How clubs can bounce back from COVID-19
The 2019/2020 season so far has been nothing but a massive challenge for every football club across the country, with the bushfires and now COVID-19 impacting every club in some aspect.
Posted 6 months ago
An Australian population used to be out training & playing games, were all restricted to being indoors and utilizing virtual training, zoom training sessions etc. Clubs in most states have either started the season or are about to and some have decided not to go ahead this year, due to a delay in clarity of information and the impact of insurance, refunds and training loads, availability of grounds etc
Even professional football clubs are facing a financial crisis, they have had to stand down technical and coaching staff members, players have taken a pay cut, and amongst all this resumption of football has become a big question. Even if football resumes, it will either be behind closed doors and the attendance will be hugely impacted and the major source of income from tickets, and hospitality will be inexistent. Further we will talk about the effect of COVID-19 on football clubs at various levels.
Football clubs exist at three broad levels: Community, Semi-professional and Professional. In each of the levels the financial structures, funding, management and operations are carried in a different manner at different levels. Each levels’ members and users have various expectations from the football club. With the pandemic persistent and still growing in a lot of countries, carrying out sports like before is under jeopardy. Different levels of the sports are going through different sets of problems and further we shall be discussing that.
Community Level Football Clubs
The foundation level or the base of the sports industry is the community level where players of all age groups start playing and developing a liking for a particular sport. It is known as the foundation level because once a player develops a liking for a particular sport, they prefer playing every season and improving their skills. The hunger to get better and reach the elite or professional level is what players look forward to and the dream begins at the community level. In 2019, the Australian Government funded Football Federation Australia (FFA) with $158 million in order to formulate a plan and in that plan specifically giving significant heed to community level football. The investment has been used for infrastructure development for starters, followed by other financial problems faced by various clubs. From March 2020, the lockdown was seized and enforced with sports coming to a halt at all levels.The effects on community level sports is vast and demanding and can cause a lot of clubs to close down temporarily due to lack of funds. Moreover, community level sports do not have a lot of the major revenue channels like broadcasting rights, season tickets and merchandise sales which makes them more at risk of closure. The clubs will have to reach agreements, but there are always methods the clubs can follow in order to efficiently carry out damage limitation.
1) Community means a sense of coming together, where people of different age groups, religion, cast, ethnicity and natures come together and form a society and neighbourhood and live together. The sense of coming together can definitely help community level clubs where the channel of help can always be worked upon. Online fundraising portals like @GoFundMe can be very useful to raise funds to resume if not regular but atleast a step forward towards regular functioning.
2) Seeking help from various government offered schemes is an effective way for the government to help the base level of sports and to make sure that this temporary closure should not be the reason for any permanent damages to community level sports.
Semi Professional Level Football Clubs
Just like community level sports, semi professional levels have been hit as well. The major difference between both levels of any sport is the competitiveness amongst players and hence clubs.The level of sport where players have begun to look forward towards the elite levels and the essence of the sport becomes competitive. At semi-professional levels sponsors are a key stake-holder that provide finances to the club, since for certain age groups clubs pay a weekly wage for their participation in matches and training sessions. Apart from infrastructure and player development the clubs have to maintain a standard where they are seen as a top rank club. Though some semi-professional clubs do charge a certain fee from its players as a method to maintain a capital for procuring equipment and clothing for the players. With semi-professional sports competitions under jeopardy as well, it has become chaotic for clubs to carry out training sessions and pay the coaches and players accordingly.
If the authorities decide to start semi-professional competitions, players would have to start attending training sessions at least a month prior to the restart date, in order to get fit for matches. The current pressure on semi-professional football clubs is similar to the elite levels where they have to meet key stake-holder demands as well as re-build a team just in time, if there is a restart.So in this case how do these clubs go about the lockdown and the financial pressure that presses them to unfortunate closure.
1) It is very important for these clubs to keep their members intact, especially members working for a long time in order to come together for the club and the sport during this hard time. A Melbourne based Tech company has developed a Team App that enables clubs to keep a track of the players and coaches in order to meet certain goals and criterias they have set for themselves. Thus, helping clubs to maintain sufficient members required for an efficient functioning.
2) Keeping a regular contact with club players and ensuring they do not lose their touch is one essential challenge for semi-professional clubs. Hence, virtual training has become an essential technological development that can be used in order to keep regular play from home training sessions, making players fit for the day the count.
Professional Level Football Clubs
The top most, elite and most viewed level of any sport is the professional level where football clubs have fans who are desperate for a restart, so as to see their favourite teams and players in action. When the pandemic struck the country, a lot of clubs in the Hyundai A-League decided to first furlough staff members, where they would lose their jobs in order to compensate the financial obligations like reimbursing season ticket holders and paying the wages to the players. But, as an effort to maintain fairness all players decided to unite and take a pay cut so that the clubs can pay the staff members like curators, medical staff, hospitality staff and various other members who look after various match day and training operations. For the time being this has helped football clubs to maintain something close to financial stability, but the return of sport behind closed doors with no spectators has really caused a situation of disarray. The Victorian Government has raised a fund of close to $150 million in order to help the sports industry, but that only delays the problem, not actually solving it. With games behind closed doors to presumably continue once the season starts, an essential problem faced by clubs is the lack of the ticket revenue and fans in the stadiums, which actually makes a big majority of their total revenue. Professional clubs are left in the scare of losing fans because the essence of sports is watching in the stadium, with the adrenaline and amongst fellow fans, but ways can be developed to solve this issue.
