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Posted (edited)

·         During the Cameron Schwab era, and subsequently supplied to Peter Jackson, I supplied the following suggestions to the club. I have been a passionate 40 plus years Dees supporter, and have extensive marketing experience, plus General Management experience in Asia, the US and Europe.

 

My suggestions were based on that. I had no feedback at all about this from the Club, although some of the suggestions were taken up by others but not in a way that would make them successful much to my annoyance.

 

We can do much much better. 100,000 membership is well within our reach. It requires though innovation and a deep understanding of marketing strategy.

 

 

 

 

 

Notes on Strategic Options For 

Melbourne Football Club 

February, 2010 

 

“Building Towards a 100,000 membership future” 

 

 

 Introduction 

 

Melbourne Football Club is the oldest football club of any code in the world. In the 1850s it was pivotal in developing the indigenous games of Australian Rules Football and along with the Geelong Football Club, was a foundation member of the Victorian Football League. Although in those early days, Aussies Rules was seen as “exercise for gentlemen between cricket seasons”, and indeed the club itself was the football section of the Melbourne Cricket Club up until the 1970’s, the game quickly grew into something unique to Melbourne cultural life and it became clear its spectacular nature was highly popular with people of all walks of life. Today, it is Australia’s most popular spectator sport, and the AFL (the governing body) is the most powerful and wealthy sporting organisation in the country. 

 

Through this growth, the MFC has failed to develop in a manner that befits its position, and since the introduction of the professional game in the 1970/80s, has failed to adapt. Today in a national game, the club is an also-ran both on and off the field, having failed to win a premiership since 1964, has one of the smallest memberships in the league, and over the last decade has barely kept its head above water financially. For much of that time, it has been heavily in debt, and on several occasions had to be bailed out financially by the AFL. In parallel to this, the club since the 1970, when it moved out of the MCG as sole-tenant, has not had its own home base, with its playing and administrating facilities scattered all over Melbourne, with much of its training facilities substandard and its sports medicine resources almost non-existent. This has contributed greatly to its lessening of competitiveness in the field. 

Since 2008, with the coming of a new Administration under the Chairman Jim Stynes, the club has embarked on a total re-build both from a playing and administrative perspective. By the beginning of 2010, there are very promising signs the Club is turning the corner on and off the field. 

 

This paper is written from a layman’s perspective of what its strategic options might be in the future to build on these good beginnings, especially to get its supporter and club membership up, and to allow the club to be admired in the future for its professionalism and it success. 

 

Progress since 2008 

1.      The appointment of the new coach, Dean Bailey, and an almost completely new support staff

2.      The $5m debt has been substantially reduced and is expected to be under $1m by mid 2010. 

3.      Over the last three years when the club has come last in the competition, it has the benefit of priority draft picks, which have largely been taken up by 17, 18, and 19 year olds. With the retirement of much of the previous list, the playing future is looking bright as these brilliant youngsters get senior game time and experience. 

4.      The Club has built its membership from the low 20000s to over 30,000 in 2009 despite of its lack of on-field success

5.      New training and playing facilities have been developed at Casey Fields in the outer suburbs of Melbourne (in partnership with the local Casey Shire Council), and these will complement the new administration and training facilities located in the city sporting district at the new AAMI stadium with a training oval nearby. 

6.      The club has recruited a very professional board and senior management, particularly with the appointment of Cameron Schwab as CEO who not only has a strong sports administrative background, but is also a highly credentialed professional business leader and innovator. 

7.      The reconnection with the Melbourne Cricket Club, which has been moribund for years, has developed and potentially represents one of the MFC’s great strengths.

 

The Membership Challenge 

The Current situation 

In spite of the good work put in by the new Administration, and the progress which has been made with membership numbers so today it is over 30,000 (a club record), this still lags behind many of the Melbourne AFL clubs. The benchmark clubs are Collingwood and Hawthorn with over 50000 members, which have grown significantly in the last decade, particularly Hawthorn’s. If MFC is to become the dominant AFL club it aspires to be, it must meet and exceed their major competitions’ numbers. 

 

Why are Membership Numbers Important? 

