Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Notes from last night's members meeting

Whenever the club calls one of these meetings - all too infrequently, really - you always wonder how many people will turn up, what the night will see us cover, and what the mood of the joint will be.

My hunch was that this meeting would be a little bit about the upcoming FFA Cup match in Queensland, a lot more about the operation of the social club, and apart from those items whatever else could be thrown in by whoever saw an opening in the likely loose agenda/running order.

And that's pretty much happened. For the most part the evening was civil and constructive. While folks like me are generally happy with how the social club has been operating, there are many, many areas which can and should be improved upon. And for the 20 odd supporters who came down to the meeting, I think it's fair to say that they got their points across on those matters in a clear manner.

That doesn't mean that some suggestions and preferences didn't contradict each other, but that's always going to be the case; you can't please everybody all of the time all at once. The club hopes to hold these kinds of events more often. I agree with this, and the mere existence of the social club makes it easier to do that. The next such meeting may happen before the AGM. The AGM itself is slated to happen 'this side of Christmas'.

Queensland FFA Cup plans
This came across as a bit ad hoc and likely to end up a bit of a mess. The intention seemed to be to organise pre-game meet-ups, a lunch session, and post-game drinks on the Gold Coast on the day of the game. Whether the club will be able to organise anything at such short notice I don't know. The key points seemed to be:
  • The team will be flying up the day before game. On the day of the game, they'll be having a training session at Broadbeach United Soccer Club. This is because it's apparently the only club in the region that has a surface in reasonable enough shape. Fans will be able to go and have a look, but there won't be a barbecue or anything like that.
  • The club is interested in getting supporters together for lunch after this training session, but as to the details, that remains unclear. Likewise for the post-game drinks gathering. Stay tuned to the club's official media channels I suppose, in the event that something comes together.
  • There were names and emails being collected by the president, on the premise that the club would purchase tickets for those people. Again, I don't know how widely this will be promoted outside the group that attended last night's meeting.
  • Gold Coast City is also promoting a deal for online ticket sales, whereby for every adult ticket you purchase you get a free concession ticket. 
For those left behind here in Melbourne, the club will be screening the game in the social club. One would assume and hope that the social club would be packed out for such an affair, but you never know. 

Social Club matters
Most of the issues with the functionality of the social club can be reduced to two factors:
  • On match days, the club misunderstanding how different South fans want to use the social club.
  • On non-match days, the club overestimating how often members were likely to use the facility.
As a case in point: though of course I see my friends and well-wishers at games and sit with them in the social club if they're present, I go to games by myself. I prefer to arrive at games early. I'm in the social club when it's not busy. I'm able to order and be served food and drink quickly. I drink alcohol only moderately, and prefer craft beer, mixed drinks or soft drinks over standard beer. I tend to leave games fairly quickly after their conclusion, because I have family commitments. I'm interested in some kinds of events hosted at the club (Socceroos screenings, trivia nights) but I'm not interested in others (Greece national team games, Greek nights, futsal, poker nights). I'm a bit of a spendthrift, but I'm more than willing to pay slightly higher prices at the social club because more of the money will stay at the club.

This is one kind of experience and attitude. Others will arrive later and stay later than I do. They may drink more booze than I do and have different tastes, and they may shout drinks for others. They will have a different preference in terms of food and drink and how they want it served, what kind of events they want to see held, how they get to and from games. They are more conscious of pricing, either on principle or because of necessity. The club needs to get across these details, some of which can only be learned from the experience of running the social club, some which can only be learned from listening to supporter feedback, and others... well, they're in the marketing and business game, not me.

South Melbourne's membership is at its most demographically diverse in its history. I'm not talking only about the ethnic angle. We have the core membership and fan base which is mostly interested in the fate of the senior men's team, and builds their relationship to the club around that. Others may extend their interest towards the senior women, or follow the women's team more specifically. As well as having as the WNPL women's team, we also have at least an implied continuing connection to the social women players at SMWFC.

