Other Sport: Otago sports bodies feeling the squeeze

Arguably, the humble sausage has played no small part in inspiring some of the country's best athletes.

The spare change it has liberated from pockets over the years has helped to fund countless trips and provide opportunities for everyone from future All Blacks to the Kaikorai Under-10s.

Behind every snag has been an army of volunteers giving up their time to help raise funds - they remain, but not in the same numbers, and there is a limit to what the sausage can fund.

It is a costly business delivering sport to the community, without, in most cases, a corresponding rise in grants and sponsorship.

That has left many of the country's sporting bodies feeling the pinch economically.

While Otago sides have tended to punch above their weight, some of the biggest struggles are now being fought in the boardroom.

Five of the province's major sporting bodies returned a loss in the last financial year.

The Otago Rugby Football Union incurred the biggest loss, with $1,500,424 wiped from its books.

Netball Otago lost $109,785, the Otago Cricket Association $86,846, Basketball Otago $10,953 and Soccersouth $9121.

Of the five, only the ORFU and Soccersouth remain in the black with respective equity of $5,650,009 and $13,357.

Basketball Otago and the OCA have dipped into the red, and Netball Otago's big loss has left it with negative equity of $64,154.

There is no suggestion any of the five bodies cannot meet their obligations or are on the verge of financial ruin.

But they are all certainly tightening their belts and looking for innovative ways of cutting costs.

Dr David Lont is a senior lecturer in accountancy and business law at the University of Otago.

His assessment, after having a look at the organisations' financial reports, was that most were "doing a very good job trying to keep their organisation alive for their members but finding it tough".

"They have to start thinking outside the square here," he said.

"Is there a chance [for example] that Netball Otago and Basketball Otago can share some of their resources and some of their marketing ideas rather than reinvent the wheel each time for each body?"

Anywhere you can make sensible cost savings and get more bang out of your buck has to be a good idea."

It is an interesting idea and one OCA chief executive Ross Dykes shares.

"It has always been a bit of a contest but maybe we need to explore how we could work together," Dykes said.

"As it gets difficult for all sports we should be looking at ways where various sports can get together and help each other. There has got to be some synergies between the coaching of cricket or netball, rugby or football."

Dykes said cricket was in a privileged position because it received such good support from the national body.

The OCA had also bucked the trend and increased income from sponsorship without experiencing a decline in funding from the gaming trusts, and it had "streamlined its delivery of cricket".

But an increase in operating costs had offset any gain, and it remained a struggle to find the resources to fund the game.

ORFU chief executive Richard Reid points out there is only so much cost-cutting you can do when you are in the business of delivering sport to the community.

"Most of the fixed cost is around stuff that is associated with the sport, whether it be coaching or development or representative costs. So you can't just say we're going to stop doing that," he said.

With rugby so readily available on TV, traditional sources of income such as gate takings were in decline, and sponsorship, particularly in a city like Dunedin with a relatively small commercial sector, was increasingly competitive.

"Sponsorship is always a challenge . . . particularly down here," Reid said.

"Head offices of whatever businesses that are here are normally in Sydney or Melbourne or Auckland, so it is pretty easy for them to say `No'."

Fixed costs and variable incomes meant sporting bodies could rapidly move into deficit, but could also turn it around just as quickly.

It could be a hand-to-mouth existence, Lont said.

It was not so important for sports organisations to make a net profit because they were not in the game of making surpluses, he said.

But a surplus would help put money back into the sport and cover the lean years.

For Basketball Otago chief executive Mark Rogers, establishing a cash reserve is important but impractical when every dollar is being tugged at from competing needs in the organisation.

Basketball was enjoying good growth at the grassroots level but the Nuggets franchise remained a drain on the organisation.

"We are spending every dollar as wisely as we can," he said.

"But we have demands from all parts of the organisation for more resources so it is about measuring where we put the money, and which is going to give us the best return.

"It is a big commitment fielding a franchise and it is not something that is taken lightly. But there are a lot of intangible benefits we get from having the franchise."

The flipside of the growth Basketball Otago was experiencing was that it had to find more money, provide the basketballs, the coaching and rent the court space.

No-one wanted to scale back on the service they provided, Soccersouth acting general manager Wilson James said, but unless the body could increase its revenue streams, that could be on the cards.

"Any organisation has to live within its means, whether it is a household, a business and national sporting body, otherwise long term there will be severe financial repercussions," James said.

"You have to draw a line in the sand and say we need to have surpluses.

"We have a weak financial position. We pay all our bills and meet our obligations. But for an organisation our size we need to have ten, twenty, thirty thousand dollars of working capital in the bank."

Like most sports, football relied heavily on its volunteers.

In the lower grades parents still took turns washing the shirts and buying the oranges, but that volunteer base was dwindling, he said.

"There are a lot of other competing activities . . . that weren't mainstream 20 years ago.

"People have less time to do the volunteer roles. People still want the physical activity and the fun and friendship with their team-mates but they don't really want the strings attached."

Netball Otago regional manager Nicki Paterson agrees.

People were drifting away from organised competition at senior level in favour of social competitions and were less inclined to volunteer, she said.

"I think it is harder to attract volunteers, just because life is different. People are working on weekends instead of playing sport. But our centres are working hard to keep those people involved as much as they can."

Anecdotally, there is some evidence to suggest as sport has become more professionally organised, people have become alienated, feel a reduced sense ownership of clubs and teams, and are therefore less inclined to volunteer.

Perhaps there is also an element of people being too intimidated to get involved and preferring to leave it to the paid professionals.

Either way it is a challenge for sporting bodies to overcome.

With finances an ongoing struggle, the last thing sport can afford is to lose its volunteer base.

What role, if any, the Government should play, remains up for debate.

Sport is an integral part of the community.

It keeps the population healthy, it fosters social ties and, arguably, nothing unifies a nation more.

"I think there is a social benefit of sport and the Government does provide a certain level of funding," Lont said.

"But the question is whether it is adequate funding given the pressure they are under.

"Society would be far less rich if we didn't have sporting organisations and all these people who help out on a voluntary basis.

"Is it time that some of the pressure was taken off these organisations who are working basically on a shoestring trying to provide services to the community?"

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