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Zena Sport: Helping female goalkeepers stay protected

Donna Johnson started Zena Sport with the aim of protecting women athletes in high-impact sports. With the help of her husband, former AFL footballer and Western Bulldogs captain Brad Johnson, Zena Sport is changing the way female athletes look at injury prevention.

Their Female Impact protection garment, known as the Zena Z1 performance vest, offers support and impact protection, while also giving compression for enhanced post-game recovery.

The impact vest isn’t visible under a jersey or shirt while being lightweight and breathable without restricting a player’s movement, weighing only 160 grams.

Donna came up with the idea after after she watched a local women’s AFL game, with plans to continue expanding the product line after their initial success.

“My wife Donna was at a local game with her best friend who had a couple of daughters playing, and one of them came off that game with a big knock to the breast,” Brad said.

“We thought is there anything to help these girls during that development phase of life? That’s how the conversation started with us, and we continued to explore it.”

After discovering there wasn’t a large body of research in the area of injuries specific to women’s athletes, Zena Sport conducted their own.

“We worked with Deakin University in that process, and there were a lot of things to tick off,” Brad Johnson said.

“We went through their Centre of Sports Research, and the vest has been validated to show it absorbs a high level of contact.”

The AFLW embraced the impact vests, and now Zena Sport is expanding into other sports.

“The last 18 months we’ve been going flat out, AFLW was our first port of call but Melissa Barbieri jumped onboard quickly and she loves wearing it in goal,” Donna said.

“Soccer is one sport that the vest has been well received, and the feedback has been great so we want to push it even further and harder through the soccer world.”

Melissa Barbieri, a former Matilda’s goalkeeper, had an early opportunity to test the vest out before launch.

“Once I tried it I felt that little more protected in collisions, and as a goalkeeper hitting the ground and the ball hitting your chest,” Barbieri said.

“I have some breast cancer in the family, so I wanted to protect myself as much as possible, so it was a welcome revelation.”

Barbieri, who played 86 times for Australia, values the product as perfect for women goalkeepers who need extra safety during games.

“First and foremost I feel it gives you compression, which is always good for recovery, but it also gives you an extra layer of protection from any hits you might have via the ground, opposition coming in or friendly fire,” she said.

“Certainly when you are in a one-on-one predicament in a game, coming out and spreading yourself with as much width as possible and not protecting yourself in the chest area, it’s perfect for feeling that little bit of extra protection.”

Brad Johnson is the Western Bulldogs’ all-time appearance holder in the AFL, and his own experiences in professional sports influenced the design of the vest.

“It was always wait until you are injured, and then protect it to return to play. In that regard, I wore a rib-guard in the final few years of playing, under my jumper without anyone knowing, and away I went,” he said.

“So from that I was keen to add that element to it which has become a really popular part of the vest.”

For Barbieri, the impact vest not only offers her safety and confidence on the field, but she also believes in the company behind the product.

“Supporting someone who is so passionate about female athletes is really great to see, and it’s a homegrown family company, so I want to get behind them as much as much as possible,” she said.

Zena Sport is providing women and girls the opportunity to play contact sport to their full potential while raising awareness about the need to protect themselves from injury.

You can visit the Zena Sport website for more information, or view the ZENA Z1 Impact Protection Vest.

10 ViacomCBS Executive Producer Geoff Bullock: Bringing a fan-first approach

Fans

10 ViacomCBS’ concerted efforts to aid in the revitalisation of Australian football over the last few months has stirred a largely positive response from the passionate Australian fanbase. The extensive coverage seen across Channel 10’s news networks and various social media channels speaks volumes of the broadcaster’s dedication to help football reach its lofty potential.

The clarity provided by a primary broadcaster who is aligned in its passion for the game, coupled with the governing bodies, is undeniably promising for football going forward.

Geoff Bullock has been a vital part of our collective matchday experience of Australian football since his beginnings at Fox Sports as a Producer for for football in 2006. Bullock has certainly ridden all of the highs and lows that have come with being an adherent of the game like the rest of us.

In a wide-ranging chat with Soccerscene, the current Executive Producer for football at ViacomCBS gave us insight into the strategic direction, plans and thinking behind the new broadcasting home.

Football home

What has it been like taking on this project of 10 ViacomCBS being the home of all things Australian football? Have you always had an interest in football?

Geoff Bullock: I’ve been involved in football since I was about four, playing for the Gosford City Dragons with my dad as the coach. So, it’s always been my number one sport for the past 15 years as I’ve been lucky enough to be working on the broadcast of Australian football. And now to get to do it at Channel 10 for a new era is really exciting.

