Rydalmere Lions FC: Modelling success for football clubs in Australia

In what is often described as a saturated Australian sporting market, where sponsorship dollars are limited and infrastructure development and growth difficult to achieve, Rydalmere Lions FC is setting the standard in New South Wales.

The inner-west club was founded in 1979 as the St. Joseph’s Zgharta Soccer Club and subsequently joined forces with the Fairfield City Lions in 2014; the same year the newly merged club was crowned champions of New South Wales’ State League Division 2.

Rydalmere juniors compete in the Granville District Soccer Football Association and the club was placed at NPL3 level for its first year of play in the newly formed second tier of Australian football in 2016.

The beating heart of the club lies in the migrant Lebanese families who first envisioned a safe and community based club for their children. Those founders saw an organised sporting club as an extension of the family unit and an ongoing connection to community as the most vital pre-cursor to any success that may come their way.

As is common to most football clubs around the country, the challenge of acquiring sponsors and raising revenue to improve facilities and meet the day to day running costs was considerable.

In 2016, as the Lions become a serious championship contender in NPL3, the club had 400 playing members and 650 non-playing members. It had seen only marginal growth from recent seasons and sponsorship remained steady yet meagre.

With the hope of expanding the reach of the club to allow all its members to spend more time involved in the game as a supportive collective base, an advisory committee was established. That committee brought together the best football, business, legal and financial minds from within the Rydalmere FC community and set about strategizing a path forward that would grow the club in terms of both participation and community engagement.

The committee allowed Rydalmere to more professionally and effectively make submissions to prospective partners in the local community. When City of Parramatta Council sought expressions of interest for new tenants to occupy the Rydalmere Central Bowling Club, the club was proactive and aggressive in its negotiations.

The vacant venue sat just a stones throw from the Lions home track at Rydalmere Park and seemed a perfect fit. In the very near future and after three years of planning, the club will re-open the doors of its new home; now rebranded as ‘The F.C’. It will become the Rydalmere Lions’ community base, a place to where football extends beyond the pitch and becomes a hub for not only club members but also the wider Parramatta community.

Most importantly, ‘The F.C’ will now allow the club to more easily meet those objectives set out by the clubs’ founders over 40 years ago, with the vision of shared experience and community lying at the core of any future decisions made at the club.

Further submissions to the City of Parramatta Council led to upgrades of the playing facilities at Rydalmere Park and the New South Wales government provided a grant for an upgrade of the wider precinct.

The entire facelift is valued at somewhere near A$5 million and provides not only a Football NSW compliant artificial turf pitch for the Lions to use during NPL play, but also an array of other smaller sporting facilities, increased vegetation, walking paths and a children’s playground.

The excitement around the development and the club’s pro-active approach to growth has seen a dramatic increase in membership. There are now 525 registered players and over 850 non-playing members; all eager to become part of history when the make-over is complete and the club begins to operate on a daily basis from its new home.

Sponsorship commitments have doubled within 12 months, membership has increased by an impressive 31 per cent and performances on the pitch in season 2020 hold much promise.

The club’s First Grade Head Coach is Gavin Rae, the former Dundee, Glasgow Rangers and Cardiff City midfielder who previously held the top job at Hakoah Sydney City East. It was a typically bold move by the club to enquire of Rae’s services, with a position at NPL1 level his most likely destination.

However, along with Simon Doueihi (Head of Football) and Anthony Harb (Club Technical Director), Rae completes an impressive team that hopes to return the club to NPL2 competition as quickly as possible, after suffering relegation in 2019.

In spite of that disappointment, the commercial success story of Rydalmere Lions FC provides a potential model for many clubs around Australia. Those battling to survive financially, let alone even dream of considerable growth, could do worse than use the simple philosophy of creating a community based hub, one that extends far beyond the play that occurs on a football pitch.

Players, supporters and sponsors have been drawn to that philosophy. When executed professionally and intelligently, such an idea has proven once again to lie at the heart of football in Australia. Don’t be surprised if Rydalmere FC quickly becomes a powerhouse in NPL and junior play. It will be nothing but the residue of a clear vision and some very hard work.


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A-Leagues launch new digital hub for football


The Australian Professional Leagues (APL), the entity charged with growing the professional football leagues in Australia, has unveiled its unique digital platform KEEPUP in an effort to unite football fans on and off the pitch.

Featuring football content from around the world, the platform aims to broaden and enhance the fan experience by connecting A-Leagues fans and international competition fans in one place.

The KEEPUP digital platform and data infrastructure, which launched today, represents a major investment in football in Australia. It is currently available as a website or app on both IOS and Android.

In its current form, the platform will focus on creating and curating content to bring fans close to the game however they choose, with significant expansion planned into the future.

KEEPUP will feature compelling content from the best of the A-Leagues, European and world football, the Socceroos and Matildas, NPL, and FFA Cup. A-League clubs’ content hubs will also be integrated onto the platform to ensure fans are offered the most comprehensive football resource available in Australia.

“KEEPUP is a football platform, built by football people for football fans and which delivers a unique experience and provides a central source of news and features to unite the currently fragmented football market. Our digital-first strategy creates the opportunity for our fans to experience what’s happening in the world of football, both on and off the pitch,” said Ant Hearne, Chief Commercial Officer, APL.

KEEPUP will continue to evolve through the season as it adds layers of dedicated coverage, augmented by significant tie-ups with domestic and international content providers.