Then we have the juniors (now made up of boys and girls), and their parents. We have people who live near the ground, but most live somewhere farther away. We have our staunch members who have kept coming, and we have a smattering of people who have joined up more recently. Of course our majority 'support' is now made up of latent and lapsed fans, and it's harder and perhaps even pointless for the purposes of this discussion to include them. As hard as it may be to achieve, the social club then needs to be almost all things to all people, or failing that, it needs to achieve a level of proficiency on access and price that works for as many of our different demographics as is feasible and reasonable. It's not an easy balance, but at the moment there is still so much work to do, but there's also opportunity in that.

Food and drink
Speed of service was a big issue, as has been the case since the social club opened. There is also the confusion for patrons and staff at busy and crowded times with the ticket system. One solution offered up by a supporter was a buzzer or pager system, which works well in pubs and places like large pharmacies. Nevertheless, that doesn't help those who don't want to wait a long time for food, especially because they have no interest in hanging around in the social cub and would rather be outside.

The overemphasis on stocking premium and craft beers was also brought up. Some (like yours truly) are more than happy with the selection of beers on tap, but others want the choice of more 'common fare' for want of a better term. There was also strong criticism of the absolute mess for those wanting to buy coffee. There was the suggestion that the coffee cart would be moved elsewhere to a more suitable position, and that the payment system - which currently sees tickets purchased from the bar and not from the coffee cart - would be improved. The suggestion was also made that one should be able to order pretty much anything from any cash register.

Some changes already planned for next season should help improve the general experience. Chief among these will be our taking over the running of the kiosk on the right hand side of the grandstand, which will hopefully spread the load. Operating that kiosk will also mean that people who want to buy from and support the club will not need to be in the social club to do so. But it doesn't mean that the social club kitchen as it has been built is effectively able to cope with large crowds, and that in itself is a worry.

The idea of a happy hour at some point before or after the game was also floated, and seemed to garner support. The pricing of drinks was also brought up as an issue, specifically soft drinks, but don't expect significant change on that front as post-mix makes the club more money.

Entry and exit
This is often a mess. The single entry system has been a shambles, and this is all on the club because it has forgotten that a lot of our supporters turn up close to kickoff. There seemed to be the suggestion that the club would likely open up multiple entrances on more occasions next year, whether that was a combination of the futsal entrance and Gate 2 or office entrances. I brought up the fact that entry to the venue is often poorly patrolled/controlled by security and door people, and people can walk in without paying or having their memberships checked.

Exits were also a problem. Because of a combination of using only one entry point, as well as the priority access for social club members to the social club immediately after a game, exiting the venue has been problematic, To some extent this is a communication issue, with many patrons apparently being unaware that regardless of whatever the entry situation is on any given match day, Gate 2 is always available as an exit point.

There were also points made about the way people cluster around the bar, even when not buying food or drinks, which makes moving around the social club difficult. To this was added the potential for different arrangements of tables, including round tables. Still, one gets the feeling that the board are going to continue to wing it on these particular issues, as well as maintaining the emphasis on trying to get people into the social club.

Scheduling
We may see some reduction in the NPL/WNPL double headers. This would be done in part to increase our footprint at Lakeside across more days, and hopefully have more traffic through the social club. An added benefit of such an approach, though not mentioned on the night, would be having our under 20s NPL and under 18s WNPL teams get more time on a half decent pitch as opposed to the minefield pitches down Middle Park way.

Scheduling for the men's games remains contested. There's a split between people who prefer Fridays and people who prefer Sundays. My main contribution to that discussion was that if we were going to mix it up by including Friday night games, could we not do them in the middle of winter? I know the board has its own preferences on time-slots, and for every staunch '3PM Sunday' type, there are others who want to avoid going up against junior games. You can't please everyone.

Ultimately senior men's game scheduling will be decided, as it has been for the past few seasons, according to preferences of the coaching staff. There was the apparent promise of getting in one or two home games before the grand prix next season. This season it was understandable (albeit detrimental to our on field performances) that the club held off hosting home games until the social club was ready. Next year, notwithstanding annual work on the Lakeside surface, this should be avoided as much as possible.