1) Special messages for fans, personal messages from players, surprise video calls from their favourite players and making sure it leaves a big smile on their faces. This is a very small act by a player, but it means the world to a fan. Everyone’s facing a hard time being home, but why not make it better for them for a while.
2) Working closely with the FFA and club board members to regulate finances and make sure no extra spending is being done by the club. It is very important to formulate ways where the operations are carried efficiently without a full work force. Club staff rosters can be regulated where the total hours might reduce, but nobody loses a job. Various government schemes would cater to this fall in weekly wages and would keep the employees happy.
FINANCIAL ANALYSIS FOR CLUBS
The club in 2018 made $56.3 million from the various broadcasting rights from broadcasters like Optus, Be In Sports and Sky Sports which may not be effected much during the pandemic situation and might as well improve because the fans who preferred watching matches in the respective stadiums would now subscribe for various channels and watch them from their respective homes. The above mentioned methods along with some more efficient techniques mentioned further can be used to keep the fan engagement to the highest level.
All other mentioned revenues would take a significant hit with the fans not allowed in the stadiums, since they are all inter-related. With no fans, there would be no gate receipts and hence no registrations and affiliation where season tickets would not be for sale for an unknown time. Merchandising can still be managed by developing fan centric products and increasing the product line so that fans find new products to use. But one whole aim to wear the merchandise gear and go for their favourite teams match would still not be possible as things stand. Moreover, with the governments dealing with other problems all together, grants and host government benefits are most likely to be chopped off and if not that, to be significantly decreased.
With a 22% straight deduction from different revenue channels for a club and the prize money to certainly decrease, the only channel where clubs can spin their fortunes is their sponsors. The clubs need to convince the sponsors that the return would follow once the pandemic is over and during this tough time they shall require their support. Not every sponsor has been hit financially during the pandemic, some have made successive financial improvements, depending on the business and product types they manufacture and sell. Clubs need to separately identify various revenue channels they can work on, in order to absorb the incoming financial implications during the pandemic.
'National crisis': More than $1 billion needed to save community sport clubs- https://www.smh.com.au/national/national-crisis-more-than-1-billion-needed-to-save-community-sport-clubs-20200721-p55e4u.html
RECOVERY IS KEY, BUT HOW?
Unity is Strength
The first and foremost step for the football clubs at all levels is to make sure they work together towards a common goal set by the club in accordance with its members and sufficient opinions from key stakeholders like sponsors. Once the goal is set, then making sure that they have the right people behind the efficient completion of the goal and having more enthusiasts working because time is not running on their behalf as of now. Following the current lockdown situation a strict work from home is advised but a regular communication amongst all team members is imminent and necessary. A regular engagement with the fans is one effort every club needs to make, especially the professional clubs. The players are idols and motivational figures for their fans and hence engaging with fans during these hard times will help remain the essence of passion, love and excitement amongst the fans and hence clubs have one less thing to worry about, that is re-engagement of fans and acquiring new fans all over again. One such effort was made by Sky Sports UK where they asked professional players from different sports and even their fans to make videos of them playing at their respective homes and making the most of it in different and unique ways. This was done using an advertisement where they compiled a video of people converting their homes to their favourite stadiums and having fun and forgetting the ongoing problems for a while. It has become frustrating for everyone but we all need to hold on for a while as the commercial by Sky Sports says “I am sport and I am nothing without you”.
Sponsors being one of the most important stakeholders in any business, makes procuring sponsors for any football club very vital. In the past football clubs have had a very traditional approach towards their sponsors where they collaborate with any brand or company willing to invest without realizing as to how it benefits either of them. After a while, one of the parties that is either the sponsor or the football club realizes the lack of benefits of the collaboration with the sponsor being the most likely, as the monetary benefit the club receives is always positive. This leads to a fall back when the clubs actually need the support of their sponsors just like the one we are in now. With a global shut down, it is very important that an organization is supported by its allies and stakeholders in order to maintain financial stability with efforts to get back to normality in the near future. A lot of A-list clubs have made sure they have collaborated with the right sponsors and the deals have remained rock solid for years now. Carlsberg and Liverpool FC, Audi and Real Madrid are some examples. It is very important for a football club, especially at the community level, to look for brands or companies that provide them with perks like refreshments, equipment and clothing rather than receiving monetary benefits only. During the pandemic business and in turn the economy has suffered and hence for football clubs to get back into business the first and foremost target should be procuring the support of their stakeholders.
Another important stakeholder is the governing body where in their support, especially a financial support matters the most. Sports Australia received around 2000 applications where in clubs seeking financial support from $44,000 to $500,000. The government laid in a threshold of scoring a certain merit point score beyond which only a club would receive funding. The initial threshold was set as 72/100 and the government failed to provide support to all the clubs falling in this bracket. The next threshold was set as 82/100 and still 50 applications are pending. During this difficult time it is important clubs maintain their relations with sponsors and convince them that a return of sport, of course in a unique and restricted way would still fetch them results they have been getting all this time.