It’s just good to be involved when there’s a fresh start for football on the horizon. And I’m just excited about the role that we can play to hopefully energise football in Australia.

How is the 10 ViacomCBS production team looking to differentiate how football will be presented in comparison to any previous broadcaster’s time in charge of Australian football?

Geoff Bullock: What we want to do is provide a fan-first approach to broadcasting football here. And with the two platforms in Channel 10 and Paramount+ it gives us – in addition to the live broadcast – the opportunity to offer replays on-demand, mini matches and highlights for A-League Men and Women’s. That includes the Socceroos and Matildas internationals, which we’ve been broadcasting on 10 and 10 Bold and putting mini-matches on 10 Play.

I think it allows viewers to digest football in different ways to what they maybe traditionally have. We’ll also preview and review all of the games with our team as well. Each game will have a preview and review show attached, which allows our experts to dive in and give viewers a deeper look. And we’ll do some magazine shows and podcasts through the week as well to provide extra content.

The other thing I’m excited about is that we’re looking to do a deeper stats dive than we’ve done before. So, there’ll be greater insights on potential players and matches that we’ll be able to get from the deeper stats dive.

Traditionally, for the domestic game whilst they have been comprehensive in terms of milestones and players, we’ve never really taken the leap to include expected goals, pass mapping and possession mapping. That’s the territory I’m hoping we can get into for the A-League which will take it to a new level.

AL

Within the envisioned coverage, what areas of football are being focused on as its key points of difference in comparison to other sporting codes? How valuable do you believe embracing active support is?

Geoff Bullock: I think COVID-19 has shown how important it is to have fans at the game. Whether we’re in the stands or watching on TV, we know what we’re missing when the atmosphere isn’t there. It’s just a massive game-changer at the venue and on TV to have that buzz of the crowd at the games. I can’t wait to have that back.

And I think it’s even more important with football than other sports because of the unique nature of active support. It provides a soundtrack for the game that we’ve missed. The interesting contrast is probably the Euros where we finally got some crowds back at games and it was a massive lift.

That’s so important for us to take advantage of, that active support. We’re trying to provide a fan-friendly experience as well. We’ve worked hard with the APL to provide two fan-friendly Saturday 7:45pm timeslots, so that fans are able to get to more games that are on at a better time.

We’re looking forward to covering active support in the broadcast as well when we can. It’s no doubt been a while since we’ve seen a massive Wanderers march to the stadium which was always huge in the broadcast. Seeing that amount of people marching to the ground definitely provides a sense of occasion and anticipation before the game. It makes people want to stick around and watch.

March to stadium

We’ve seen football over the last few months covered extensively on Channel 10’s news and socials. What are some examples of the strategies being taken to entice younger social media savvy modern audiences?

Geoff Bullock: Quite a few strategies are in place, like our Saturday night coverage is going to be built around a multi-screen experience with those two simultaneous matches that I mentioned on Channel 10 and Paramount+. This is being done with the younger fans in mind.

Football fans, as we know, are accustomed to basically consuming their content on multiple devices. I believe a lot of people in that under-30 age bracket very rarely watch any kind of TV or stream without their phone in their hand.

So, we’re going to build the Saturday night around that multi-screen experience where you’ll be able to watch a game on 10 and on your device with Paramount+. It’ll be a chance for those fans to be across all the highlights and talking points from two games live as it happens.

We’re also exploring a few solutions that might allow us to scale up a separate coverage on a Saturday night that will deliver alternate commentary across the split-screen experience of those two games. That’s something that we’re going to work towards as the season unfolds, and also potentially a social media or influencer-driven commentary stream which we’ll look to do.

With the deep-dive stats that I mentioned earlier they’ll be going out on our social media platforms as well. That’s something that will allow those younger fans to engage in more analytical discussions around football. When you talk to young football fans, you find that there’s not much about the game that they aren’t across, and I think this will give them more of an opportunity to talk more in-depth about Australian football rather than the default of European football.

I think that’s one of our big challenges, to try and engage football fans in Australian football in the same way that they’re engaging with European football. And I’m hoping that if we can bring our level of detail up to the same sort of standards that fans are seeing overseas, then hopefully that will help them to switch on to the local game.

MVC

In terms of coverage beyond matchdays, are there plans to produce content that dives deeper into Australian football and its various stakeholders (clubs, fans, players)?

