I manage a sportsground

There are hundreds of sports grounds in the Crown estate, ranging from paddocks with goal posts to the Sydney Cricket Ground. Some are single-purpose, such as tennis courts, while many are multi-purpose sports fields with facilities for activities other than sports. Crown land managers (CLMs) are equally diverse, and include local councils, corporations and statutory land managers comprised of local community members.

Some key considerations for managing a sportsground:

  • Like most Crown reserves, sports grounds depend on staff, contractors, volunteers and others to operate. Learn more about recruiting and managing workers and volunteers.
  • The nature of activities and number of visitors using sports ground facilities means risk management and health and safety are core management issues.
  • With potentially many users and varied activities, make sure you have adequate public liability and personal accident cover for visitors, volunteers and other workers.
  • You will need to obtain funding and come up fundraising ideas. At a minimum you’ll need funds to maintain the facilities, and more again for upgrades or developments.
  • You can grant leases and licences for certain activities. When appropriate, issuing a licence to regular users can pass responsibility from the CLM to the user.

Lessons from the Orange Waratah Sports Club

The Orange Waratah Sports Club (OWSC) provides quality sporting and recreational opportunities through its playing fields and facilities, club house and bistro. It’s mostly funded by the sports club members and users of the grounds and facilities, ensuring that the commitment to the community is both financially beneficial and sustainable. An estimated 100,000 visitors access OWSC's Crown land grounds annually.

The OWSC won the Crown Reserve Corporate Crown Land Manager Award at the 2018 Regional Achievement and Community Awards. Patrick Allen, volunteer business advisor to the CLM, shared his insights on some of the issues and challenges facing sports ground CLMs.

Orange Waratah Sports Club’s ‘Dad’s Army’ of volunteers - credit Jim Dunworth

Managing the conflicting requirements and demands of a diverse user-base. 

“We have many separate user groups that sometimes have conflicting needs for playing and training space, scheduling and improvement/development priorities", explains Patrick.

“While the groups are, in the main, understanding and tolerant of other users’ needs, there are times when not everything can happen at the same time. Resources and facilities are stretched when multiple events are happening.

“All regular OWSC users have their own needs and wish lists. Prioritising improvements is a challenge, as most people think of themselves first.”

Developing and maintaining grounds and facilities without breaking the bank.

“Our grounds maintenance volunteers are ageing. If we can’t replace them, costs for this vital function will need to be met from other sources", says Patrick.

“OWSC currently funds day-to-day maintenance of grounds from its own licensed club coffers and the in-kind contributions from a dedicated group of volunteers. An annual grant from Orange City Council has been used to maintain equipment and to assist in the maintenance of grounds and surrounds. This agreement ends this year and we hope this will be extended.”

For new developments and facilities, the club relies on grants, mostly from the NSW Office of Sport, the Crown reserves improvement fund (CRIF), and other specialty grants.

“Often these are provided on a dollar-for-dollar basis which, while appreciated, adds additional strain on the sports club and users to commit time and money”, says Patrick.

“Crown land managers should investigate the various grants available, as some are very specific to particular users and/or activities. Your local member of parliament is a good place to start this research.”

Planning and development legislative requirements

“Obtaining (and paying for) various council and state legislative requirements for planning and development [link to page] is a minefield. Having strong relationships with governing bodies is essential”, says Patrick.

Health and safety of workers and visitors

Having 100,000+ visitors annually means the club's liability insurance must be adequate and up to date, and likewise for insurance to cover volunteers.

Patrick’s top tips for managing a Crown reserve sports ground

Develop a ‘one-direction’ approach to management/direction of the reserve, where all users are encouraged to contribute to the end result, rather than their own interests.

“This means working for the overall benefits – first class facilities and sport and recreation opportunities – rather than vested interests of different users”, explains Patrick. “The OWSC Board of Directors has made this approach a priority in its 2019–20 management plan.”

Put it in writing.

Have firm, written, agreements/contracts with regular users that outline what they receive from you (the Crown land manager) and what they are required to contribute (financial/in-kind).

Establish a user-pays scheme for irregular users of the facilities. 

Using Crown land should be encouraged, but users need to be aware of the costs to maintain and develop the facilities, and the need for their contribution.

“We have a grounds use agreement for all non-regular users, for example, schools, representative sports teams and private training providers”, says Patrick. “The cost to use the grounds/facilities varies according to the time its used for, numbers of people and so on.

“Often we’ll provide grounds/facilities at no charge for charities, disabilities groups and community days. But even when there is no cost to the user, we prepare a ground use agreement that spells out the user’s obligations (insurance, behaviour, etc) and provides an indicative cost of what the hire fee could have been.”

Promote what you do. 

“Tell everyone what you do”, says Patrick. "This further strengthens your position as a responsible corporate citizen. This helps when you’re negotiating funding, for example.

“We include a clause in the grounds use agreement, particularly where the facilities have been donated, asking the user to acknowledge OWSC in media articles.”

Establish and foster your allies. 

“Think about who can help you, whether it be financially, politically or through other expertise”, suggests Patrick.

In 2014 OWSC entered an agreement with Orange City Council, which provides for funding to the club to assist with grounds maintenance. In return, the OWSC-managed grounds/facilities are a vital component in the city’s overall sport and recreation presence.

“OWSC has also developed a strong relationship with the local Crown lands office for the purpose of obtaining advice/assistance”, says Patrick.

“We liaise regularly with local, state and national government representatives to pursue opportunities and to navigate the legislative mire. In return for their assistance, we acknowledge their support.”

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