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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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Stuart Thomas is a trusted Journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on macro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions.

$1.5 million funding boost for Home of the Matildas facility

The Victorian government have confirmed they will commit $1.5 million towards the master planning and design for the proposed Home of the Matildas facility at La Trobe University, Bundoora.

The facility will also serve as the future headquarters of Football Victoria, as well as being home to high performance programs for women, men, girls and boys.

FFA CEO James Johnson was excited about the state government’s announcement, which will kickstart the Women’s World Cup legacy project.

“I’d like to thank the Daniel Andrews’ government for committing to further investment for this Victorian base for the Westfield Matildas, following on from the $200,000 already provided to Football Victoria for a feasibility study.

“The Victorian government has again demonstrated its commitment to women’s football, following its support for our successful bid to co-host the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023, and with the Federal Government already having allocated $15 million, we very much looking forward to seeing the project progress.

“The importance of establishing a Home of the Matildas is articulated in the XI Principles for the future of Australian football (XI Principles), and it will help maximise the potential of hosting the world’s biggest sporting event for women in three years’ time.”

Matildas superstar Sam Kerr was looking forward to the construction of the world class facility.

“This is wonderful news for the Matildas and the prospect of having a state-of-the-art facility specifically designed for our use is very exciting,” she said.

“The team loves playing in Melbourne and we really look forward to having a dedicated base where we can train and prepare for matches.”

Former Socceroo Gary Cole believes the development will be “great for women and girls and also for the good of the game.”

Outgoing Football Victoria CEO Peter Filopoulos believes phase one of the project should be completed before the Women’s World Cup is held on our shores.

“If we have the first phase built in time for the 2023 World Cup it would give our girls the best chance of success.”

Preston Lions FC: A sleeping giant is awoken with new $3 million grant

With one of Australia’s most passionate fanbases and a history of on-field success, it seems inconceivable that less than a decade ago the Preston Lions FC was on the brink of financial collapse. But despite its recent struggles, a resilient leadership team has led the club out of darkness and towards a bright new dawn.

Following a triumphant 2019 season which ended in promotion, the crowning jewel in Preston’s redemptive arc is the announcement of a new $3 million government grant to redevelop its facilities – meaning the club will finally have the infrastructure to match its lofty ambitions.

“The club recognised that we operate in a competitive environment and we needed to significantly improve the state of our facilities if we were going to attract and retain players, coaches, sponsors, members, and families,” said Zak Gruevski, Preston Lions FC President.

“Furthermore, we need to continue to improve our facilities if we are to meet our ambitious plans of playing at the highest level of NPL in Victoria, and possibly in the National Second Division.”

The funding marks a dramatic turnaround for the club. Struggles on-the-pitch saw Preston relegated twice, in 2009 and 2011, and things were no better off-field, with crippling debt almost forcing the Lions into bankruptcy in 2012.

But just a few short years later fortunes had changed again, and this time for the better. Thanks to the dedication of the Debt Demolition Fundraising Sub Committee, fundraising efforts managed to eradicate the debt in 2014, giving the club a new platform of hope and financial stability.

Gruevski, a life-long supporter of the Lions, was elected President in 2015 and has already overseen drastic improvements to the club’s stature and home ground, B.T. Connor Reserve in Melbourne’s north.

“At the time I was elected, our objective was to build a strong and united team of professional and passionate people to create a sustainable future for the club,” Gruevski said.

The club’s main grandstand at B.T. Connor Reserve

“Prior to 2015, the club’s facilities were extremely run down and not fit for purpose but thanks to the dedication of our passionate people including the committee, supporters, and sponsors, the club has been able to emerge from a difficult period to deliver significant improvements.”

Although recent investments have already enhanced the state of Preston’s stadia, the new redevelopments will take the facilities to an entirely new level.