Events and usage - Futsal court
As has been discussed around the traps, the club was approached by several outside groups to run the futsal court. The club decided against this approach. The bad side of that is that it appears that the club made that decision without any obvious due diligence. That's balanced out (at least in my opinion, though others will certainly disagree) that the club was entitled to find out in its own time what the functional capacity of the futsal court was, what the club could achieve from a commercial point of view on its own, as well balancing the desire to use the court for junior training sessions as well. The option to lease out the futsal court to an outside group in future has not been ruled out. The club claims that the court's daytime usage is going quite well, principally based around local schools, and that the court is also getting good usage on Saturdays from junior competition.

Events and usage - Bistro
The club was disappointed at the lack of patronage and usage of the social club outside of match days by club members. The members in attendance were quick to point out several reasons for this:
  • South members as a whole do not live near the ground. Indeed, many live quite far away from the venue, making an impromptu trip out to Lakeside untenable for many of our fans.
  • There is a reason why our juniors and their parents are more frequent attendees during the week - because their schedules are based around the club.
  • In terms of events, there is not enough attracting people to Friday sessions, the day of the week currently lagging the most and which the club would like to improve the most.
  • The club could not solely rely on leveraging off the club's limited membership base; it needs to branch out to other potentially interested groups.
OK, look. If one was to choose one singularly magnificent mind-boggling example of stupidity so far as the club's operation of the social club is concerned, it's this: the club expected most if not all of the promotional work for the social club to come from the club's membership. Now I can agree with the board that word of mouth is going to be more than useful in the gradual promotion of the social club, but when:
  • There are no obvious contact details about hiring out the venue.
  • There is no price list or set menu list for events.
  • It is not even clear when the social club is open.

What hope do we really have of telling others about our social club, when we ourselves don't know what's going on? In other words, the promotion of the social club as a whole has been dire. Of course one could just contact the club directly, but if you're going to run a bistro that hopes to attract members to non-game day visits, let alone run as a low key/casual function space, than the club really needs to step up its promotional game.

Think of it this way. If the folk from Clarendon Corner wanted to organise a one day futsal tournament among themselves during the off-season, who would they contact? How would they find out that information? Sure, someone like myself could figuratively be bothered to email or call the generic club contact, or ask people working (for now...) at the club about sorting stuff out, but it shouldn't have to be like that. The information needs to be clear and easy to access.

I get that it's going to take time for things to settle. Having so many home games back-to-back possibly made things more difficult. I think another part of the problem was the high expectations set by the board and supporters for the social club, but also with how things began when it opened. For the last point in particular, the initial menus were broad and sought to cater to a bistro clientèle... then over several weeks everything was scaled back. The good news is that apparently the club does tend to make money off most nights and events that it holds, though there are erratic or inconsistent results. Some Socceroos games get much better turnouts than others for instance.

There was of course the issue of being able to leverage off of schools and athletics and such using Lakeside. Some of the issues come across as bureaucratic nonsense, others more understandable. In the former category, issues around emergency exits, safety and such seemed kind of ridiculous. On the latter part, schools asking for food that fits specific dietary requirements - in other words, healthy foods - is more problematic. It goes some way to explaining why other, outside groups have also not bothered to set up shop for such events. Maybe we need Jamie Oliver to step in and help us?

After last week's initially confusing set up with regards to which social club door should be open for the grand final - and for me at least, how we were able to manage to be open at all, despite it not being our event - was answered in that because it was a soccer event, we could open.

But some issues are not going to be able to overcome. The liquor licensing laws are always going to hold us back. The inability to carry liquor outside the social club into the arena area is an issue that is not going to go away. But our restricted (midnight) licence also means that, realistically, we won't be able to host things like late night EPL fixtures, inhibiting our ability to play host to specific EPL fan groups. Not having FoxSports or Optus also limits the kind of sports screenings you can have.

Decor and design
There was some criticism of the look of the social club. The president's response to that was that the emphasis should be on the major things we have won, as well as keeping things in tune with the 'clean' look of the social club space. To be fair (and by way of explanation), that approach is in line with some of the recommendations made by people (including myself) who visited several AFL club museums as part of research into how other sporting clubs do museum spaces (the details of which are for another time).

