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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.

Why the FFA Cup is perfectly placed to kick-start a resurgent season for Australian football

FFA Cup

Fans of Australian football could not have predicted the tumultuous ride that the sport has taken over the past few years.

The recent acquisition of all domestic football products (including all A-Leagues, internationals, Asian Cup and FFA Cup matches) by 10 ViacomCBS has delivered an overdue confidence boost for even the most perpetually cynical of Australia’s football fandom. And rather than placate fans with gimmicks, 10 ViacomCBS have opted to embrace football for its greatest attributes – the stories and the fans, qualities that the FFA Cup possesses in abundance.

The FFA Cup is not just the often singularly represented storyline of the under-resourced semi-professional minnows taking it to the well-backed sides of the A-League. It’s the deeper footballing stories of club CEO John Boulous encouraging a festival of football atmosphere for Sydney Olympic’s resolute fanbase to enjoy in the upcoming clash against A-League giants Sydney FC; of Head Coach Stewart Montgomery taking an unfancied Mount Druitt Town Rangers to potential lofty heights; and of NBL Hall of Famer and now Blacktown City Executive Chairman Bob Turner working to establish the side as the pride of Blacktown.

Trophy

Each of these fragments in time correspond as mere moments in a competition wholeheartedly intended to enliven the Australian footballing public to latch on to these stories and to the players who shine in these fiercely competitive knockout tournaments.

“We are a big club, with a strong following and tradition in Australian football, and are still recognised nationally. In matches like this, Australians like to see underdogs; they like to see both the experienced and younger kids in our squad get that opportunity,” Boulous said.

“I think what’s important as a club is we need to give them that opportunity. You need to be given that opportunity to play against the best players in Australia. If you play against the best players in Australia, and you do well, you’re all of a sudden on the radar.”

Olympic

Traditionally, the FFA Cup is a curtain raiser to the A-League Men’s competition – but due to COVID-enforced extended lockdowns across Australia, the competition has experienced significant delays.

However, by remaining steadfast in ensuring that the competition is completed, Football Australia have stayed true to the timeline they committed to in the release of their Domestic Match Calendar that was outlined earlier this year.

Even if that means National Premier Leagues (NPL) clubs are handed less time to prepare, their excitement is still palpable.

The capacity for NPL clubs to be able to effectively match A-League sides well into their own pre-season is an obvious challenge befitting any gargantuan David versus Goliath monolith of an analogy that has been overcome by these same clubs for years. And it is certainly one the clubs are well aware of and eager to overcome.

“It just highlights that with extensive training, focus, application and resources being thrown at the NPL level in the lead-up to these games, the difference between a standard A-League player and your good NPL player is not that big. The difference is training and that continued exposure to professional full-time training,” Montgomery said.

“I’ve got no doubt that if we gave two thirds of the players in the NPL exactly that you’d see games being even closer.

“I think historically the A-League teams are coming into their pre-season when we are finishing our season but this will be interesting, because the A-League teams have been well and truly in their preparation for pre-season and are super fit.

“They’ve had the ability to train because of their professional status through the government giving them access to training, whereas the NPL clubs haven’t been able to do anything. It’ll be an interesting to see the outcome of these next three games.”

Rangers

This year’s iteration of the FFA Cup will offer NPL clubs a greater impetus to pursue a spot in the FFA Cup Final – due to the added incentive of a spot in the Asian Champions League’s preliminary round.

Whilst cup competitions are traditionally notable for facilitating matches typified by a dearth of free-flowing end-to-end football due to the added weight of expectations and the intuition for coaches to (understandably) invoke their innermost pragmatic instincts, they exist as a platform for unpredictable instances of magic and breath-taking nights of football. Blacktown City are no strangers to such occasions, having notched a remarkable 3-2 win over their upcoming Round of 32 opposition – Central Coast Mariners – in the 2017 edition of the tournament at the very same stage.

With the tie set to take place at Mudgee’s Glen Willow Regional Sports Stadium, there will be an undoubted added intensity to the game.

“The reason we took it to a regional area in Mudgee is that Central Coast and ourselves both thought that this would be a very positive move for football. For Mudgee it’s a great opportunity to see top-notch football and from what I understand, their ground is top-notch,” Turner said.

“We know that they’ll welcome us and we’re expecting a big crowd.

“Four years ago, we played the Mariners in the FFA Cup and we knocked them off. And then we played the Wanderers and had 5,000 people at the ground. It’s a great stimulus for us to be able to show our credibility as a team and bring some extra pride as a team.”

BCFC

The strength of the FFA Cup lies in not just how effectively it encapsulates Australian football as a microcosm, or in the way it emphatically engages the hardcore Australian football fandom, but in the way it unites and invigorates local communities. A notion all three club devotees are impressively aware of.

“We hope to be able to get a strong crowd here at Belmore. And it will be Olympic supporters and Sydney FC supporters, but we hope that it will be football supporters. Because people have been starved of opportunities to go and watch football matches, and now, they have the opportunity,” Boulous conveyed.

“We’ve got a ground that can hold, in today’s climate, a really strong and big crowd. And I think that that’s important to get people here and back into football. People here want to see it.”

For Sydney Kings legend Bob Turner, both the legacy of his time at Blacktown City and the impact of a potentially successful cup run is uncemented as of yet.

