Back in April I wrote about the catchment areas of the Stirling Sports Premiership clubs based in Auckland. This was before the new sponsor got on board, before we knew the TV schedule had binned off the dreadful Thursday nights at North Harbour. But I made a promise to do a little bit of promotion for the club, voluntarily, in the 2016/17 season.
Little did I know we’d have four home games in a row. Now, I didn’t end up doing 100 match posters for each game – the amount of time, effort and $ was actually beyond me. 20 though, was a good number. But there was more going on.
Over the last eight weeks at Auckland City’s Thursday night dinners, in partnership with the club, ACFC’s media manager Gordon Watson and I began to put together a way of reaching out to our local community. It may be a national competition, it may have Sky Sports coverage but it’s a sad fact that most National League teams are almost invisible within the cities they represent, even within the neighbourhoods where their home ground is.
It’s a National League, but the focus needed to be hyper-local. For the posters I was putting up, I drew the line at the main local roads; Sandringham Rd, Dominion Rd, Balmoral Rd and Mt Albert Rd. These all had one key, essential, feature for putting up posters. Bus stops.
Bus stops are dry. They’re out of the wind. People wait at them. If they’re waiting at the bus stop, they’ve walked there. That means they’re precisely the sort of people you want to reach, locals for whom a trip to Kiwitea St is a five minute walk through the leafy suburbs of Sandringham on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
Looking locally, we also considered school zoning. For a student to attend a school, they must live within zone. For us, that meant working out what the club had to offer schools. Entry for Under 16’s is free at Kiwitea Street already, but the odds were that most families who send their kids to the local schools didn’t know we existed. It was time to reach out.
After some negotiation with the club, the offer was to give out flyers to every student in four local schools. The flyer would allow one adult to attend the game against Canterbury United for free and also entitle the child to get a half time photo. We also gave away free posters and arranged with the players to do an autograph signing of these post-match.
Every school we contacted was interested. As a teacher, I know that schools never turn down the chance for free stuff and that establishing strong community links is something that schools are always seeking to get better at.
The players loved the idea, and as part of the promotion we arranged for current All Whites Clayton Lewis and Te Atawhai Hudson-Wihongi, as well as young defender Alfie Rogers, to visit schools during their assemblies. A fair few of the schools close to Kiwitea St are Decile 1, and they were delighted to have players attend and talk about their careers. Kids are inspired by that sort of thing, and it’s something that definitely should happen more.
On matchday the crowd was up around 500 on normal. The amount of kids running around with their free poster, queuing for chips and a drink and the mums and dads sneaking off to the bar for a quick pint on a Sunday afternoon was wonderful. Frustratingly the game finished 0 – 0, but I guess you can’t have everything – it would have been magic to have a 2 – 1 though. The photo session was a bit of a mess, but the autograph signing saw players and coaching staff swarmed by excitable youngsters.
It had worked. But it wasn’t enough to just do it once. Following the Canterbury game City had two away fixtures. That was time to re-contact the schools and get some valuable feedback. The feedback told us it had really worked. Other schools in the area getting in touch with us told us it had really bloody worked.
We were also being asked questions as well. Children who attend Decile One schools often cannot access the club football system because they can’t afford the fees. Could we help? Was there a way to offer coaching or mentoring to intermediate aged children, or did we know a way that could happen? This was an important, as through the club we could provide answers, even if we as a club weren’t the answer.
But obviously we decided that for this weekend’s home game against Hawkes Bay United we would repeat the offer, but extend it to the schools that were interested. We also decided that it should be a flag or banner day. Dairy Flat school made this!
Auckland City don’t play another home game after that until January 29th. However, that gives us more than enough time to build the relationships with the schools before the summer break and plan for the resumption of activity in 2017.
What I learned from this was that the anonymity of the clubs does not mean that there needs to be a radical change in what is already offered. Free entry for kids is great, but it’s not great if all the families with kids in your local area don’t know it exists. You can’t just expect people to know, even if the competition is in its teenage years. And if they don’t, it’s your job to let them know.
It also doesn’t necessarily cost a lot of money to reach out to your local community, but what it does take is volunteered time and effort. But when schools and other community groups see you making the effort, they appreciate it. And that’s how you begin to be part of that community.
Thanks to Gordon Watson, Terry Kennelly, Ivan Vuksich at Auckland City for their support and guidance, and the guys at Yellow Fever and the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters Trust for their input in the beginning of all of this. If you’re interested in helping out at City, comment below and I’ll be in touch.
Categories: NZ Men's National League
John Palethorpe lives in South Auckland which is very far away from Fratton Park and Champion Hill. Having been told there was no football in New Zealand, he was delighted to find that there is.