Community clubs facing uphill battle against recession pressure

COVID-19 has taken a toll on community sport and is putting financial pressure on South Australia’s local clubs. (Image Source: Tracey Shephard)

By Marco Krantis | @KrantisMarco

South Australian soccer club Gawler Eagles are facing an uncertain future as they confront the financial difficulties of the COVID-19 recession.

The recession is putting communities under immense pressure, none more so than local clubs relying on dwindling sponsorship money and community investment.

Gawler Eagles Secretary Peter Broelman says clubs are facing unprecedented financial challenges.

“Long term, the lockdown put us behind the eight ball a little bit,” Mr Broelman said.

“Our canteen is our main income strand, and with the long layoff due to the lockdown, it impacted profits – depending on whether we are busy or not will determine how much money we end up raising.”

Since the lockdown, sponsor donations have dried up, forcing local clubs to focus on community spending and government grants to survive.

At the beginning of the lockdown, the Eagles received a $40,000 grant from Gawler Council to share with four other clubs in the region.

The club plans to use the funds on the maintenance of their pitches and club rooms, as well as event organising to allow for greater community spend.

In mid-June, SA’s governing soccer body, the Football Federation of South Australia (FFSA), donated an additional $15,000 to all clubs under their jurisdiction, with the money coming from the SA Government.

The grant program, which the FFSA describes as a “whole of football package”, is worth a total of $840,000. It is designed to assist clubs in resuming their seasons and cover the costs some clubs are struggling to pay.

However, Eagles Secretary Peter Broelman is sceptical about the long-term viability of the scheme.  

“The grant from the FFSA will only cover a quarter of the $60,000 we pay every year to them, and this only being a one-time thing,” Mr Broelman said.

“If this continues to happen for a while as we recover from the recession, clubs will still need grants to help their financial struggles, which is something the government and the FFSA won’t be able to sustain.”

The Eagles, who currently compete in the SA State League 2 (SA’s third tier), are placing more emphasis on community support to raise the club’s bottom line. With COVID-19 restrictions gradually lifting, they believe the club now has a greater chance to raise the finances needed to cover player wages, FFSA fees, maintenance, and their facilities lease with Gawler Council.

Like other local clubs, the Eagles were forced to implement a pay cut of around 50 per cent for their first-team players. Player wage cuts across the league have ranged from 50 to 100 per cent.

“The players know what position we are in; we still want to respect them and not take them for granted. So, the first team has all agreed to a pay cut to help us push through these difficult times,” Mr Broelman said.

“A few senior players who are on more money than the others even offered their help to the players with costs, donating some of their wage to help them out.”

Despite the difficult situation off the pitch, financial obstacles have not dampened the Eagles’ aspirations for on-field success.

Last year, Gawler missed out on promotion in their final game of the season. This year, the Eagles are confident they have what it takes to reach the next level, with the squad more prepared to achieve what the club expects.

“We have every intention of pushing for promotion to State League 1, mainly because we see that as a community benefit for the area,” he said.

Promotion could also prove vital in the Eagles’ fight for financial security, providing the club with better sponsorship opportunities and improving their reputation.

Despite their current financial predicament, the club’s ambition remains high. The Eagles plan to become the predominant source of soccer for juniors and seniors in the northern and metropolitan region, an area traditionally dominated by other first tier clubs such as the Para Hills Knights.

But while he is committed to growing the club, Mr Broelman is well aware of how precarious these plans are in the current climate.

“If the second wave arrives and wipes out the whole season, it will knock us back five to ten years in our plan of developing the northern region,” Mr Broelman said.

“Running a club is always hard, and with COVID-19, it’s made the job even harder. If the on-field aspirations are met, moving up will give us more credibility and attention for local business to support us.

“[H]opefully, if it all goes according to plan, it will tie in quite nicely.”

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