Resurrecting the Saints

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Claiming top spot in AFL, restructuring finances, moving to Moorabbin… St Kilda COO Ameet Bains tells Alys Francis what’s in his playbook

With footy season in full swing, on-field action is dominating conversations in pubs and offices Australia-wide. But at one club, a lot of the action has been taking place behind the scenes.

St Kilda FC has been undergoing substantial change, restructuring its player payment model, recruitment and looking abroad for new talent. The Indian Sun caught up with the man leading the revamp, Ameet Bains, to find out the latest.

 

You’ve been St Kilda’s Chief Operating Officer for almost a year – what are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and what are you most proud of?

It has been an exciting period for the Club in the last 12 months under the overall leadership of Matt Finnis as CEO, who has also reshaped the executive team.

Coming out of last season, the two biggest challenges were finishing bottom of the ladder and overcoming a financial position that needed a strong boost.

I’m most proud of the fact that the Club now has in place a robust strategic plan that is allowing it to systematically address these issues. On-field improvement has been noticeable, and support for the Club has increased be it through fan membership or the addition of great sponsors like Dare Iced Coffee and Seek.

 

You oversee compliance and integrity — what does this mean for a footy club?

Essentially, my role involves a responsibility to ensure that the Club operates with the highest levels of integrity and governance across its commercial and football operations. This means the Club not only does the right thing but the Club can operate in the most effective way.

AFL Clubs are good size businesses in terms of turnover ranging from $30m to $72m, so like the corporate world the AFL industry has needed to become more sophisticated in the way in which it operates.

Ultimately, AFL Clubs compete in the purest sense, so maintaining the integrity of this competition and ensuring compliance with the relevant rules and regulations is necessary for the industry to thrive.

 

You’ve been a football fan since childhood, what was the most exciting match you saw back then?

I grew up in Bendigo as a Carlton supporter as a child and my father was Hawthorn, so I have many fond memories of traveling down to Melbourne to watch matches between the Clubs at Princes Park. My favourite game as a child was probably Round 22, 1987, when Stephen Kernahan kicked a goal after the siren to beat North Melbourne at Waverley Park. It gave Carlton top spot and the double chance and a month later, the Blues won the premiership.

 

How is the New Zealand strategy tracking?

The New Zealand strategy continues to evolve. This year was the third match we’ve played on Anzac Day in Wellington. The event itself has been reasonably successful. After a dip in crowd last year, this year saw an increase in ticket sales and the number of Australians who travelled across to watch the match. Pleasingly participating in AFL and overall interest in the game continues to grow.

Our short term aim is to have in place a commitment to continue to play games in New Zealand in the foreseeable future. In addition, we continue to increase our New Zealand activity recently running a community camp in Wellington, Auckland and Christchurch. This was then followed by the team undertaking a 10-day high performance camp in Queenstown. On another front, we continue to sign local New Zealand talent with the Club signing 16-year-old Christchurch basketballer, Barclay Miller, earlier this year to an international scholarship with the Club.

 

The Saints are set to go back to Moorabbin– what does this project mean for the club?

The likely move back to Moorabbin is another exciting project for the Club. While the Club has enjoyed its time at Seaford and the facility there, a move back to the Club’s former home in its traditional bayside heartland is terrific and something our fans are most excited about. Reuniting our training and administration base with our social club, retail store and museum will also be great for our staff and fans.

The facility itself will house a national first talent pathway linking elite AFL football, with VFL (St Kilda’s own team), elite junior football (Sandringham Dragons in the TAC Cup), adult community football (SFNL), right through to grass roots community junior football (SMJFL). This unique arrangement has ensured the project has received a strong level of support from the AFL, the State Government and Kingston Council.

 

What do you think of the Saints performance so far this season?

As A Club we’ve been buoyed by the improved performance of the team this year and the encouraging signs our younger players are showing. We are a very young playing group with the bottom 70 per cent of our list being the most inexperienced in the AFL so we need to be patient as the team grows and develops.

In particular, the win against the Bulldogs after being 55 points down was fantastic, not least of all it being one of the greatest comebacks in AFL history. Like most we would have liked to win more games thus far, particularly a couple of the close losses, but the signs are positive.

AFL clubs have been striving to become more multicultural — how successful do you think the multicultural strategies have been?

I think the AFL has made enormous strides in recognising and embracing the multicultural aspects of Australian society. We see that from the kids playing the game at a young age, right through to those fans attending the game.

It’s even translating to players progressing to AFL ranks with players like Ahmed Saad (St Kilda), Bachar Houli (Richmond), Lin Jong (Bulldogs) and Majak Daw (North Melbourne), enjoying AFL careers on top of the many New Zealanders, Irish and American players at AFL clubs.

I think as an industry the AFL still needs to better engage directly with multicultural communities in a way and form that best resonates with these communities, rather than a one size fits all approach. In saying that I know first hand from my role on an AFL Multicultural advisory group that this is acknowledged by Jason Mifsud and his team who are doing a great job in this space.

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