Doing a lot with a little

The FFA Cup has exposed many A-League supporters to a whole new world of football. The intimacy of the grounds, the ethnic delicacies and the passion of these state league club supporters have been an endearing reminder of football below the top flight.

Many state league clubs have worked hard to reach this new audience. A couple of cameras, a laptop and internet connection is all that is needed to beam the game live across the world. One camera angle, no luxury production crews. These National Premier Leagues clubs need to engage with a wider audience on the cheap.

“Do we have a marketing budget? Ah, no,” says South Hobart’s secretary Frances Seaborn, echoing a dilemma faced across nearly all state league clubs.

“It’s a case of trying to extract as much as we can from out limited budget and limited resources,” explains South Melbourne’s head of marketing and media Dr. George Triantos. “We’re obviously better resourced than other state league clubs, but we’re dwarfed by A-League clubs on what would spend each per year.”

Not only do NPL clubs have very little money to spend of marketing, the role is generally lumped upon someone who has no experience in the field.

“I’m not a marketer or a PR person. I’m a self taught social media person,” says Seaborn. With a PhD in economics, Triantos fell into the role after getting involved with South Melbourne. “It’s something that I got more experience at over the years,” he says. “Like everything in life, a lot of it is commonsense.”

For clubs below the A-League, the game is rapidly changing. The NPL competition has a finals series play off to determine the national champion, and the FFA Cup has given them an opportunity to be in the national spotlight. Their aspirations are no longer local, and this has forced many clubs to take a different look at their operations. A change of mentality is required on and off the pitch.

Northern Fury has procured the services of former FFA head of corporate and public affairs, Bonita Mersiades. Mersiades volunteers her time to help the club put out a professional front as they try to build the foundations for a return to the national competition. She uses her corporate experience and intimate knowledge of how the media works to get greater exposure than most NPL clubs would receive.

“We will announce anything,” explains Mersiades. “While we can do media ops with the [Townsville] Bulletin and the TV channels and the one radio station that covers everything, we do go out to Charters Towers, down to Mackay and Rockhampton. We try to get our message out into the football media.”

The club recently held the Townsville Football Cup, which included A-League clubs Sydney FC, Brisbane Roar and Newcastle Jets. Mersiades used the opportunity to leverage the A-League clubs to get strong local media and even national mainstream coverage, with a few Sydney based journalists making the trip up north to cover the tournament.

NQF

Northern Fury’s media release also doubles up as e-newsletter which is sent to its database and the football media.

 

“It was great to have the support of the local newspaper and the 24-page lift out,” says Mersiades. “Fury does pretty well in getting media attention considering the environment its in. The further north you go the more rugby league devoted they are and Townsville is very devoted to the North Queensland Cowboys, who happened to have a very good season as well. So taking that all into account and the other national teams such as the [Women’s National Basketball League side] Fire, Fury does well as a state based club to get the coverage that it does in the media.”

Mersiades believes state league clubs need to get to know their local media and how they operate. “Even in a city the size of Townsville, there is a limited number of TV stations. There’s only one camera per TV station. If you are having a once or twice weekly media ops with TV cameras to get onto the news that night, you have to time it. You just can’t have the event when you want to have it, otherwise you miss that opportunity for coverage.

“The other thing I would stress is a great number of and growing influence of digital media and online media. All of that helps add up to get more coverage as more and more people adopt social media.”

Not every club can hire an experienced public relations person, but there are other avenues. Mersiades says that clubs should look to recruit a keen journalism or communications student looking to build their skill sets. “There’s probably some young kids out there who would value the experience, even an internship, to do some work,” she says.

Knowing your audience

In January 2014, Melbourne Knights vice president Pave Jusup approached Donald Sutherland and Tom Pollock to join the club’s media department. Sutherland and Pollock had spent several years running the Melbourne-based website MFootball, and both of them are journalism students at Swinbourne University. Sutherland, who is taking a year off from his studies, appreciates the opportunity to test his skills within a club environment.

“There’s guys at university who want to get into it. There are people out there, football people, who can do it,” Sutherland told Leopold Method. He believes clubs need to allocate a budget for the media department. “In the industry everything is pro-bono and if you want it done properly, you have to pay for it,” he says.

Sutherland modelled Melbourne Knights TV on SMFC TV to help improve the club’s social media engagement strategy. “South Melbourne were superb,” he says, “we look to them and say what can we improve on.”

South Melbourne is widely considered to be the best at social media in state league football, particularly with the use of video. The club’s SMFC TV channel extends off its website and YouTube channel, with a 30 minute television program on Channel 31. The club pays a nominal fee for the airtime, but most of the costs are paying for the club’s in-house media production team. With the station reporting 30,000 unique visitors per month to their TV show, the club believes this is a worthwhile investment.

“We’re trying to drive engagement with our supporter base and our memberships by providing a more behind the scenes look,” explains Triantos. “We’ve got some great content – bits of training, behind the scenes, players being interviewed. Different types of activities, funny interviews. We’re trying to make it fun. So we try to build up our social media numbers through more content.”

