In September 2006 Professional Public Relations WA was commissioned by the Western Australian Government’s Major Stadia Taskforce, through the Department of Sport and Recreation, to develop and implement an extensive stakeholder communications plan that would achieve widespread community support for the building of a new, multi-purpose outdoor sports stadium.
The Taskforce’s work was undertaken against a backdrop a culture of sporting organisations with strong self-interests and a community looking to the Government to replace an ageing football stadium.
During the next 15 months PPR worked with the Taskforce Chair, Members and Executive Support Team to win the hearts and minds of community, sporting and media stakeholders to convince the State Government of the need for a new major multi-purpose stadium to meet the community’s sporting, social, and cultural needs.
The success of the campaign culminated in the announcement by Western Australian Premier Alan Carpenter on 8 February 2008 that the State Government would build a new $1.1 billion facility in Subiaco.
The announcement was universally welcomed and Professional Public Relations Western Australia is a key member of the Project Team and is now progressing intensive communication strategies for the planning and construction phases of this major community infrastructure project.
The Major Stadia Taskforce was established in July 2005 to review the existing state of the major stadia and develop a plan to service the State’s needs for the next 15 to 20 years.
The Taskforce presented an interim report to the State Government in June 2006 which recommended a new multi-purpose outdoor stadium be investigated at two locations:
- East Perth - a highly visible greenfield site beside the Swan River with exceptional development potential
- Kitchener Park - adjacent to the existing Subiaco Oval.
For Perth to remain competitive it needed to have a major stadium in place to successfully bid against other states for significant sporting and cultural events.
The Taskforce was faced with a myriad of issues that had to be overcome before it could present final recommendations. These issues included:
- fragmented and ad hoc sports facility planning for many decades
- sporting organisations that demanded the Government provide them with exclusive-use facilities
- a dominant single sport with extensive political, business and social networks
- an emerging sport that required new facilities
- an established sport that used “tradition” as part of its public identity
- residential and community groups that were organised, media savvy and had local political support .
On appointment, PPR initiated and facilitated internal workshops with the
Taskforce, enhanced by external stakeholder discussions, to fully examine key issues, identify opinion leaders and trends and determine relevant messaging.
This research revealed the extensive range of stakeholder groups which would require individual communication strategies to engage, inform and influence opinion leaders on an ongoing basis.
PPR determined at an early stage that the relationship between the Taskforce and the Office of the Minister for Sport and Recreation was of critical importance to achieving the support of State Cabinet for the project.
Detailed and long-standing relationships between media and individual sports and other opinion influencers were examined in order to achieve successful engagement at all levels.
Extensive research was undertaken of major media commentators and reporters to gauge their level of interest and their position on the stadium issue. This research informed the communications strategy and provided a clear communications pathway with this group.
Target publics were divided into groups, organisations and individuals to determine the best methods of engagement and opportunities to gain their support. Four significant target groups were identified and which received focused attention:
- The State Government
The State Government was identified as the main communications target group. While the Government had shown that it was prepared to commission a Taskforce to provide advice on the State’s major stadia needs into the future, there was a level of uncertainty surrounding the Government’s willingness to commit to building a new stadium.
- Stadium Users and Patrons
Sporting peak bodies such as the WA Football Commission, Rugby WA, WA Rugby League, and the Western Australian Cricket Association were identified as key targets. This group also included their supporters who are patrons at current venues and would benefit from the improved amenity at a new stadium.
The media was identified as a key stakeholder group rather than considering them merely a means to a communication end. This strategy to utilise their influence in the community debate over the state of current facilities and the need to spend considerable public funds in the future was key to the success of the campaign. Detailed and long-standing relationships between media and individual sports and other opinion influencers were examined in order to achieve successful engagement at all levels. (Refer Appendix B)
- Local Government
Three local governments were identified as having a stake in a decision to build a new stadium. The City of Subiaco has been home to Subiaco Oval for a century and clearly did not wish to lose the connection with sport, while the Town of Vincent, a progressive and sport friendly community, expressed interest in a stadium located on the proposed river foreshore site.
PPR developed a comprehensive communications strategy that included targeted political engagement, stakeholder consultation; media engagement and management, online communications tools, written collateral, targeted key messages to stakeholder groups, and event management.
The core strategy was simple: engage with stakeholders regularly and tell them how a new stadium would benefit the Western Australian community.
- The Taskforce is committed to delivering the best option for the people of WA.
- For too many years, Western Australia’s stadium needs have been driven by individual agendas and poor planning.
- Past decision making has been driven by particular interests – this has created the problems we face today.
- If we repeat the ‘old thinking’ – the ways of the past – we will end up with more of the problems we’re facing now – each sport pushing its own case to the detriment of the sports fans who are left with a less than optimal spectator experience.