Geoff Bullock: Definitely. I think part of the strategy that we’ve been talking about is not taking Australian football fans for granted. Basically, bringing our coverage up to the standard that they’d expect. We want to give them the experience that they deserve based off their level of intellectual buy-in to the game.

Young fans here in Australia commit very heavily. You just look at the hours they have to stay up at night to watch these teams overseas. They’re committed to learning about these teams that aren’t even on their doorstep.

I think we need to match that in our level of commitment to them to be able to deliver that. With the APL we’ll be delivering features and exclusive content across broadcast, digital and social media platforms that will give them that detail of the local game – both the A-League Men’s and Women’s – that will allow them to basically have that same sort of intellectual connection that they should have. Because these are the clubs that are actually here and that means they can support them in the stands week-in week-out.

Fans here in Australia can get so much closer to the stars of these teams, like they’re far more accessible than they are in any other league. The access for these fans is so much different to what it is for some stars overseas and that’s what we want to encourage. We want fans to know that they’re amongst their heroes at these clubs.

World Cup qualifiers

Australian football has undoubtedly seen some rollercoaster times in recent years. Why do you believe now is a critical time for 10 Viacom CBS to get involved in football?

Geoff Bullock: It’s ridden a few waves that’s for sure. We all know it’s had its ups and downs based on national team performance and marquee players in the league, but it’s never really had a long-term sustained period of growth. Particularly over the last couple of years the popularity of the competitions has dropped off.

So, I think the timing of a longer-term broadcast deal with free-to-air exposure really couldn’t have come at a better time. And the fact that that deal has come along at the same time as the unbundling of the A-League from Football Australia (FA), it should provide clubs with a bit of confidence to invest further in the game and hopefully that’ll provide a better, more marketable product. Not only whistle-to-whistle but off the pitch as well.

I think there’s now an opportunity, like there never really has before, for the clubs to back themselves and have a crack. And maybe we’re starting to see that with Perth Glory getting Daniel Sturridge on board, which is a huge boost.

There’s always a bit of a knock-on effect when you’ve got these big stars signing for a club and suddenly there’s clubs looking over their shoulder not wanting to be left behind. The building blocks are there for a really exciting season, and with a number of clubs with spots to fill hopefully they follow the lead that the Glory have taken and they have a go.

Daniel Sturridge

How can 10 Viacom CBS help to capitalise on interest and grow women’s football leading into and following the 2023 Women’s World Cup?

Geoff Bullock: It’s exceptionally exciting. The World Cup is going to be massive here in Australia. But the one thing we always know in Australia about having a tournament on home soil is that people get behind it. We saw how Australia embraced the Asian Cup back in 2015. Particularly with a lot of Asian teams we don’t traditionally get behind. So with a World Cup it’s going to be even bigger.

The women’s game is really important to us. I think everybody is aware in Australia it is the fastest growing asset within football. And we’re going to treat A-League Women’s exactly the same as we treat the Men’s. The same sort of program will be structured around each game. Our best commentators and experts will work across both competitions, so you’ll hear Simon Hill calling A-League Women’s matches as well as A-League Men’s.

We’re massively excited about the Matildas returning to play some games on home soil in October. But we’ll also be tracking it because we’ve got the Women’s Asian Cup starting in January early next year. And we’ll have programming around those games and that competition which will be hosted in India, so the kick-off times will be pretty decent for an Australian audience. So, it might really work well with the A-League still going on here. In that period, it will be a frenzy of football which is pretty exciting.

WWC 2023

United Football present three options to Football Victoria to salvage promotion

Football Victoria’s decision to cancel Season 2021 without promotion and relegation is facing a considerable challenge from over 40 Victorian clubs.

Football Victoria’s decision to cancel Season 2021 without promotion and relegation is facing a considerable challenge from over 40 Victorian clubs.

Under the banner of United Football, more than 40 clubs have joined forces to challenge the decision to suspend promotion and relegation in men’s and women’s competitions in Victoria, following the cancellation of the season.

Football Victoria announced the cancellation of the remainder of the season in Metropolitan Melbourne on September 3 2021, in which it also revealed that promotion and relegation would not proceed.

The decision has stirred controversy in the Victorian football community, with a number of clubs who were in the mix for promotion now believing that their efforts have ultimately been wasted.

The United Football Group of Clubs (United Football) represents more than 40 clubs from the top-tier of National Premier Leagues Victoria, right down to State League Five and is advocating that clubs who worked hard to put themselves into promotion contention across men’s and women’s divisions deserve to be rewarded for their efforts.

United Football Chairperson Zak Gruevski, former President of Preston Lions, believes that the clubs are disappointed that promotion has been taken off the table.

