After kicking off the year crowning another batch of National Champions, followed by a particularly important edition of the Australia Pacific Cup, 2020 looked like one to remember.
The tournament was an Olympic preview with four of the six nations qualified for the Tokyo Olympic Games competing at Blacktown. We had every reason to be excited for another strong result at the Olympic Games.
We stepped up the Summer Slam – Fully Loaded Softball broadcast with our new production partners Sports Entertainment Media (SEN) and this year featured a stack of up-and-coming talent along with our Travelodge Aussie Spirit stars.
I was incredibly proud of our Junior Steelers for bringing home a Silver Medal in the WBSC U18 Men’s Softball World Cup in Palmerston North; little did we know it would be the final international meeting the WBSC would host for the year.
Of course, we were not immune to the unprecedented ramifications of the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and like the rest of the world we were forced to make some difficult decisions around events and will continue to do so with the best interests of our members at the core of those decisions.
Undoubtedly the biggest blow came to our Travelodge Aussie Spirit squad members who, after waiting 12 years to return to the Olympic cycle, were handed another 12 months wait following the postponement of Tokyo 2020 by the International Olympic Committee.
The resilience and positivity from the playing group has been incredible to see. After coming so close and getting knocked back for another year, the players and staff chose to see this as an opportunity to add 12 more months of preparation rather than kicking stones.
I’m sure we’ll see this attitude pay off in the long run with another fantastic result come July 2021.
Back home, the pandemic has led to the cancellation of more events than we would’ve hoped, both at a state and national level.
What was encouraging to see from this unfortunate situation was the cooperation between Member States to ensure every avenue was investigated before making a decision. These have not been easy decisions to make, but once again, they’ve been made with the safety and well-being of our stakeholders as a priority.
Staff members across the Member States and National Office have worked incredibly hard through difficult circumstances and I’m proud of each and every one of them and the commitment they’ve shown to keep the game going.
As we began to learn how to operate under the new ‘COVID Normal’, Softball Australia launched the #BackOnBase Grants campaign, which was launched in August and aimed to encourage Clubs to apply for a grant ranging from AU$200 – AU$1,000, with $60,000 to be used for innovative participation and retention initiatives. I’m thrilled that we saw an overwhelming response from Clubs across the country, all with varying ideas and initiatives.
The committee established to select successful applicants were able to award 98 Clubs either their full, or a portion of their requested funds with over 70% of applications receiving a grant.
That’s shown us the appetite is there at a grassroots level where volunteers are willing to put in the hard yards to help grow the game, and we look forward to bringing you similar initiatives in 2021.
Further to growing our game, we are so excited to begin operating under the ‘One Softball’ governance model with Softball ACT already on board and discussions well underway with other states.
One Softball is about equipping Member States with the extra tools and shared services to allow more focus on increasing the growth of the game, from local weekend competition, all the way to world championship competition.
It will enable the sport to grow membership by allocating resources more efficiently as well as introducing additional staff, specifically in the participation space.
Some of the key areas the sport will see a concerted effort to improvement under One Softball include:
- Growing the sport and addressing the long-term membership challenge;
- Ensuring long-term financial sustainability;
- Ensuring a consistent and coordinated approach to the experience of everyone involved in softball;
- Delivering improved services to Members, Clubs, Associations and the wider softball community by building capability and capacity at all levels of the sport, and;
- Increasing revenue through the pooling of all commercial assets from the States and the National body resulting in increased attractiveness to commercial partners for marketing and brand building purposes.
This is an incredibly exciting development for our sport, we can’t wait to start equipping ourselves with the right tools to take softball to another level, starting in 2021.
Importantly, we’ve retained the commercial support of some key sponsors including TFE Hotels through the Travelodge Brand, SONIQ, Kumho Tyres, and East Coast Car Rentals as well as securing new partnerships with Zena, Belgravia Leisure, Winning Edge, GAME Clothing and an all new and improved broadcast deal with FOX SPORTS Australia.
To have secured their support in such a tumultuous year for sport gives us a great indication that softball is on the right path to grow in Australia.
We have so much to look forward to in the next 12 months, and while our summer is shaping up to look very different, there are so many encouraging signs for our great game both on and off the diamond.
Thank you all for your understanding, support and above all else, resilience in these past 12 months.
We look forward to working hard to make softball bigger and better 2021.
All the best for the holiday break and I can’t wait to share more exciting developments with you early in the new year.
Chief Executive Officer