KEEPUP has already assembled an unprecedented array of voices to tell unique and powerful stories about football in Australia and around the world. The site and app will provide insights, in-depth features and analysis on games, transfer news, as well as stories on culture and football identities from a team of football journalists on staff led by Richard Bayliss, Director of Content.

APL will also feature commentary from some of Australia’s football elite including Premier League great Mark Bosnich, Matildas legend Melissa Barbieri and Socceroos captain Matt Leckie.

“And this is just the beginning. We have a bold plan to evolve KEEPUP into an unparalleled global digital hub, expanding functionality beyond a content base to include gamification, e-Commerce, ticketing, second screen live stadium experiences and loyalty programs,” continued Hearne.

Future phases of development also include engagement with Australian grassroots football players via digital products and services designed to improve their football experience, to ensure every fan can enjoy the football in the way they choose.

The importance of boosting the connection between clubs and their local businesses

Football clubs across the world have financially suffered over the past two years, through the length of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But it was the smaller businesses in these clubs’ catchment areas who were affected even more.

Local businesses are a vital part of the overall football economy across the world, including in Australia, but according to studies local businesses saw their revenues slashed by 20-30% on average.

With stadium gates around the world already reopening or in the process of it, these clubs have the opportunity to not only rebuild their own revenue, but play an important role in boosting their local economies as a whole.

Blackpool-based Eleven Sports Media is rapidly expanding their existing mission to assist in that process.

Over the past 13 years the company has bridged the gap between clubs’ time-starved commercial teams and their local business communities.

Eleven specialise in owning, managing and operating Community Partner programmes for clubs who decide to use their services. Resources are freed up, with the club provided a solution which grows multiple long-lasting partnerships with local businesses.

Over the past year, demand for the company’s deeply held community values, top-class activation expertise and high-tech stadium inventory has surged.

The company’s Stadium, StatTV and StatZone fan-engagement platforms continue to evolve rapidly, with many clubs across the world noticing these improvements.

More than 40 clubs across all the of the UK (many of them being in the Premier League) have partnered with Eleven Sports Media, with the company also recently striking a deal with MLS side New York City FC (NYCFC).

Their growth is a testament to the work they do in helping clubs build strong connections with their local business communities.

“We have been fortunate to work across all tiers of the game and in all regions of the country for many years,” Matt Cairns, founder and CEO of Eleven, told FC Business.

“We know exactly how important the ties between clubs and the businesses around them truly are.

“It’s those businesses that will always be there to support their clubs through the ups and downs, and we understand what those local businesses need for real growth. That’s why we have evolved our model so far beyond simple stadium advertising. From boosting digital audiences through to achieving CSR objectives or creating high-impact experiences, we cover all the bases to make sure those businesses enjoy real returns from of their partnerships with clubs.”

Eleven’s new agreement with the New York club will see them develop new partnerships for local businesses, giving them an unprecedented platform for growth possibilities in the future.

The company’s branding will also be displayed on NYCFC’s academy kits, an investment that Cairns says speaks to Eleven’s commitment both to the MLS club and to the new partners it will engage on their behalf.

“We are the shirt sponsors of over a dozen Academy teams, and it’s great to add NYCFC to that list. Investing in our partner clubs is hugely important to us – it matters to those clubs, and to the local businesses around them. There’s no better way to demonstrate our own values, as well as the rewards that come from meaningfully engaging with clubs in this way,” Cairns stated.

Matt Goodman, Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Operating Officer at NYCFC, believes the club’s partnership with Eleven is an evolution of a community focused ethos that the MLS team has maintained since it was founded.

“We’re a community asset,” he told FC Business.

“Our role is to connect with the community to empower better lives through soccer. We would have said that before the global pandemic, but even more so after it.

“Our responsibility is to help pick the citizens of the city, those businesses, back up.”

Goodman was an influential member in a team that delivered a unique collaboration with Mastercard last year, which extended the club’s commercial and digital marketing expertise to struggling local businesses.

The club has also worked to free up retail room for local challenger drinks brands – another one of the ways it has provided opportunities for small businesses within New York to gain exposure in the marketplace.

“The most exciting part about partnering with Eleven is that shared emphasis on small business and on community,” Goodman said.

“To help those who need help the most. Eleven’s history with global football, coupled with an emphasis on community, is the most unique part of how Eleven operates.

“What the partnership will do is it will give us a much larger platform to be able to speak to more fans and give more small businesses, a bigger platform for success. And that to us is the most important part.”

It’s a similar story in the UK, where Eleven is the shirt sponsor for both Celtic FC Women and the club’s B-team, providing the Scottish giants with an array of technology and partnership solutions.

The club was founded in its community to initially address the issue of poverty, and despite its strong worldwide following, its devotion to its local roots remains strong. Eleven has added many local businesses to Celtic’s network of local partnerships.

“The club was born in the community,” Commercial Director of Celtic FC, Adrian Filby, told FC Business.

“Local businesses are an important part of the community; they employ local people – they are supporters. Our partnerships with Eleven gives them the opportunity to be part of a premium global brand.

“Therefore, we are – in a big way- supporting them and helping them come back through a difficult period.”

“It’s about bringing everybody back to what the club stood for. Without local businesses, without local people employed, there isn’t a local football club.

“We’re all one, so it’s a critical part of the ecosystem for us.”

In finding these innovative ways to connect with local businesses and expand their relationships, with the help of companies like Eleven, clubs are viably supporting their own future – but also that of their local economies.


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