Mainland Football is the second largest Football Federation in New Zealand, boasting 51 member clubs and more than 21,000 registered players in Football and Futsal. While the game has come along leaps and bounds in recent years, the challenge is to keep it growing in a world in which people view community sports very differently to how they used to. Chief Executive Julian Bowden talked to NEXT about the challenges facing community football in NZ.
In a market like New Zealand, any sport will inevitably be judged on how it stacks up to Rugby, the game that has an unshakeable hold on the title of New Zealand’s national sport. In days gone by, any other sport was seen as simply making up the numbers.
However, football (or soccer to be absolutely clear) has experienced rapid growth in the past decade, particularly among juniors and females. According to Chief Executive, Julian Bowden, the key to success is not to compete with a sport like Rugby, but in working together with their member clubs to provide the best experience possible for the players and their families.
“For us it’s simply about providing the best environment for communities to come together and play sport, and we can learn a lot from other sporting codes,” Bowden said.
“It shouldn’t be about saying ‘you should play our sport instead of that one’, it’s about creating an experience that makes participants want to come back. Part of that is sharing ideas with codes about how we can improve the experience.
“It comes down to excellence in coaching and player support, excellence in facilities, and the chance to really be a part of a community, and that’s where we have seen success, certainly in terms of strong growth.”
As a not-for-profit (Mainland Football is an Incorporated Society) there is only a limited pool of funds that allow for game development. While the member clubs are, for the most part, self-sustainable, the association’s focus is on providing the best platform for the clubs and players to flourish.
Bowden said that having a partnership with Nexia was vital in assisting the organization get its strategy right with only a limited budget.
“Nexia help us keep ticking along as we should and allow us to focus on the important things – growing the game and providing the best possible environment for clubs and players”.
“We don’t have limitless resources, so there is a danger of getting caught up and distracted in carefully micro-managing things like budget allocation – Nexia’s objective point of view is invaluable in helping us see the bigger picture and keeping us focused.”
Bowden added that Nexia’s advice will be critical as Mainland sets its focus on the task of not only growing the game further, but keeping all current players involved.
Now that there are unprecedented levels of juniors and girls playing, the challenge now shifts to retaining them, without losing the traditional, adult male player demographic by neglecting them or taking their participation for granted.
“Female participation has grown around 6% in the past couple of years, and the split between junior and senior players is around 60/40, so we think we’re in a really healthy spot,” Bowden said.
“That said, there will never be a point we can rest on our laurels.
“We need to continue to invest in new facilities and playing venues, again creating that ideal environment and then keep improving it.
“However, we are well and truly aware that the traditional lifestyle model is not the same as it once was. There was a time – not too long ago - when you’d work or study during the week and play sport on the weekend.
“These days however, that model is slowly morphing into something new and bespoke to the individual. A connected world means that people can work and live to a different schedule and so when they have time for sport is not the same as it used to be. Throwing families into the mix adds further complexity again.
“We need to adapt to reflect this shift. We have seen levels of adult participation – traditionally a high growth demographic – level out and remain steady.
“To combat this, we’ve started to look at alternative days of the week – but that brings with it a whole new set of challenges. We need to find suitable venues without stepping on the toes of other users, and find a compromise that works, which comes down to that collaborative aspect.
“We’re also looking at new ‘Greenfields’ sites for the game, which of course don’t come cheap. But it’s something we need to do in the interests of growing the game.
“That’s the next big step for Mainland Football – meeting the demands of the modern world and how football ties in with that.“It’s fair to say Nexia’s help with management, as well as ideas, is going to be pretty important.”
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Nexia New Zealand
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