The Man Inside
Srdjan Miljanic, BA, MS


Organizational and Strategic Fundamentals

In one of my previous columns I’ve linked you with some of the water polo connected commercials in order to show you how the teams and clubs try to promote the water polo as a sport and improve the media attention which our sport desperately needs. This time I came up with some more, mostly from Hungary but there are clips from Serbia, Montenegro and Italy too.

As you can see, most if not all of the commercials rely on the national teams, and not really the clubs. Generally the popularity of this sport is very much dependent, least on the success of the national teams. That’s sadly the truth in most of the European countries, including Serbia and Croatia, where the clubs are constantly struggling to acquire media and sponsor attention despite the obviously great results by the national teams.

I started this topic regarding the possible creation of the professional league in the USA, which has been an online issue on waterpoloplanet’s site for the past few weeks. The problem of increasing the sports popularity is presenting serious problems for the development and success of professional leagues and pro clubs, which definitively do not have a great fan base. The commercials I showed might be used as an marker on how to figure out the ways of how companies might market, as well as maybe the commercialization of the pro league itself.

The very constructive discussion about PWPA creation incited me write something that could be useful and maybe interesting to anyone interested in this topic. What I would like to talk a bit this time are the models of club funding and 0201ownership structures in European countries, in order to show you transfer you some of the experiences from Europe. Maybe the biggest difference between professional sport club organization between USA and Europe in general is that there is really a small number of privately owned clubs. That’s not only in water polo, but also in other sports. But turning back to water polo I believe (and I might be mistaken), that only VK “Maximus Cattaro” from Kotor is a privately owned and organized club.  The fact is that it is probably the youngest professional team in Europe, considering that it’s been founded only 2 years ago by the well known water polo family VICEVIC and a group of businessmen from Kotor.    Other than that the majority of the clubs are typical sport societies or similar organizational forms.

In the ex socialist countries (such as Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Montenegro), the privatization of sport clubs in far from over, and it is basically only a theoretical concept. The clubs are established as so called “societies of the citizens”. They have the president, the executive and supervising board and a technical and/or sport director. The thing that clubs usually do not have is the ownership of the facilities (pools, gyms…). Some of the clubs do own their own pools, but in most cases they’re only the users of the premises. Most often, the main funding comes actually from the municipalities and cities where the clubs are based, and that is one of the reasons why do they develop in smaller and less sport competitive areas. If we take a look on the water polo map of Europe, we can easily see that the only big cities where we can say the top professional water polo exists are Barcelona, Budapest, Belgrade and Zagreb (which again we cannot define as the biggest urban centers in EU). On the other side there are a lot of examples of suburb developed pro teams, with great results and a solid results (Olympiakos and Vouliagmeni – near Athens, Schturm Chechow – near Moscow, Pro Recco, Savona, - near Genoa, Sabadell, Mattaro, - suburbs of Barcelona, etc..).

Sometimes the municipal funding is sufficient to cover the general budget needs, but in most cases that is not the enough, 03and then the sponsor firms are to be found. The best solution is when clubs manage to find a big general sponsor (like banks, assurance or telecom companies…). This way the top sponsor usually covers one third or half of a budget, getting the place in the executive board and normally being the most marketed and promotionally exploited company. The most common, upon obtaining the general sponsor, is to change the clubs name (which I don’t really appreciate because you lose the clubs identity in one way) or pin a sponsor name on the existing well known and established club name (Partizan Reiffeisen, Teva Vasas Plaket, Jug Croatia Osiguranje, Honved Domino, Szeged Beton, Jadran CKB…). It is evident that the problem is a small fan base and media exploitation potential and interest in water polo.

04Another popular way of organization are the private sport/leisure clubs. This way of functioning is most popular in Spain and in some areas in France. The basic idea is that there exists a great sport based organization, which gathers around 06its facilities their members. Members pay monthly or yearly membership fees, from which the clubs are financed. I’ll give you some examples. The sport society of Sabadell in the suburbs of Barcelona is one of the biggest sport societies in Spain. It has over 30,000 members who can use sport facilities which contain several indoor and outdoor pools, sport arenas, football grounds etc… Water polo club Sabadell is a good club, usually in the top of the Spanish league and with stable financing situation. Another Spanish example is Barcelonetta, which works on the same concept 05has an indoor swimming pool on the city beach of Barcelona 50metres away from their biggest rivals water polo club Barcelona. What about a curiosity for a rivalry! Interestingly, Barcelonetta usually plays its games on weekends at noon, when most of the members are supposed to be present in the facilities relaxing and with possibility to watch a game before lunch. This is also needed because there is a great offer of sports in Barcelona where soccer and basketball have 99% of the sport attention.