Work is expected to commence in early 2021 and be completed towards the end of the year. Among a raft of improvements, the Lions’ new pavilion will include the following features:

  • A purpose built social area with state-of-the-art kitchen and bar facilities to accommodate up to 220 seated guests
  • Full access viewings onto the main playing pitch with floor to ceiling glass doors and windows
  • External undercover seating for up to 200 patrons
  • Six purpose-built change rooms, with associated medical facilities to accommodate players, medical staff, and officials
  • Media/meeting room facilities with access to high-quality audio-visual amenities including a 6 x 3 metre electronic scoreboard (funded by club sponsors), audio visual (AV) projection facilities, as well as AV throughout the ground
  • Canteen and restroom facilities for patrons (including those with disabilities) accessible external and internal to the pavilion

According to Gruevski, the facilities will create enormous benefits for those at the club, but also people in the wider local community.

“The new pavilion will provide state of the art facilities where the entire Preston family and other visitors can enjoy café, restaurant, and bar facilities in a fully enclosed environment whilst still being able to watch unobstructed. The facility will prove particularly popular for parents and visitors during the week on training nights, particularly in Winter.” Gruevski said.

“In addition, it will provide the club significant revenue opportunities before and after games to accommodate patrons as well as the potential for use on weekends for functions and events.”

The announcement comes during a time where debate has raged around the state of Australia’s footballing infrastructure. A victim of chronic underinvestment, the issue has drawn commentary from some of the game’s leading figures and has been exacerbated by a strong rise in participation rates, causing a strain on grassroots facilities nationwide.

But despite the negative sentiment surrounding Australia’s football amenities, the path forward will be paved by cooperation and goodwill between clubs, administrators, and government, and the Lions have set a positive example in how this can be achieved.

“The club has adopted a partnership model working closely with the City of Darebin to develop a football precinct that the club and the community can be proud of and enjoy for many years to come,” Gruevski stated.

“Whilst the club has contributed to a number of the infrastructure projects at B.T. Connor Reserve, the majority of the funding has come from council. The club has provided the ‘justification’ to council for investment in facilities which had previously been neglected for many years.”

A digital render of the refurbished pavilion.

Prior to the season’s cancellation due to COVID-19, Preston was preparing to compete in Victoria’s NPL 3 in 2020.  It was set to be the club’s first venture back into the NPL system since suffering relegations in 2009 and 2011.

The recent promotion back to the NPL and upcoming redevelopment signal an exciting new era for the Preston Lions FC. The club’s approximate 350 players – and much wider community – have good reason to rejoice, for the facilities-upgrade represents far more than just tangible benefits it will provide.

The state-of-the-art complex signifies that the proud club, which once competed for 13 years at Australia’s top level (the now defunct National Soccer League), is once again a force-to-be-reckoned-with in Australia’s highly competitive domestic sports landscape.

“With significant improvements in facilities and the implementation of quality football programs for our men’s, women’s and junior teams, we aim to attract and retain quality footballers and their families who want to be part of the next phase of the club’s journey to competing at the highest level of competition possible,” Gruevski said.

“The sleeping giant that has awoken is now in a strong position to leverage its wonderful history to create a bright and successful future.”

How stadium technology will work after COVID-19

Stadiums have been forced to adapt during the pandemic, introducing new procedures and innovations allowing fans to attend matches safely.

Stadiums have been forced to adapt during the pandemic, from being out of use during shutdowns to hosting matches without fans to now introducing new procedures and innovations allowing fans to attend matches safely.

Aderassa Sports & Entertainment specialise in advising sports venue owners and operators.

CEO of Aderassa, Oliver Mazé told TheStadiumBusiness.com the business models for stadiums have changed due to COVID-19.

“Stadia and arenas are facing, and will face, two real challenges. Firstly, how to keep venues safe for attendees. If venues are not safe enough for attendance at least until 2022, authorities should not authorise them to be open,” Mazé said.