“Our goal is to become what the Panthers are for Penrith, we’re Blacktown City. There’s plenty of sport being played, but there’s nobody like us in town. For me that’s a huge plus. We have all of the ingredients, including one of the nicest stadiums in all of Sydney which we now control and we have history,” he said.

“The one thing I can say we’ve been a letdown in, from a marketing point of view, is how to tell Blacktown who we are. Within two years I think that we’ll be the toast of Blacktown. Blacktown has 188 different nationalities and arguably 80% of them grew up in a country where football is number one.”

Turner

For Montgomery, the occasion will be one to savour for a Rangers side representing a community with plenty to prove. Particularly in a winnable match against a Wollongong Wolves side they had beaten 3-0 prior to the NPL NSW season being interrupted.

“It can put an exclamation mark on a season that had unfulfilled expectations, so, it allows us to continue playing, stay together as a group and build the club’s profile which is really important for us,” he said.

“A lot of people are waiting for us to fall over and they’re expecting us to drop back down. So, every day we approach it in the same way where people expect us to not perform, and every time we do the opposite of that we send a message.

“We represent an area that doesn’t get the respect that it deserves and we take the park to represent the whole of the City of Blacktown area and the Western suburbs. We take a lot of pride in that and we’ve got a great, passionate vocal support that gets behind us. And Saturday night’s going to be a great night.”

Leading into the season there will be six FFA Cup Round of 32 games available to attend or to watch via Paramount+, with more to follow-up the beginning of the A-League Men’s season on Friday, November 19. All tickets to games can be accessed via the FFA Cup website here.

Is Australia ready for a two-year World Cup cycle?

Battle lines are being drawn between FIFA and key stakeholders, as it remains to be seen whether Australia will support the push for a two-year World Cup cycle.

FIFA’s minutes from the 71st Congress, where Saudi Arabia put forward the motion to study the viability of a two-year cycle, doesn’t include what member federations voted for in the motion.

Football Australia hasn’t stated publicly whether they were one of the 166 nations who voted for the motion, or whether they support the plans.

Football Australia is instead adopting a wait-and-see approach, to avoid taking a position before any proposal for changes are put forward after the viability study is completed.

Two-time A-League Coach of the Year Ernie Merrick believes the push from FIFA for a two-year World Cup cycle is because of business and money.

“It’s about profit and loss. It’s not about the people in the sport really, and FIFA are always competing with their confederations, of which there are six, and FIFA only have one event where they make substantial money from revenue and that’s every four years,” Merrick said.

“So in effect FIFA loses money for three years, and then the fourth year and makes massive profits mainly from broadcast, ticket sales, and sponsorship from a World Cup.”

The majority of FIFA’s $8.7 billion in revenue between 2015-2018 came from the 2018 Men’s tournament.

The commercial value of another World Cup every four years is incredibly attractive to the governing body as a way to boost its already full coffers.

Australian football will struggle to keep up with other countries if the World Cup is hosted every two years, according to Merrick.

“At the same time a lot of countries, including Asian countries, are spending an enormous amount of money on facilities and preparation setups for national competition. We all know of England’s setup, which is huge at St George’s Park, and here we don’t have a designated specific setup to prepare national teams,” he said.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure that will have to change to give Australia a chance to qualify on a regular basis. We certainly have good players and good coaches and we can compete with anyone regarding players, coaching and strategy but when it comes to the sort of money involved in preparing a national team, friendly games, and the amount of travel involved, Australia is really going to suffer.”

Michael Valkanis – former A-League coach, player and current Greece assistant coach – believes that without aligning with FIFA international dates, it means the A-League will struggle to adapt to a two-year World Cup cycle.

“We saw the effects of the Socceroos going away to play, and it always makes it difficult on A-League coaches and teams to support that.” Valkanis said.

“You can see the effects it can have on finals games, and we’ve been crying out for a long time that we become parallel with the rest of the world with international dates.”

Some of Australia’s biggest competitors in the AFC are showing ambivalence towards the concept.

“It would depend on how it would all be organised,” a Korean FA official told Deutsche Welle.

“If we want to have consistent success then we need to play as many competitive games against South American and European teams as possible. At the moment, we play one or two games every four years if we qualify. It’s not enough.”

While the viability of a two-year World Cup cycle is being studied, it is unclear how determined FIFA is to implement such a radical change to the football calendar against intense opposition from some of its members.

Merrick believes the end result could be FIFA demanding a portion of the confederation’s revenue.

“I think four years is probably a better situation at the moment – maybe three years down the track – but I think confederations will have to come to an arrangement with FIFA, and FIFA will want to take some of their revenue somehow through licensing,” Merrick said.

Those involved in international football already believe that the best model is the one we have currently, something that Valkanis is a strong fan of.

“I am a traditionalist. I think the World Cup is something special that stands out from any other competition in the world,” he said.

“The only other event that comes close is the Olympic Games, and to change the format so we see it every two years instead of four, I don’t think it leaves it the same. It is special the way it is.”

Football Australia CEO James Johnson will have a challenge on his hands navigating what a change in the World Cup’s schedule means for Australian football, as FIFA continues to push for increased revenue from the game.

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