- The Taskforce is looking at the broader requirements of all sports and the needs of sporting spectators and is taking a long-term view.
- Subiaco Oval, the WACA Ground and Members Equity stadium — are all under-utilised and financially unsustainable.
- We have two of the best AFL teams in the country – and we have the worst stadium in Australia.
- Perth sports fans deserve the best possible stadium.
- A new stadium will enable Perth to attract more international events.
PPR established a core team that worked daily with the Taskforce to identify relevant issues, milestones and communication requirements. Other consultants were utilised as required to help execute engagement plans.
PPR’s tasks throughout 2007 included:
- providing strategic advice, briefing notes and communication plans to the Major Stadia Taskforce, Department of Sport and Recreation, Minister for Sport and Recreation and the Premier
- organising briefings for local government and community groups at the two potential stadium locations including public meetings
- engaging directly with media on a long-term basis; preparing materials and advice for Taskforce briefings to media
- preparing written materials and direct communication with service providers to establish a dedicated website for the Stadium Project
- developing and distributing a community survey designed to determine the level of current satisfaction with existing facilities and public requirements for a future multi-purpose stadium
- organising a major media event for the Taskforce to release its Final report and Recommendations
- preparing a detailed communications plan for the State Government’s announcement of the Stadium project go-ahead immediately after delivery of the Final Report.
Release of the Major Stadia Final Report
In May 2007 the Major Stadia Taskforce released its Final Report attracting intensive media interest.
The proposal for a new stadium captured the media and public imagination and the State Government started a thorough examination of the Final Report and intensive negotiations with key sporting stakeholders.
The Project Team commissioned PPR to continue development of advanced communication plans in preparation for a potential future announcement on the site development.
During this period PPR worked intensively with the Project Team to write the communications plan and collateral materials that would be required to give the State Government confidence in making a major investment decision (refer Appendix B).
PPR also helped plan and execute a strategy to ensure supporters of the Taskforce’s recommendations within the sporting and business communities and media were heard publicly and by government.
State Announces Site for New Stadium
On 8 February 2008 Premier Alan Carpenter announced that the State Government would build a new $1.1billion multi-purpose outdoor stadium at Kitchener Park in Subiaco.
The new stadium would replace the old Subiaco Oval which would be demolished as part of a two-stage construction process over five years. The 60,000 seat stadium would have the capacity to expand to 70,000 seats in the future.
In his announcement Premier Carpenter acknowledged the widespread consensus that had been achieved through the Taskforce and Project Team.
In evaluating the key goals and objectives as stated in Section 3, PPR's role in this campaign was significant.
- Gathering and presenting to government evidence of widespread community support for the development of a major new facility.
PPR provided comprehensive media relations services to facilitate the flow of information to the community through identified media channels. PPR clearly saw these media stakeholders key to the Government understanding the community's disenchantment with current facilities and the benefit in developing a new facility.
- Convincing the State Government that significant new capital expenditure was required to address the State’s lack of vital sporting facilities.
Drawing on the evidence gathered by the Taskforce, PPR developed key messages to be used by the Taskforce chairman in all formal and causal meetings with Government representatives, agencies and for media appearances prior to the release of the Final Report. This strategy was key to the Government being prepared for the Taskforce's major recommendation to invest significant new capital into a new facility. (Refer Appendix B)
- Encouraging the main sporting organisations to set aside historical differences and work together to achieve the best outcome for the community by developing a single, major facility that would be independently operated.
PPR's strategic advice resulted in negative campaigns conducted by sporting organisations resulted being abandoned. In fact, the campaigns failed to generate traction among the organisations' own stakeholder groups. The AFL was compelled to step in on behalf of the WA Football Commission to broker an agreement with the Government.
- Convincing sporting, political and local community media, many of whom hold personal and long-standing relationships with specific sports, of the veracity of the Taskforce’s recommendations and the need for a unified approach to facility development.
PPR built on the established profile and credibility of the Taskforce Chair to undertake stakeholder engagement and all media appearances. This provided a high calibre commentator who spoke with authority on the work of the Taskforce and its recommendations to the State Government.
- Managing the expectations and concerns of local communities and councils in two separate areas to ensure they were prepared, but not alarmed, by potential future development plans.
PPR's successful strategy of ensuring resident and community groups were provided with ongoing opportunities to present their issues directly to the Taskforce fostered a high degree of trust and confidence in the work of the Taskforce and its final recommendations to the Government.
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PPR is now part of the Project Team that is planning more detailed engagement with residents and businesses affected by the construction process as well as sporting organisations that will benefit from the increased revenue generated by the new stadium.