On Saturday; Melbourne saw the Richmond Football Club – one of the biggest AFL sides with over 75,000 members – break a 37 year drought to become Premiers of the AFL for 2017.
This was delivered by a club that in 1990 had $1.7 million dollars of debt on a turnover of $1.9 million and had 22 past players sueing it for unpaid wages. At the time it was saved by a famous fundraising campaign called “Save our Skins” that savePaged the club from bankruptcy.
It is a club that was so bad in 2010 that in the final game of the season Richmond won and the game was investigated by the AFL, with the opposition, the Melbourne Football Club fined and officials suspended for “tanking” to get improved draft picks.
It is a club that at the end of 2016 faced a board challenge along with calls for the coach and captain to be replaced, whilst the Vice-captain asked to be traded to a team he considered would be able to offer more success.
As a passionate supporter I believe there are six keys to the success Richmond have achieved. That success now includes a club that has no debt, over 75,000 members, the highest average attendance in the competition and now a premiership.
1. KNOW YOUR STRENGTH
Richmond doesn’t have the biggest supporter base in the competition but it has the most loyal and passionate supporter base. At the beginning of 2016 I met with the Media Manager at Richmond to discuss opportunities for Digital Tiger to help the club and that was the insight he offered.
To take advantage of this, not only does the club put attention on family days, events and activities, but the club has focused on digital marketing and giving as much as it can to the fans and supporters of the club. The Tiger Army is seen as the 23rd man on match day and the club talks about and praises the Tiger Army at every opportunity. On Grand Final Day each AFL club has an allocation of tickets to use for corporate functions, instead of taking the extra money Richmond decided to allocate the extra tickets to members to get in to the game.
2. FIND A STRONG LEADER FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND FOR THE DELIVERY AREA OF THE ORGANIZATION
The first step in bringing back Richmond to success was bringing in former player and successful administrator Brendon Gale. Under his leadership Brendon has been able to rid Richmond of debt, improve the membership to over 75,000 and achieve finals in four of the last five years.
The next step was bringing in Damien Hardwick as Coach. After having been an Assistant Coach with Hawthorn and a player at two clubs where he experienced winning Premierships at all three.
3. ADAPT TO THE CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES THAT GET PRESENTED.
During the time that Hardwick has been Coach there have been two unique challenges that he faced. The first was at the start of his career; faced with a team that lacked a lot of quality players tradition had been to go to the draft and choose up and coming stars to build the team, but Hardwick was also faced with two new teams coming into the competition that had first choice on a lot of the up and coming stars. To handle this Hardwick came up with a new way of using the Rookies list and looked to other avenues that brought in players that would have been otherwise overlooked. A number of those players were integral to the team that won the premiership on Saturday.
The second occurred this year, when faced with a lack of in-form tall players in the forward line Hardwick created a new method of handling the attack with one tall player and five small defensive players in the forward line. Not only has this system worked but now it is being copied by other teams.
4. HAVE THE COURAGE TO STAY THE COURSE
Sometimes things don’t go the way you expect. Last year Richmond finished 13th after three years of playing finals and there were calls for Hardwick to be sacked, the Board to be removed and even Captain Trent Cotchin came under fire.
Yes; definitely adjust as Richmond did but don’t over-correct and throw out what would work and lose the opportunities that you have. Richmond could’ve have gutted the team and wasted what they had built, but the courage shown to stay the course paid off on the weekend.
5. BUILD AN ATMOSPHERE PEOPLE WANT TO BE PART OF.
Richmond have built a club that people want to play for and want to be part of. We saw that when Dustin Martin resigned with the club just before the finals despite being offered more money to leave for North Melbourne, and we saw it on Grand Final with the number of players who talked about loving the playing group and the people they played with.
This comes from the top down at Richmond – as it always does. My wife for example was introduced to AFL about four years ago. She visited two other clubs, where we were using their function rooms to run events for one of our clients before coming to Punt Road Oval for the first time. The first person she walked past was a man in a suit who said “G’day guys how are you going today?”. She turned to me and asked who it was, when I replied that that was Brendon Gale the CEO she replied then I am a Tiger supporter now and this place is awesome. Even though we now live in Auckland she wears her scarf and cap with pride and watches every game.
6. LISTEN TO THE PEOPLE THAT MATTER
At the end of last year Damien Hardwick famously was pulled aside by his wife who told him to relax as he was not the man she had married. The result was a more confident and more relaxed leader who is now a Premiership coach. Thank you Mrs. Hardwick.
When it comes to running your business; every successful organization has lessons for us and these are six that can help you and your business.
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