Membership numbers are important because they are a key measure of the Club’s progress in the football marketplace. They are not only a key source of revenue upfront, but they are an indicator of the MFC’s brand in the marketplace. It is fair to say the MFC brand has lain dormant for a number of years and has declined in strength along with the Club itself, but with a growing membership base it indicates the club is starting to make progress in market-share terms, but the progress to be frank has been slow. 

 

What is possible? 

This paper seeks to outline a path whereby the club develops a membership base of 50,000 within three years, and 100,000 within six years.

 

Membership Strategic Options 

 

 

 

With the right brand positioning and a clear understanding of its strategic strengths, there is no reason why the above numbers should not be achieved. It requires is some innovative thinking and a much stronger and creative focus on the strengths. The Club has many unique strengths about which it is not currently taking advantage. 
 
Hawthorn are a good example of what can be done. 20 years ago the Hawks had one of the lowest membership bases in the AFL. Now they expect regularly to be above 50000, and vie for the largest Victorian based club membership with Collingwood. That didn't happen by accident, and the MFC has many more natural advantages than them.  

 

Let’s look at the Football marketplace.

 

(During Cameron Schwab's time I sent him a series of concepts to build the MFC supporter base, by applying some my professional marketing techniques - I never got a reply, but some of the ideas which turned up mysteriously about 12 months later).

 

 

The Market Opportunities

1)  the obvious markets are immigrants, both internal and external, who settle in Melbourne every year. This has averaged over last five years about 1500 people week, most of whom are not Aussie rules supporters. On the basis that most new arrivals want to fit into their new environments, an obvious way to do that is to adopt a local footy team. So if you then break down these arrivals by sub segment and look at their characteristics which  matches our MFC advantages. An obvious sub segment are sports lovers in general, and these can then be sub segmented again into football lovers (eg soccer, rugby union, gridiron) and cricket lovers. Football followers instinctively understand football cultures but usually not Australian rules. Many of the Union followers are also cricket lovers (people from the UK - fourth biggest source of migrants, South African - seventh biggest source, and NZers - second biggest source). All these people know and understand the fame and importance of the MCG, (as do people from the Indian subcontinent - now our biggest source of migrants), which also happens to be our biggest strength, and many of those same people take a tour of the MCG soon after they arrive. Each year something like 350k people take the tour of the MCG. The MFC should own this space via its association with the MCC by providing seminars for those people taking the tours which explain the Aussie Rules game, and provide free passes to those people to the next Melbourne game as guest of the MFC and even provide complimentary MFC scarfs which it should get sponsored by for instance WEBJET or someone associated with the tourist industry. This should then be followed up by providing commentary on the web on MFC games in Hindi and Mandarin so they could follow the Dees when they return to their home country, and also for local supporters who have been migrants (a suggestion the MFC subsequently took up for Mandarin both for tourists returning home and new arrivals emigrating, but has subsequenhtly I understand been discontinued). The MFC should also give a free season's tickets to those new arrivals, provide facilities for them after the game and have someone analyse the game on their behalf perhaps in their native tongue. The test for this of course is the number of season tickets you sell the following season, but if you can't convert 10-15k new members from this exercise it would be very surprising, and considering the MFC only have at most this year 40k this would be significant. It would also help in having much bigger crowds at home games;

 

2) Melbourne is the biggest destination for Indian students in the country, some 120k study here at any one time. About a third of them officially migrate here after graduation (Probably the most efficient and least divisive immigration system ever divised) and subsequently become some of the biggest money earners in Melbourne. They are also almost always obsessed with Cricket and therefore see the MCG as a Mecca, and therefore often take the tour and tell this (loudly) to their envious relatives back home. Indian students are also notorious for being isolated in this society and sometimes have very little social life not only within the broader community but even within their own community. There is an opportunity here. Why couldn't the MFC build an Indian student branch of the MFC which is as much a social club for them to get together and meet people as it is a football club, but it has football at its core. The MFC could hand out to them free members tickets in the first year after their arrival and sell them discounted student tickets in subsequent years until graduation, but it could provide in ground facilities on match day as a social venue. The Club could sell them drinks etc to cover some of the costs, and perhaps sign up an Indian oriented company as a sponsor. The task would then be to sign a significant number of them up as permanent members after graduation and set up branches of the MFC Indian Social club in major Indian cities for when they return home and they can then listen to the game on the net in Hindi. When and if they become subsequent immigrants, which statistically many of them do, they will be already converted Melbourne supporters and hopefully members. The same idea could also be tried with Chinese students although it would need to be in a different form, but with many of the same ideas. Australians must remember education is in its top half dozen export industries, and Melbourne is at the centre of it. It has got to be a huge opportunity for the MFC as long as the Club is culturally sensitive in the way it goes about it; and

