 50% was an easy decision.

“The grant process itself has been very simple and effective process.”

This expansion will importantly allow for an extra field to be open for longer hours through the afternoon, and also help lessen the impact on the other available fields, increasing the quality of all playing sites.

“The inclusion of lighting at Inman Park will enable the club to allocate another area for teams to train and play in winter competitions,” Manson said.

Manson also indicated the wider future community impacts of having another field available.

“It will enhance facilities for the local community by increasing the percentage of children and adults participating regularly in football, increasing the number of facilities designated for football and improve participant retention for football and active recreation,” he explained.

A wide view of the LED lights in action.

A key part of the investment application is the impact on women’s football, Manson added about the impressive growth the club has had in their women’s participation.

“Since 2020 Collaroy Cromer Strikers have seen its largest growth in women between the ages of U8-U18,” he said.

“Season 2020 has the strikers (CCSFC) players in these age groups at 397. In 2023 we have 577.

“That means a total increase of 180 players at roughly 65% increase in that period.

“Overall female participation rose from 2022 (693) to 2023 (743) a total of 50 more participants” In 2024 the club has a total of 882 registered female players.

This investment in the upgrade in facilities has been accepted as welcomed support for the Club, towards its ever-expanding registration numbers and quality of football.

It also indicates how investment into existing club programs for facilities or equipment upgrades can elevate the local clubs and the footballing opportunities for all in our communities.

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