Investing on coaches and training methods
The coach is someone solely responsible for player’s development and providing the right means to encourage players to continue playing the sport. It is very important for clubs to invest in the right coaches who have a knack of the sport and have interesting training methods to keep the players engaged and form a passionate bond with the club. Recognition is one of the key attributes when it comes to any member whether it is a player or a coach and it is the club’s responsibility to make sure that these members are duly recognized for their efforts. Football clubs at community levels where a lot of coaches volunteer and are not necessarily paid, it is necessary to include a certain incentive to show that the club cares for their time and efforts. The right coaches would dwell the right qualities in the players and clubs should monitor that. Younger age groups where parents are involved it is very important for the coaches to teach them skills related to football with a hint of motivation, perseverance and other life attributes that would help them be a better person. Since kids definitely tell their parents about their training sessions it is very important they are all positive about the club and the coaches. This would build a strong bond with the parents as well who would be relieved and comfortable sending their kids to play. In order to make sure the club has recurring players every season, investing on good coaches which have the above mentioned qualities in them is very important.
Clubs need to incorporate inexpensive training methods such as virtual training where players can carry on working hard and training harder from their respective homes. This would cut down facility costs for the time being and keep the players’ forms intact. Once there is a resumption date given by the government, 1 on 1 training or training in small groups can be implemented. Since nothing is normal around the country and globally, hence unique ways to carry out sports training need to be formulated and invested upon. Apart from the club, it is also the responsibility of the players to maintain their shape with the return of sport imminent. Similarly, not just professional clubs, community and semi-professional clubs can use such technologically advanced methods of training and carrying out regular sessions for interested players in order to keep them engaged and to make sure the sense of sport is not lost from these budding talents.
Unique Fan Experience
With the start of football in Australia as decided by the FFA would be behind closed doors. A lot of clubs can provide the fans an opportunity to have a unique fan experience where they get a chance to watch the match virtually with other fans. This is generally displayed on a giant screen recording reactions throughout the match. This experience is unique since fans are at home and the players who are playing behind closed doors can see them and a sense of watching the match live is restored if not completely, but definitely partially. Though clubs cannot have the same number of fans on the screen as in a stadium but surely this experience would make the fans happy. Merchandising should not stop as fans would love new merchandise during the new season and following the financial deficit during lockdown, each channel of revenue for the clubs is very important. With the English Premier League, the La Liga and Bundesliga resumed, the Hyundai A-League can learn implementation of new and unique experiences so as to start in the best possible manner.
TREINER TO THE RESCUE
With the lockdown imminent while considering sports in Australia, how do clubs make sure they are ready for the day everything goes to normal. Treiner is an online platform that provides coaches an opportunity to freelance and train players of all age groups in the areas near them. Clubs can use this opportunity to enrol their coaches so that they get regular sessions with players of different calibers and both monetary benefits and skill development does not stop during this pandemic situation. Treiner provides a varied platform to coaches and players to make sure the sense of sport is not lost during lockdown.
1) Clubs in Melbourne can enrol coaches and their players where players for 1 on 1, small groups, large groups, virtual and skill specific training. The choice of venues and timings are negotiable and Treiner does not interfere once a coach finalizes the choice of venue and cost of session. With more than 20 coaches available in Melbourne the club players get options for all levels of experienced coaches in the city.
2) Clubs across Australia can opt for the camp option provided by Treiner where local coaches enrolled with Treiner would provide training sessions to large groups of players according to the specific training areas listed by the clubs.
3) Treiner has a very simple user interface for both players and coaches looking for playing and teaching soccer around the city. Coaches have to clear an introductory test in order to get enrolled and players can browse coaches in different cities and can negotiate the training details.
Treiner not only provides a paid mode of continuing playing football, but a way to connect to more people. Considering the clubs, their coaches can pitch about the clubs they teach in and are representing at Treiner. This would help engage new players and help the coaches to improve their training skills and gain experience with players of all age groups. Moreover, Treiner also provides a virtual training platform which is being used to maintain personal fitness and teaching basic training skills to budding football players. Whereas players can have regular training sessions with a number of experienced coaches who specialize in various skills and can make sure they are match ready once the restrictions are levied.
For support and further information:
1) Page, B., 2020. Sports Industry Bullish On Possible Long-Term Negative Impact Of COVID-19, Reveals Latest Isportconnect Insights - Isportconnect. [online] iSportConnect. Available at: https://www.isportconnect.com/sports-industry-bullish-possible-long-term-negative-impacts-covid-19-reveals-latest-isportconnect-insights/
2) Page, B., 2020. Sports Industry Bullish On Possible Long-Term Negative Impact Of COVID-19, Reveals Latest Isportconnect Insights - Isportconnect. [online] iSportConnect. Available at: https://www.isportconnect.com/sports-industry-bullish-possible-long-term-negative-impacts-covid-19-reveals-latest-isportconnect-insights/