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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.

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

FA CEO James Johnson opens up on difficulties in the game and opportunities for the future

Speaking at Football Victoria’s Community in Business event on Friday, Football Australia CEO James Johnson reflected on his first 14 months in the top job of the sport, detailing the difficulties the organisation faced in 2020 and the opportunities it has in the coming years.

“I’d like to share with you what I walked into in January 2020,” Johnson told the audience in Melbourne.

“I walked into Football Australia and what I understood from the off was that the organisation had really lost a sense of unity. I believe the organisation had lost its connection with the community.”

Johnson criticised the focus of the governing body’s financial model, believing it was not looking after the best interests of the game overall.

“The business model was heavily centred on the A-League,” he said.

“That was what decision making evolved around, while other parts of the game, in my opinion, were neglected. The business model was disconnected, fractured and was inefficient. It was inefficient because of the duplication of administration. It wasn’t set up to foster growth for a thriving football ecosystem.

“The model denied the most significant part of our game, our identity, our community, our people, our stories, our diverse and multicultural base and our great national teams.

“In place of this identity, we’ve allowed a narrative to proliferate over the past 10-15 years that is divided, politicised, old soccer against new football, but this is not what our game is.”

Football Australia CEO James Johnson

The former Brisbane Strikers player admits that the game is far from perfect in this country and needs to address a range of issues.

“We have some really serious challenges ahead of us,” he said.

“We don’t own enough facilities for our growing base, we have too many players, we are turning children and families away from our code because we don’t have enough infrastructure around the country. This is a real issue.

“The performance gap that we released in 2020 tells us that the age group that plays the most minutes in our elite men’s competition (the A-League) is the age of 32. We are not giving enough opportunities for our players under 23. We also have challenges with our football pyramid, we must reconnect our pyramid so we can unleash this potential of an ecosystem.”

Since Johnson was appointed as CEO early last year, the governing body has shifted their business model allowing them to deliver strategic priorities and focus on initiatives such as: the implementation of the domestic match calendar, the proposed introduction of a domestic transfer system, a half slot to the ACL for the FFA Cup winner and more. Johnson believes factors such as these are vital to reconnecting Australian football’s national pyramid.

In his speech at the Community in Business event, the former senior executive at the AFC, FIFA and the City Football Group also strongly emphasised the importance of recognising the game’s history properly, something the game has continued to neglect in previous years.

“We have a rich history and it must be celebrated,” he said.

“There are moments in our game, that not only shaped the game, but they shaped the way that our country is. In 1974, we sent our first men’s team to the World Cup led by Rale, in 1993 Maradona came here, in 1997 Iran broke our hearts, in 2005 a famous penalty got us to our first World Cup in many decades and in 2020 we won the rights to host the Women’s World Cup.

“Our game is full of these moments and I think if you all think about those moments, people will remember where they were when they occurred. We forget that our clubs in this country predated federation. We forget that football was the first sport in Australia to have a national competition in the 70’s. We forget the first cup competition in this country was in the 60’s, the Australia Cup.

“We forget that women played football in this country as early as 1909. Nearly 42 years ago, our very first Matildas stepped out onto Seymour Shaw Park for the first Matildas match. Now, we are only a few years away from the biggest sporting event for women in the world coming to our shores.

“We forget that 99 years ago our Socceroos played their first match against New Zealand. We are one year away from 100 years.

“We forget the role that football played in the lives of indigenous children, like John Moriarty, Jade North and Kyah Simon.

“We forget that our national competitions have always been the hallmark of our game. The NSL for many, many years. Our history provides us with platforms to move forward to and to launch a bold, exciting future for our sport.”

Johnson addresses the audience at Football Victoria’s CIB event

Johnson sees the Women’s World Cup in 2023 on home soil as the perfect avenue to establish a strong future for the game.

“We are focused on creating that link between our national teams, in particular the Matildas and our community,” he said.

“Our base of 2 million participants is great, but only 22% per cent of our base are women and girls. There is a direct link between the importance and relevance of national teams and the base of community. With our national teams starting up again, you will see over the next 3 years (particularly with the Women’s World Cup) that our base will grow further and it will grow well.