Understanding what members want and the club’s target demographics is important when deciding whether there should be an investment in providing video content. It also helps in determining what content to provide and how it should be delivered. This season Melbourne Knights prioritised the video channel. “There’s people in Croatia that want to watch the game,” explains Sutherland. “There’s no way they can make it to the game, so they [Melbourne Knights] wanted to film every game and build on that. That included midweek interviews with players and behind the scenes content.”

Melbourne Knights have a different target market to South Melbourne, and Sutherland says live streaming doesn’t really work for them. “The demographic of supporters here, it’s an older generation of people and also usually people who watched the game [live].”

South Melbourne are aiming for the younger market. “It’s been ten years since Souths has been in the NSL,” explains Triantos. “We have the guys within their thirties who have grown up with Souths. But the kid who is 12, 15 or 16, when he thinks of football, well its Melbourne Victory or City. It’s important for us to connect with that generation as well.”

Creating value

South Hobart achieved some notoriety for its coverage of last year’s NPL grand final against Sydney United and the FFA Cup tie against Tuggeranong United. The FFA Cup game had almost 9,000 views, and the “slice of cheese” reference to the yellow card generated a momentum on social media.

The club does not have a paid production team like South Melbourne or Melbourne Knights. “One of the parents just loves videoing. He started videoing his son’s games and that sort of expanded into the senior games and he got onto the live streaming,” says Seaborn. “We were the first club in Tassie to do that. Obviously the FFA Cup caused a stir for the other clubs to it in that competition.”

While there is a need to invest in technology such as video cameras, laptops, editing software and Wi-Fi; the biggest investment is time. Sutherland and Pollock are at the ground twice a week to film training, conduct interviews and behind the scenes footage. On match days they can be at the ground for over six hours setting up the cameras, recording and live tweeting.

Due to the lack of coverage in the opening rounds of the FFA Cup, the state league clubs took it upon themselves to live stream games. FFA put a stop to this due to its broadcasting agreement with Fox Sports, but it hasn’t perturbed the ambitions of clubs. Many still see the in using video or live streaming games for the regular NPL competition.

“The plan for next year is to increase the coverage provided on the YouTube channel. That is branching out to the U20s and the women’s squad,” says Sutherland.

As always, the greatest challenge for the lowers tiers is generating revenue. Most clubs rely on registration fees from juniors, as well as modest gate and canteen takings. The greatest opportunity lies in generating sponsorship dollars. Clubs need to show value. Sponsors want to see a return on investment.

“When we talk to sponsors, we don’t talk to sponsors that its 800, 1000 or 1200 at the game,” said Triantos. “You’re dealing with 50,000 social media contacts. Our reach is also a 30,000 [unique viewers] TV audience as well. We have that ability to cast that net wider in terms of exposure.

“Sponsors are always looking for added value. The dollars can be directed to any other sport or they can directly be used for advertising. We always talk about the member or supporter has that intrinsic value. ‘That company supports my team, so I’m going to support them as well.’”

Mersaides, who has developed a communications strategy for Fury, says that it has helped generate return on investment for their sponsors. “The fact is that we’re bringing in new sponsors. Even the one we announced this week, a new sponsorship because they were happy with what been achieved at the Townsville Football Cup, now they’re a general sponsor as well. We also have another sponsor who has increased their amount,” said Mersiades. “It is happening because the sponsors are happy.”

South Melbourne’s Triantos prepares his marketing plan and reports on its progress similar to how a marketing executive would report to board of directors for a publicly listed company.

“There’s a marketing strategy paper I write each year that outlines what are the objectives, what are our mediums, what do want to achieve, who is going to do those tasks,” he says. “The marketing strategy is presented to the board each year and that strategy is endorsed. This is then looked at the end of the season. How we’ve tracked against those aspirational targets. I provide a report on how we faired, how the numbers have gone, success stories, things that have worked, things that didn’t.”

The off-season provides many clubs with the opportunity to assess their social media and marketing strategy, and to look at the resources and the skill set of the personnel at their disposal and map out a communication plan.

“Don’t try and do everything. Focus on a couple of things and build it up,” advises Triantos. “Each club has their own priorities and goals. Just work out what you want and engineer it backwards. Say ‘okay, I want to achieve these particular goals, what do I need to do to go about it to achieve these goals?’”

“The club is your brand,” explains Seaborn. “You want your brand to be positive and responsible. We want us [South Hobart] to be family friendly. We’re a professional, amateur club.”

Most state league and amateur club’s communication activities are done ad hoc. To be successful, having a communications or journalism background should be of no hindrance to clubs in trying to achieve their ambitions. Clubs need a plan and they to be consistent, they need to try different mediums and learn from their mistakes. “It’s like everything in life,” says Triantos. “Put in the effort, work hard, just be consistent and disciplined. You reap what you sow.”