“In terms of attracting attendees, this pandemic is a real trauma for all of us and will leave a footprint in our mind for decades. The fear of crowds will be in our minds for a long time, because nobody can guarantee it will be gone forever. We need to live with the virus and provide the safest places as possible, and communicate this to show attendees they can come, enjoy and be safe.”

There are several areas in which stadiums have adapted and will continue to be managed during the pandemic and into the future.

Hygiene

Stadiums have moved to becoming contact free – contactless payment at food and merchandise stalls via tap and go has become the norm during the pandemic. Online ordering of food and beverages is another innovation which has become important, allowing for people to order their food whilst avoiding large crowds at stalls.

At some stadiums, contactless technologies are being introduced for doors and bathrooms.

The installation of hygiene stations with sanitiser also help to keep fans and safe and minimise the spread of infection.

Chief Technology Officer of Los Angeles FC, Christian Lau recently spoke to fcbusiness of the technology innovations at the Banc of California Stadium

“Coming into the stadium, we’re installing new access controls via our partner Axess Control based out of Austria. We’ll be adding a thermal scanner to check people’s temperature along with mask detection,” Lau said.

“So upon arrival visitors will have their ticket scanned, temperature checked and checked if they have a mask on before the turnstile opens up.”

Ticketing

Michal Pyda is the Business Development Executive at Roboticket. In fcbusiness, he spoke of how the company is working to provide ticketing solutions.

“Pre-COVID, the normal situation is to maximise attendance whilst minimising the gaps between fans sitting together, so we already had the mechanisms to keep people sitting tight on the stands. In order to create an automatic buffer between each transaction we implemented a reverse version of the algorithm covering complex geometrical models allowing us to shape any buffer around each transaction,” Pyda said.

“Crucially, this mechanism is flexible so it can be adapted to work around any changes to social distancing rules that are created by law or the FA. This customisation is also required to be adaptable to the individual requirements across different territories. Today we may have a two-metre separation rule but tomorrow it might be one metre so the mechanism needs to be flexible.”

COVID-19 has also increased the use of mobile ticketing. Research completed by Juniper Research last year suggested that there will be a 64% increase to $23 billion in spending on mobile tickets for sporting events by 2023. This will be a major increase from $14 billion in 2019.

Staggered entry and exit times will also become common to avoid large crowds gathering at gates outside games, this also helps to spread the times at which people access public transport to get to and from matches.

Digitalisation

Managing director of Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) for stadium architect Populous, Christopher Lee told SportsPro in May that there is potential for the in stadium experience to be recreated virtually.

“We’re anticipating the integration of some kind of remote audience, whether that’s VR (virtual reality), how they’re portrayed in-bowl itself,” Lee said.

“If you look at any of the big clubs, Manchester United, they’ll get a couple of million people physically through their doors [per season], but social media says they have 650 million fans around the world. A reasonable percentage will watch a game live somewhere, and it’s how you then bring that remote audience into a live stadium audience – so using screens and boards – and I think you’ll see more of that.

“We will see more sophisticated ways of watching your favourite team, whether it’s using VR, or AR [augmented reality]…and having that represented in the stadium. I think that is something that will stay much longer than just to do with Covid.”

Digital screens around the ground and scoreboards are being used to provide alerts and to remind fans of social distancing regulations that they need to follow.

Some football leagues are already using facial recognition technology, Serie A have previously used the technology to identity fans who are responsible for racist behaviour at matches.

Artificial intelligence and facial recognition can be used to monitor crowds at concession stands or look back and identity who has come into contact with a positive COVID case.

“There are more sophisticated versions that also add a track and trace overlay on top of that, so it tells you if you’re within two metres or eventually if you’ve been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the virus. [There is also] a lot of work on robots linked to CCTV cameras and central command posts where they can enforce social distancing,” Lee said.

Football Australia and stadium management will be looking to introduce as many of these innovations as possible to allow spectators to attend matches while ensuring the safety of those fans who do attend matches.

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