07The example of a Marseille is France is similar to previous two clubs. The Cercle de Nageurs de Marseille represents one of the oldest private club organization in France. It has a beautiful multi-pool complex on a rock overseeing the port and the beaches of Marseille. The club is mostly financed by the members, but of course everybody is allowed to come and watch the games. Marseille has been French champion for 5 consecutive years and a regular participant of the Euroleague. 

The absence of mass popularity and renewed sponsors is really seen during these hard economic times. Most of the clubs, both big and small are facing problems closing their budget structures. Some of the big European club were forced to quit European competitions even before they started (like Sibenik from Croatia, who was due to play in the Euroleague this season, but instead, they backed off because of the lack of resources). Others are dealing with big problems and delays in payroll, even in the best clubs like the European champion Primorac where players didn’t receive salaries for months. Generally most teams have cut the amounts of contracts in order to stay solvent, but that is not the case only in water polo, we can see that happening in all sports.

Concluding this column, I would like to add a short overview of the water polo development strategy written by one of the biggest Serbian and world experts in the field of training and organization, Mr. Nenad MANOJLOVIC couple of years ago, for the purpose of revitalizing the Serbian water polo organization and clubs. It contains several analyses of the existing situation and proposals for improvement. I think that this could also be useful in defining the club and federation models of work, and bring to the general improvement of the game. 

  1. Clubs

    It is necessary to clearly separate the managerial structures from the technical and coaching staff. Everybody should do its job. The federation should and needs to help the clubs in their development, but it is necessary that each club management create their own strategies and ambitions. I’m afraid that the management often doesn’t have a clear attitude about what do they want to achieve and how to achieve that. Very often we come across the “dead sea”, where people protect themselves, they stick to their positions, and they search the ways of improving more theoretically than substantially.

  2. Work with junior categories

    The system that once existed is lost in a way, but it is very important that all of the clubs work in the same way with their young players. Here we come across with the questions who are the coaches in the clubs and with what knowledge do they stand in front of the kids. The federation’s obligation is to find the ways to license and uniform really the ones who are worthy, to point to them the necessity of the systematic work, creation of databases of all players, submitting the plans for the future periods and result summarization after its expiration. We are now the witnesses that certain schools work without any control in the sense of technical expertise. All of us together, clubs as well as the federation need to introduce seriousness in that way of functioning. Trainer and club licensing, following the results on the competitions, participation in camps are all important elements of the future work. We have a list of coaches on which we should focus our attention, but the level of their knowledge needs to be way, way higher.

  3. Competition system

    We are searching for the best model. There must be a balance between the training process and the competition. We introduce new categories and especially insist on camps. We created position based camps, and selected a group of over 50 players who will be continuously tracked. On the senior level we formed a regional league from which we expect multiple benefits. Clubs will have tough games, and on the other hand, water polo will get on promotion, managements will have bigger possibilities in their marketing plans.

  4. Referees

    We don’t have a uniform style of refereeing and we have to work on that much more in the future, especially now when the Serbian refs are going to work more and more on the international scene. Introducing the refereeing instructors should be a very useful move. Our goal is to have a recognizable Serbian refereeing style, and that all the clubs and players could know what to expect when the Serbian refs whistle. That’s the way Hungarians operate, and there’s no problem with that.

  5. Coaches

    The quality of the Serbian coaches needs to be much higher. It is encouraging that there exists the will for learning, but we must have on the pools the experts of such caliber that they are capable of being actually the teachers. There are again a lot of ideas such as forming the “wondering coaches”, where our most eminent coaches could practically patrol the clubs, counseling, giving seminars… Being a coach is a r more serious business than you thin it is. They are educators, pedagogues and not only mare transferors of the water polo know how, which they often do not have enough themselves. The coaching staff is relatively heterogenic in this moment, with a different level of the real quality.

  6. Parents

    Wishing to help their kids, parents could become easily the disturbing factor. It is not easy to downsize the parent’s ambitions on reasonable measure. But through a constant contact, there is a need to explain them their role in the creation of their child’s personality through sport and the dangers which could arrive if they don’t realize what is really expected from them as players. The parents need to let their kids play, to develop themselves the natural way.

[Click the photo of Srdjan to learn more about his water polo experiences .]