Ahead of the National Premier Leagues NSW season, Blacktown City CEO Bob Turner chatted with Soccerscene about the NPL 1 side’s 2022 Season Launch and the recent developments being instigated to push the club towards greater growth and expansion into becoming a central sporting hub for the Blacktown region.
The Blacktown City 2022 Season Launch was hosted by Stephanie Brantz and marked a significant milestone moment for the club. The sheer magnitude of the launch well and truly represents a pivotal moment in Blacktown City’s recent history, which is due in no small part to the initiatives being introduced by Turner and the team at the club.
Unveiled at the event were the announcements of Blacktown City’s first ever Senior Women’s team, construction of new $1 million changerooms under the main grandstand thanks to the NSW Government, and full operational control of the side’s home Stadium – Blacktown City Sports Centre.
In addition, Blacktown City unveiled that they had become a Diamond Member of the Greater Blacktown Business Chamber, and utilised the evening to launch their recent induction and to host Chamber members in a restructured Business After 5 format.
Have Blacktown City regularly conducted season launches of this size? Or was this the first time where you’ve actively tried to bring the community together from all over Blacktown?
Bob Turner: They used to hold the launch at Lily’s Function Centre with Vince Camera when he was in control at the club. But we haven’t had one for a number of years, and we just felt with so many good things happening that it would be better to have a real season launch and make a big deal of it.
Blacktown Council came to the party and let us have their Bowman Hall which can accommodate up to 400-500 and is adjacent to the Council Chambers. But more importantly, because of social distancing it helped us to keep spread and thankfully the Mayor, and the Deputy Mayor, a couple of Councillors, and of course Stephanie Brantz – were all there. It just added to the whole credibility of the launch and it was also good to see both the men’s side and the women’s side together on the stage at one time. Which is a huge plus for the club moving forward.
Blacktown City have recently been inducted as a Diamond Member of the Greater Blacktown Business Chamber. What was the process of organising that and how did it feel being able to launch it?
Bob Turner: It’s fortunate that I’m Vice President of the Chamber, so that helps! One of the biggest things I’ve found in my year involved at the club is how do we make a bigger impact for the city of Blacktown. Both for the club, but importantly for the city. Because I think that the city of Blacktown is very sports conscious. It’s a very misunderstood city in my opinion over the last 10 years of being involved in it. It doesn’t have a main sports team that the city takes pride in and I think Blacktown City – by virtue of not just our name but also our history, credibility, stadium and the competition we play in – all are significant factors in being able to build Blacktown City into something elite.
Our goal is no different to when I first joined the Sydney Kings back in 1989. I could see the potential of what the Kings could do for the sport of basketball and also for the city. It was just a matter of time before we made the right inroads to get people to understand that it’s a good product and things took off. So, in my view, after a year of involvement we’ve made huge strides forward in so many different areas and winning on the field is a bonus. It’s everything else – it’s the business of building Blacktown City.
There’s a Women’s World Cup coming up in Australia and New Zealand, and along with that comes all of the excitement and momentum building around women’s football. What was it like for you to launch the first-ever senior women’s team for Blacktown City with such a promising future ahead?
Bob Turner: Last February we announced that I had become involved in the club and one of the first questions that I asked was ‘do we have any women’s players’? We had some junior teams but not anything significant. I said that with the World Cup coming in 2023 the game is going to explode as a result of that, and we need to jump now into that space. Our Head of Football Mark Crittendon had always wanted to build a women’s program, so collectively the new board and Mark decided that we’re going to have a go at this.
We appointed a Head of Women’s Football, David ‘Dok’ O’Keefe, and his background is one of building clubs. His task is very simple: within three years we want to be in NPL 1 and we want the Blacktown women’s team to be as credible as the men. It’s the same culture that Mark has established in the men’s team – where players want to play for the club and they know they’re going to get better by being a member of Blacktown City. In time, we can build the women’s program at the same level.
One of the key ingredients of that is the upgrades to the changerooms which are a bit ancient. We applied for a grant with the State Government to build new changerooms for our women’s program primarily, and we were successful in that grant application. So, now we’re busy preparing to build new changerooms under our main grandstand which was 20-odd years ago they wanted to do. The main benefactor of that will be our women’s program, and it will help us to recruit better young female talent, especially if they know that the coaching, culture, facilities and competition are all right.
What was it like to finally solidify your home ground – Blacktown City Sports Centre – as being controlled by the club?
Bob Turner: Vince Camera from Lily Homes took over the club when it ran into financial trouble around 12 years ago. And he turned the licensed club into a function centre. He took over the stadium, installed the AstroTurf pitch, put in netting for 5-a-sides, improved the corporate suite area and the café, and did so many very positive things. But after 10-11 years he lost his momentum for it and came to us to see if we wanted to takeover the ground.
We started to negotiate that opportunity and in October of last year we took it over. Not only does that give us full control of what we can do to improve the stadium and the changerooms, but also greater revenue streams are now available to us as with running our own competition and hiring our ground out to other clubs, academies and people who want to train. So, now rather than just relying on gameday tickets and sponsorship, we have revenue streams that can help build a solid financial base for the club and make improvements. My end goal is to make our stadium a 4,000-5,000 seat niche venue and a good destination point for people to come and watch good football.
The theme you’ve introduced for Blacktown City this year is ‘Bring it home Blacktown’. Obviously, you’re wanting to amplify the region itself and to give Blacktown the respect it deserves, but what does this theme represent for you?
Bob Turner: Back in 2011, NSW Baseball and the Sydney Blue Sox asked if I would get involved because they needed to restructure. They made the comment at the time that Major League Baseball actually owned the league and I thought that was pretty impressive. If I had never done that, I would’ve been like the vast majority of Sydney residents in that I would never understand Blacktown. But because I went out to the ballpark that is based in Blacktown, got involved in the Chamber and ran a not-for-profit business for a few years in Blacktown, I could really see the opportunity in the misunderstanding of what the city represents. I would often ask people to come out to watch the Blue Sox play and once they found out it was in Blacktown they’d not want to go, like there was some huge problem.
But that reinforced to me that if you live in Blacktown, you like Blacktown. If you don’t live in Blacktown, you’re not going to get it, for a long time at least. The council is exceptional in wanting to build pride in the 400,000 residents in the area and that population will grow to 550,000 over the next 10 to 15 years. If we can capture that through some emphasis on who we are, Blacktown City wins, the city of Blacktown wins and the sport of football wins. That’s really what it’s all about. To me it’s as much a play to help out the city.
Recently the Australian Association of Football Clubs (AAFC) announced the final report for the National Second Division. Is there a reason why Blacktown City were not part of the final plans put forward?
Bob Turner: No, other than we might not have been communicated to I would think. It’s definitely in our wheelhouse. Blacktown City used to be in the NSL and was a very solid club when that competition was growing. We definitely want to be involved in anything that’s improving the game. My one concern – having been in professional sport all my life – is how to pay for it all? And that’s something that everybody has to consider. Because on paper it all looks good, but remember you have to finance and fund paying players, building competitions, and flying around the country especially in Australia with a jam-packed sports calendar.
Nowadays there’s 50-odd sporting teams in Sydney alone and TV money is not going to answer the call because it’s not that big a country. If you rely only on games and sponsors, or somebody who has deep pockets, eventually those pockets get thin and you get tired of losing money. The future of any competition relies on how you pay the bills and that has to be a number one consideration.