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Students emerge as leaders in sports media landscape - 27/05/2011

When business and journalism students from Southern Cross University started a blog about football (soccer), little did they imagine 12 months on it would capture the support of fans Australia-wide and pit them against prominent football broadcaster Les Murray at an awards ceremony next week.

The Football Sack (www.thefootballsack.com) has been nominated as a finalist in four categories in the FFDU (Footy Fans Down Under) Australian Football Supporters Awards on June 3 in Sydney: Football Website of the Year; Football/Supporters Best Use of Social Media; Blogger of the Year; and Football Podcast of the Year.

Co-founder and chief-of-staff Christian Layland, who is studying a Bachelor of Business majoring in sports management, is both thrilled and honoured.

“In most of our categories, the final three are Four Four Two Australia (football magazine), The World Game (SBS football program) and The Football Sack,” said Christian.

“And I think that’s really representative of the top three football media organisations in Australia.”

Number one fan, former Socceroo and SBS football commentator Craig Foster, agreed.

“There’s no question that they’ve built their followership very strongly. They have a great brand. Everyone in football knows about them,” Foster said.

How The Football Sack established itself as a sports journalism player is a story of passion, drive and ingenuity.

Christian and friend Matt Greenlaw went to an A-League match last year on the Gold Coast, but it was a post-game broadcast that intrigued them the most.

“The commentators were picking up on everything we said during the game so I thought we’ve got a bit of a knack for analysis here. We said then we should start up a website to use our talents,” Christian said.

The Football Sack blog was born and within a week it featured on the Sydney FC website.

“That brought some Sydney traffic in and then when the World Cup (2010 in South Africa) came around we set up a Twitter account and did live commentary on games, linked back to our website, and we got more hits and more traffic.”

The Sack’s A-League and World Cup podcasts were first recorded during this time in the Southern Cross University’s radio studio, thanks to journalism student Jack Quigley, who already had a Bachelor of Sports Tourism Management degree under his belt.

“Our podcasts were pretty successful on the website but once we got them on iTunes it just went gangbusters,” said Jack.

Within the first half a dozen episodes they made the sports podcast top 25.

“We joked on the show, ’spread the word everyone, let’s try and knock Hamish and Andy off the number one spot’. And about two episodes later we were the number one show on iTunes,” he said.

With demand growing for more content Christian approached universities with journalism courses in cities with A-League teams and recruited final year students who wanted some hands-on experience.

“It was brilliant and it works both ways. The students get experience they can list on their resumes and we get high quality articles. Now we have 25 people around Australia and New Zealand,” Christian said.

And it has been a launching pad for careers, too, with some of the interstate writers getting jobs at the Newcastle Jets and Sydney FC.

“That’s what we’re about. We’re about the exposure of football in Australia and also helping aspiring journalists get that break,” Christian said.

He said fan interaction was important.

“Craig Foster, the Melbourne Heart and Sydney FC, have all said on Twitter we’re the best Australian football commentators. Our fans can comment on what we’re saying, we comment back. Also we listen to what our fans are saying and we take that feedback, positive and negative, and make changes to improve what we do.”

Craig Foster praised them for using social media to build fan culture in Australia.

“When you go on Twitter you are essentially looking for several things: opinions – from the main personalities in the game, analysts or the former players or coaches - but you’re looking for up-to-date results and live commentary through games,” Foster said.

“That’s one thing The Football Sack has done really exceptionally well.”

The Football Sack has more than 2000 followers on Twitter.

Christian and Jack credited their business degrees for The Football Sack’s success.

“I’ll do a class and within an hour I’ll implement the theory into The Football Sack. That’s how relevant it is to what I’m doing,” said Christian.

Particularly in developing the skills to be a media manager said Jack.

“If we can make the clubs happy by saying all the right things in terms of what the clubs will get out of dealing with us then I think it’s no coincidence we have received a lot of cooperation from them and the A-League.”

Gaining media accreditation with Football Federation Australia and being an official media partner of Football Federation Victoria prove The Football Sack is the real deal.

Wearing his business hat, Jack observed they are still in the establishment phase of their organisation’s lifecycle model.

“We haven’t hit the ‘growth’ phase yet, so to have gone this far without hitting the point where it’s supposed to really take off just goes to show when it gets to ‘growth’ there’ll be exciting times ahead for us.”


Photo: The Football Sack’s Jack Quigley (left) with co-founder and chief-of-staff Christian Layland in the Southern Cross University radio studio at Lismore.

Awards: The FFDU (Footy Fans Down Under) Australian Football Supporters Awards are on Friday night June 3 in Sydney. Details at www.ffdu.net/ffdu/posts/ffdu-awards

Media contact: Sharlene King, media officer, Southern Cross University Lismore, 02 6620 3508 or 0429 661 349.


For further information, please contact:
Communications and Publications
Southern Cross University
PO Box 157 • Lismore NSW 2480 • Australia
T +61 2 6659 3006 or +61 2 66203508 • e scumedia@scu.edu.auw www.scu.edu.au/scunews