 

3) the recruitment of kids. The club is up against the recruitment of kids because of its small supporter base and the biggest characteristic of Club preference for kids is inherited behaviour. BUT there are opportunities if you look. There are families whose sons and daughters play Aussie rules who are not strongly affiliated to a club, and there are new arrivals whose kids take up the game as a means of social acceptance. What the MFC could do is to heavily sponsor underage footy teams, invite the three best players (as nominated by their local coach) to a games as guests of the MFC every month where they will be introduced to the players, given insights into how the game is played, and analysis of the game they have just seen by MFC nominated analysts. At the end of the season, the Club could invite the 6 most outstanding players in each junior competition to a function where they could informally talk to the players and coaches and are given football related prizes (eg junior club memberships which entitle them to attend MFC games for free) maybe even giving educational scholarships for the most outstanding players (need a sponsor for this, maybe a major private school interested in recruiting outstanding Aussie Rules players). The idea in this would be to get word of mouth going amongst kids and parents that the MFC is a great organisation, and therefore it is ok to become a Melbourne fan. Winning games will help enormously of course, but grass roots action would back this up.

 

 

 

There were numerous other ideas I wrote in the original paper, a few of which were taken up. The point is that there are lots of sophisticated marketing ideas which can be applied to building a supporter base. I don't think we are even close to maximizing the Club’s membership numbers yet. 

 

 

.

strategies2 (2013_07_01 00_39_27 UTC).pptx

Edited by Dees2014
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You don't think the club already knows these things?  You don't think, just for a second, that PJ and his team have done their due diligence in all of these areas?  PJ is not incompetent and, if they haven't followed something up, then I'll back his knowledge within the industry and his discretion over anything else.

 

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Did this thread take 10 years to appear?

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2 minutes ago, Wiseblood said:

You don't think the club already knows these things?  You don't think, just for a second, that PJ and his team have done their due diligence in all of these areas?  PJ is not incompetent and, if they haven't followed something up, then I'll back his knowledge within the industry and his discretion over anything else.

 

He might, and  am a great admirer of the current regime. We dropped the ball on China, no action on India or the MCG (bigger opportunities in my view) when we had the initial inside running. There has been zero activity on the other issues.

Oh and by the way, if people took the trouble to write in to companies I ran and the executives responsible were too lazy to reply to them, they would not last long. Customer feedback is the lifeblood of any company. sitting in ivory towers is never acceptable! 

Oh by the way, did you actually read what I wrote? Your comments did not reflect it!

 

 

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7 minutes ago, Sir Why You Little said:

Did this thread take 10 years to appear?

Well it is a reflection of the lost opportunity this represents to us. China and India is a huge opportunity, and those of us who have been lucky enough to work closely with these economies know exactly what the opportunity we have here. Both countries have a curiosity about Australia, and almost universally amongst those who are interested in sport cannot understand how we with such a small population (in comparison to them) can achieve such excellence in sport. 

My answer has always been Aussie Rules _ all Aussie sports target those athletes who don't make the AFL draft and there have been many world champions from them. Their market is wide open for us, particularly with our very high student intake from those countries.

I know there are many in our country who simply wish these people were not here, but it is a fact of life they are (to our great benefit as a society I would argue). When there are over 100,000 a year arriving in our city, many of them becoming permanent migrants after graduation, why wouldn't we want to "own" this market.

To say this is already happening for the MFC, is absurd.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, Little Goffy said:

Is that you, Schwabby?

Schwabby was the problem - he did not even acknowledge the opportunity. You guys are amazing in your myopia! (well maybe not, considering what else appears on Demonland!)