Still, some good points were brought up, in that the space as a whole was still too bare, and that there were several walls which could use something - whether trophies, pennants or other stuff - to complement the existing look. For example, I'm not in favour of going back to the old cluttered look of the previous museum, but there should be room for honour boards, pennants or more club branding around the place. I like the general aesthetic ideas being used at the moment (though I had nothing to do with its implementation after the research trip), but it veers too much the other way towards austerity.

If the idea was to create a 'neutral' space suitable for non-South functions, then it misses the point somewhat. Groups who hold work or other functions in bowls clubs and the like aren't in neutral spaces, indeed quite the contrary. What we can do is implement a more prominent South feel to the place whose aesthetics also fit in with the current arrangement. The lack of an honour board was one point brought up. The old honour board, currently located in the players' rooms, would look very much out of place in a 'modern' setting like our social club. But what about a modernised, perspex version as used by Collingwood in its foyer and museum spaces? They use a black and white motif which looks clean and smart, and is the kind of thing that we could certainly implement ourselves to add more of a 'blue and white' feel to the place.

The president stated that there is a sub-committee working on such ideas, which I'm glad to hear. Further mooted improvements include a history of the evolution of our jersey and our badges over the years, which if implemented would be a drastic improvement on the current under-utilisation of wall space. If they want any particular feedback, I'm willing to be a sounding board.

Communication
This is always going to be an issue. Most irritatingly, it tends to veer between the sometimes very good (our general social media presence) and the sometimes very, very bad (pick your own case study). The worst cases are when the board think their ideas are clear or are likely to have wide ranging support within the club, but are in reality quite the opposite. The FFA Cup event in the social club and the requirement to pay for entry into our NPL finals game are just two examples where had the board not assumed to know how pleb South fans would react and instead maybe done a straw poll of some such fans, they could've avoided copping grief for those decisions.

We have members with real world experiences, some who help run other soccer and sporting clubs, some of whom have experience running event spaces and corporate gigs, who would be ready to offer advice if asked. We also have people who aren't trapped in the echo chamber of the boardroom, and who have a different feel for what's going on among the supporters. It's up to the board to seek out those people and to use that expertise, and if not to follow it, then to at least take it into account.

Afterwards
The tail end of the meeting veered off into discussions about Facebook and member numbers, which turned into an unruly mess. I agreed with some of the points being made, but that discussion was a bit of a dog's breakfast if I'm being honest.

8 comments:

  1. All I'll say is if the board are unwilling to listen then they are doomed to fail.

    Still kudos for having the meeting, hopefully it opens their eyes

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the meeting update Paul .....

    As I've mentioned previously, I've only been "Back" at Hellas for 4 years or so now and never really had much association with the old social club facilities apart from a couple of "event type" functions World Cup screenings etc. I must comment that I agree the space seems a little too Spartan and could be made to feel a little more South-specific, Im sure there are heaps of artefacts lying around in storage ... the SMFC mirror behind the bar is an absolute cracker and one day Ill have one in my man-cave *dreams* I also understand the board funnelling punters through the space before and after games to try and make a buck from the bar/kitchen but it does feel a little like leaving the zoo/aquarium/museum with the kids and being forced to exit through the gift shop :o)

    Anyway, pardon the brown nosing, but keep posting on this wonderful blog as it always gives me a little smile to read your take on things, whether they are South related or not.. As an old fossil it give me an avenue to throw my misguided opinions around and hear from fellow fans on a variety of topics. Simpsons/Futurama/South Park references are hilarious (probably because I get them) Your taste in lit/music/art sometimes has me nodding in agreement and more often scratching my head.. Not a huge fan of NFL however Adam Gotsis of the Broncos (Aussie Kid from Abbotsford) is a family friend and have found myself following (and appreciating) the game a little more lately.
    Looking forward to Next Thursday's Post hopefully titled "Hellas - A New Hope"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 'Museum gift-shop' is a perfect analogy for the feel of the place at times, especially after games... but I know we'd rather the joint be packed than empty. The point being in those cases to make crowded periods as comfortable for patrons and employees as possible.