At BT Connor Reserve, home of Preston Lions, it has not been an uncommon sight to see over 2,000 people in the stands supporting their team.
Zak Gruevski at Preston Lions. Photo Courtesy of Matt Johnson

“As clubs, we simply can’t tolerate this anymore,” Gruevski told Soccerscene.

“We invest money into our clubs, we work hard to create an environment that leads to success and in the context of a completely lost 2020, to not reward the clubs that have been ambitious in 2021 is not acceptable.

“Our own governing bodies want us to improve as clubs. Football Australia and Football Victoria have set out plans for the growth of their top-flight competitions, so clubs that have invested and improved themselves should be rewarded for that effort, especially with almost two-thirds of the season played.”

“The Football Australia Performance Gap recommends expanded NPL competitions that allow for 30 games per season, so this isn’t just us making things up as we go along to suit a few vocal clubs. Promotion is an important part of the game achieving its competitive and developmental aims.”

United Football has now held several meetings with concerned clubs, and last week delivered a written submission to the Football Victoria board that argues clubs have been misled and that Football Victoria did not adequately prepare for a range of COVID-19 related scenarios, particularly given the cancellation of the 2020 season.

Whilst the clubs acknowledge the cancellation of the season is in light of prolonged, ongoing lockdowns in Victoria, they strongly believe that promotion and relegation was consistently communicated as going ahead, even as late as August 9, 2021 and that promotion – at the very least – should still be honoured.

“You could see from a mile away that the season was going to be affected by COVID,” Gruevski said.

“Like most clubs, for the first few games of the season, all activities were. Checking in, managing numbers in and out of the ground, and as the season progressed that burden became heavier.

“Everyone experienced the effects of COVID in 2020. We lost a whole season and we came into this one with written commitments that promotion and relegation would exist for 2021.

“Even as late as August 2021, when clubs were provided the roadmap out of lockdown, promotion and relegation was still a live issue.

“The scene was set by Football Victoria as early as May 2020 with the release of their ‘Guiding Principles’, where the commitment was that as long as each team played each other once, that would constitute a season for promotion, relegation and prizemoney.

“That didn’t happen, but it didn’t happen because Football Victoria did not incorporate it into the rules of competition and then decided in between lockdowns to play the fixtures based on the calendar instead of the unfulfilled rounds, meaning some teams played each other twice and some didn’t play at all.

“Why, as clubs, should we have to pay for these mistakes? Why should we now have to recomplete an entire season?

“Football Victoria has confirmed that it wants to revise the rules of competition to avoid this happening in 2022, which we’re happy to work with them on, but it doesn’t solve the issue we face right now.”

Gruevski added United Football was also questioning the validity of Football Victoria’s decision, with clear precedent around the country to maintain promotion and relegation, or at the very least, complete a league restructure.

Capital Football decided to honour promotion and relegation despite the early cancellation of the season, whilst Football New South Wales decided to opt for a restructuring of its leagues in light of the cancellation of its competitions.

United Football has received commitments from more than 90% of its 40+ affiliated clubs to contribute to the costs associated with challenging this submission, and work has already progressed with the appointment of a legal team.

In addition to reviewing written material issued by Football Victoria, United Football’s legal team worked on a written submission, which was delivered to Football Victoria on behalf of the clubs on Monday September 20.

The submission, sighted by Soccerscene, notes the group’s commitment to try and amicably resolve the issue with Football Victoria and presents three options for the state governing body to consider:

  1. Promotion and Recognition of Champions based on current standings or points per matches played method, with or without relegation.
  2. Restructure of the leagues to achieve the desired effect of promotion/relegation, completed in line with the 2021 Football Australia Performance Gap Report.
  3. Align with Football Victoria principles and fixture the outstanding games between teams who have not played against each other to complete the season and award promotion and relegation. Given the current COVID situation, it is recognised that this may be the least likely scenario.

Gruevski has had confirmation that the submission had been received and was discussed at Football Victoria’s most recent board meeting and is being reconsidered at an extraordinary meeting being held this week.

“I am satisfied that Football Victoria has heard our concerns and are taking steps to give this further consideration,” he said.

“But the clubs have been very firm with me and in turn our legal team. If we don’t hear back this week, the Group is determined to then proceed with other options.  The Group has reserved its rights to pursue all avenues to reach a satisfactory resolution to the matter.

“One thing is clear; this issue is not going to go away.”

© 2021 Soccerscene Industry News. All Rights reserved. Reproduction is prohibited.

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