Edited by Dees2014
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30 minutes ago, Sir Why You Little said:

Did this thread take 10 years to appear?

Took me 10 years to read.

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3 minutes ago, Dees2014 said:

Shwabby was the problem - he did not even acknowledge the opportunity. You guys are amazing in your myopia! (well maybe not, considering what else appears on Demonland!)

What's that, an executive with a few really obvious ideas, radically disproportionate notions of their costs to implement and real impact, and a whole lot of 'I'll let you people fill in the details', offering long commentaries on minutiae and not even proof-reading their writing, and now wants to tell everyone how much they lack 'vision' for not standing up and clapping.

Never seen that before.

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15 minutes ago, Dees2014 said:

Well it is a reflection of the lost opportunity this represents to us. China and India is a huge opportunity, and those of us who have been lucky enough to work closely with these economies know exactly what the opportunity we have here. Both countries have a curiosity about Australia, and almost universally amongst those who are interested in sport cannot understand how we with such a small population (in comparison to them) can achieve such excellence in sport. 

My answer has always been Aussie Rules _ all Aussie sports target those athletes who don't make the AFL draft and there have been many world champions from them. Their market is wide open for us, particularly with our very high student intake from those countries.

I know there are many in our country who simply wish these people were not here, but it is a fact of life they are (to our great benefit as a society I would argue). When there are over 100,000 a year arriving in our city, many of them becoming permanent migrants after graduation, why wouldn't we want to "own" this market.

To say this is already happening for the MFC, is absurd.

Indians love Cricket and Hockey. 

When in a Cab, which i ride daily i have NEVER come across an Indian who has an interest in Australian Rules. 

Some know who is playing and where, but that is only for the benefit of getting a Cab fare. 

It's just not their thing

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Dees2014 I don't agree that China is a huge opportunity for the AFL. Outside of Shanghai, most people didn't even know about last Sunday's game. Most Chinese lead much too busy lives to give recreational sport much thought. Apart from the occasional summer evening badminton or table tennis generally played by families, the boys tend towards basketball. The run-of-the-mill Chinese female doesn't play or have any interest in sport. Many sporting stadiums are barely used and in various states of disrepair. Chinese winters from the southern central Hunan Province north are very cold and snow and ice dominate. Not conducive to our game. It snows in Shanghai too.

There is actually an Aussie Rules league in China but it is dominated by expats and generally only played in the south of the country.  The AFL would have got a much better reception I believe by playing the game in Hong Kong but still, it would only have had novelty value.  

As I said in another thread, it would have been a far better option to target a game to the Chinese that live here in Australia.  Maybe involving Melbourne and Sydney, homes to our two largest Chinese communities. Those people come from all over China, not just Shanghai so the millions of photos taken and sent back home via WeChat would have gone to all points of the compass in China not just one east coast city.  Still, what would I know, I am just a waiguo shagua!

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10 minutes ago, Sir Why You Little said:

It's just not their thing

Nor is footy in China. Maybe Japan, as they are open-minded about different sports.

The problem is that Aussie Rules is far too unique for it to become popular in another country. The fact that rules are being changed every 10 seconds doesn't help its cause either.

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Posted (edited)
8 minutes ago, Demon Disciple said:

Nor is footy in China. Maybe Japan, as they are open-minded about different sports.

The problem is that Aussie Rules is far too unique for it to become popular in another country. The fact that rules are being changed every 10 seconds doesn't help its cause either.

We have more chance getting Members through China Southern Airlines. 

It's just an excuse for AFL Execs to Fly Business Class and imagine being important. Similiar to the Irish Junket

it is $$'s that should be spent here in the Bush to keep Country Footy from dying. 

I mean Gold Coast are bankrolled by the AFL anyway. Why were they chosen to play??

Edited by Sir Why You Little
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TL;DR

Put your money where your mouth is and run for the board with this as your platform and see how you go.

I know how i'd feel if some bloke off the street who doesn't work in my industry wrote me a report telling me how to do my job. 