      I like the NFL because its season is short and easier to keep track of than other American sports... plus as a uni bum, having it on free to air on Mondays and Fridays makes it convenient to watch.

      I'm happy to cover many pop-culture and esoteric references, but you won't get any Star Wars stuff out of me... have never watched any of the movies and have no intention of ever doing so.

      Delete
    2. OUT for your anti-Star Wars stance!

      Delete
  3. Great of them to hold this meeting, I hope it becomes a regular part of the club's management process in the future. Guttered I couldn't make it so I'll leave my thoughts here in hope one of the board members is reading haha.

    - The FFA Cup plans sound great, hopefully they come to fruition
    - Regarding Social Club usage, better signing directing crowds to the Social club is needed for match day.
    - Great to hear that the club will be running the kiosk on the other side of the stand!
    - There needs to be an exit gate installed on the side by the Social club. http://l7.alamy.com/zooms/6a9c9698563446e0a02573ea223f0988/disused-rotating-turnstiles-security-gates-de2ga5.jpg
    - I agree with less npl/nplw double headers. It give the youth teams a better pitch, leaves a greater SMFC imprint on the Stadium and could give us SMFC matches to go to every single week!
    - Weekday Futsal Comps have not taken off and will likely not take off with Albert Park Futsal so close. Sign an annual contract with a third party to run these competitions to use it on Weekdays.
    - Would love to see an honour board up
    - What about making use of the mezzanine space as a comfortable sit down/museum area?


    Excellent summary Paul, thanks for putting this up!

    Manny

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. - That kind of turnstile gate exists on the other side of the ground, but the side gate in between our social club and the 1926 stand is primarily for deliveries, security and such, and it would be difficult to install such a gate there.

      - I think an honour board is a must.

      - There has been talk in the past about how the club plans to use that mezzanine space but I'm not sure anything has come from it.

      Delete
  4. Thanks for the great summary Paul.

    I agree that something like this needs to happen more often, as I believe a lack of engagement between the Board and its general membership is a serious problem. Case in point the ridiculous situation we all faced when the Social Club was shut for a sponsors function prior to the Edgeworth FFA Cup match.

    I quite agree that an AGM is simply not enough to cover off all issues that face the club. We are not like any other suburban club. A Member Information Session mid-season around May/June would be an opportune moment to touch base with members, answer any queries and put to bed any wild and outrageous rumours circulating.

    Any use of a member board must complement the existing aesthetic look of the Social Club. To put up the previous member boards would like out of place.

    Quite agree about the coffee situation. A better system is required.

    As for more members utilising the Social Club on non-match days, most live away from the Albert Park region, and would require a reason to travel there. With all due respect to the Board, people live busy and hectic lives juggling work and family commitments. The foot traffic from futsal and junior parents would be the primary users of the Social Club on non-match days.

    In relation to the futsal, I will reserve judgement for another 12 months. These types of operations require time to attract a client base. If in 12 months there has not been a material improvement in the futsal operation, then significant changes are required - whether it outsourcing the futsal operation out to a third-party, or a re-think of how that space is utilised.

    More events are required on non-match days are required, whether it be trivia nights, poker nights, bouzoukia nights, etc. If we had a reason to head to Lakeside on non-match days every 2 months, then that would improve the usage of the venue. Of course, its horses for courses on the type of events people are interested in.

    In relation to the Gold Coast FFA Cup match, the Club better inform those who are travelling of any arrangements ASAP, given the match is next week. The Board should be commended for seeking ideas on how to assist the travelling fans. Lets see what has been planned or not.

    Finally, I think the club should totally review the whole match day experience, from start to end, and look at what processes need to be improved. The entry and exit from matches needs serious consideration on how it can be improved. What happened at the Bentleigh semi final should never be repeated again.

    ReplyDelete

While I like people commenting on the blog, it would be useful if different posters could at least leave some sort of nickname to make it easier to sort through all the different 'anonymous' posters. If your post doesn't get approved straight away, it's probably because I haven't seen it yet. Lastly, just because I approve a comment for publication does not mean that I endorse its content.