Our ‘Legacy 23’ framework is an ambitious plan to maximise the opportunities that the legacy of the Women’s World Cup (WWC) will provide us. Legacy is not something that starts after the WWC, it started last month. We’ve got to try as best as possible to ensure the WWC has a long-lasting legacy, similar to what happened with the Sydney Olympics in 2000.”

The FA CEO concluded by calling on every single stakeholder to be open to change, including the governing body itself, and push forward to make the sport the best it can be.

“If we are to reach the potential of our game, each and every one of us, every stakeholder, Football Australia, Member Federations, clubs, leagues, our community need to be open to change,” he said.

“Change and innovation are the commodities that we must deal with in 2021. I’m under no illusions that Football Australia must continue to earn the trust and confidence back from our stakeholders and community. To do this, we need deeds not just words.

“Let’s seize this opportunity and put our best foot forward.”

Football Victoria’s fifth year of Community in Business looks to reinvigorate business partnerships in the state

In what has been a tough 12 months for businesses across the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Football Victoria (FV) will look to recharge the business community through their annual FV Community in Business (CIB) program.

The state governing body for football will host the first of its four CIB events this year on Friday, with Football Australia CEO James Johnson to give the keynote address.

Football Victoria will also be celebrating the five-year anniversary of CIB in 2021, a program which was the brainchild of current FV Head of Commercial Anthony Grima and prominent business identity Professor Greg Stamboulidis.

FV’s Community in Business network was established after extensive research was conducted in 2014 on sponsorship data. At the time around 2,000 businesses invested commercially into grassroots community football in Victoria, with significant financial contributions made to over 350 clubs in the state.

Grima further explained to Soccerscene the origins of Football Victoria’s Community in Business program.

“It was created to provide a platform for businesses, football clubs and their sponsors, media and all levels of government to unite in their shared passion for the world game,” he said.

“It really was born out of one of those ‘write on the napkin’ type moments over a coffee in Ivanhoe. The idea just grew legs from that very moment. It seemed right and we knew the grassroots game needed it.

“We knew that this shared passion would lead to the development of meaningful relationships between the vast range of stakeholders in football and provide them with affordable and effective opportunities to connect with one another for mutual benefits and returns; and at the same time achieve important outcomes for football in Victoria.”

The membership-based program had its launch event in late November 2015, on the back of the Socceroos Asian Cup success earlier in that year.

We were thankful to have the then Socceroos Head Coach Ange Postecoglou and Socceroos legend Josip Skoko, amongst others, to launch the new community initiative,” Grima said.

“Approximately 100 guests of the Victorian football community were invited to help us launch the new initiative. The event was hosted by George Donikian, who we are also very grateful to, being our inaugural MC and first Honorary Member.

Since then, the Community in Business brand has continued to grow exponentially, with over 100 businesses in any given year signing up as members to fund the program.

A major drawcard of these events are the special guests who attend the multiple functions across the year.

“Our feature guests continue to reflect the ethos of supporting every level of the game,” Grima said.

“We make sure that we are always celebrating Victoria’s football achievements, by unifying the achievements of football past, present and future in this country and the diversity of our great game.”

Guests from over the years include Harry Kewell, Graham Arnold, Craig Johnston, Archie Thompson, John Aloisi, Lisa De Vanna, Melissa Barbieri, Tony Vidmar, Paul Wade, Craig Foster, Les Murray and many more.

Other notable events over the course gave members the opportunity to meet former Manchester United and Liverpool players such as Wes Brown, Louis Saha, David James, Emile Heskey and Steve McManaman.

Occasions such as this couldn’t be possible without the assistance of event organisers, who the federation works alongside.

“A big thanks must go to the team at MSE Events,” Grima said.

“The events are very thoughtfully considered and planned, as much as possible, around special events where the celebration doesn’t end at the luncheons.

“For example, when Brazil and Argentina were in town, we gave all our members free tickets to these matches.”

Grima believes that without the support from clubs, businesses and the football community as a whole, the program wouldn’t be where it Is today.

“I am personally proud of how far the program has come,” he said.

“It is called Community in Business because it is a network that is owned and valued by the community. We are all in the business of making this community great. Together we can achieve more for our game, unified as friends in football.

“Community in Business continues to demonstrate how business and community can work together to achieve extraordinary outcomes for our game.”

More information on Football Victoria’s Community in Business program can be found here.

 

 

 

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