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.
“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.
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.