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43 minutes ago, Dees2014 said:

Well it is a reflection of the lost opportunity this represents to us. China and India is a huge opportunity, and those of us who have been lucky enough to work closely with these economies know exactly what the opportunity we have here. Both countries have a curiosity about Australia, and almost universally amongst those who are interested in sport cannot understand how we with such a small population (in comparison to them) can achieve such excellence in sport. 

My answer has always been Aussie Rules _ all Aussie sports target those athletes who don't make the AFL draft and there have been many world champions from them. Their market is wide open for us, particularly with our very high student intake from those countries.

I know there are many in our country who simply wish these people were not here, but it is a fact of life they are (to our great benefit as a society I would argue). When there are over 100,000 a year arriving in our city, many of them becoming permanent migrants after graduation, why wouldn't we want to "own" this market.

To say this is already happening for the MFC, is absurd.

I like your idea. I've often thought of how could Melbourne expand its member base. I never thought of the indians. Or the cowboys for that matter. boom tish!

Some of you guys are quick to attack our esteemed Mr Dees2014. 40 year supporter is worth some respect. Rather than criticize why don't you guys come up with an idea to get us to 50,000 members.  Nothing wrong with his trying, and it is bad form by the club not to reply.

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Target the Irish I say! They already love Gailic footy, enjoy a beer and are fun to hang out with. And it not as if we don't have Irish in our club's blood already...

:rolleyes:

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11 minutes ago, deespicable me said:

I like your idea. I've often thought of how could Melbourne expand its member base. I never thought of the indians. Or the cowboys for that matter. boom tish!

Some of you guys are quick to attack our esteemed Mr Dees2014. 40 year supporter is worth some respect. Rather than criticize why don't you guys come up with an idea to get us to 50,000 members.  Nothing wrong with his trying, and it is bad form by the club not to reply.

Whilst my last line was perhaps a little churlish, I was sincere when I suggested running for the board with the idea.

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11 minutes ago, PaulRB said:

Target the Irish I say! They already love Gailic footy, enjoy a beer and are fun to hang out with. And it not as if we don't have Irish in our club's blood already...

:rolleyes:

Gaelic games are extremely parochial, and Irish fans of footy are more likely to transfer their support to 'their' parochial club rather than the MFC. 

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I have commented in similar vein in the past and agree with most of D14 thoughts.

I guess that club administrators do not read Dland.

if the club has explored these ideas they should be able to respond . Ie cost or alternative strategies

Such a response would also reinforce their actions as part of their strategies.

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I agree and have thought for some time there is opportunity for growth in international student/migrant numbers 

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Do we have a partnership or any association with one of the big universities? 

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Could you share these ideas that you say they implemented from you? I feel like the goals you outlined are pretty insane to be honest, gaining 10k members in 3 years (which is definitely possible if we start regularly playing finals) to a 50k increase the following 3 years. As others have said, it is far too difficult to get foreigners emotionally invested in the AFL.

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I went to the Chinese New Year festival in Chinatown last year and I was stunned to see an MFC stall with everything in Mandarin. It was a great initiative and I felt proud of my cub for doing it. But was that a one-off, or does it happen every year (I missed this year's festival)?

And I know someone who's a Commissioner on the Victorian Multicultural Commission. They are linked to most of the cultural festivals that go on in Melbourne every week of the year. The Commission is keen to encourage these communities to get more involved with and develop relationships with the mainstream Australian community, but it's difficult to find a suitable vehicle for this.

It depends what sort of a club we want to become. And it would take a lot of groundwork before it started to pay off. But if we're prepared to take the time, the pay off could be immense.

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8 minutes ago, Ethan Tremblay said:

Do we have a partnership or any association with one of the big universities? 

Bulldogs have a very strong partnership with Victoria University here in the western suburbs. Works well for both parties.

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4 minutes ago, Rafiki said:

As others have said, it is far too difficult to get foreigners emotionally invested in the AFL.

Disagree, I'm a pome lad as rusted on as you can get, had 2 daughters, same. Saw my Indian neighbours in the crowd at Subiaco while watching an Eagles game and subsequently found they're Eagles members. Got invited to the Eagles v Bullies game last week by my pome accountant who's mad Eagles supporting Thai wife was away visiting family.

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