Q&A: Chris O’Connor

In her latest series of interviews, Alex Russell sits down with Corporate Partnerships Executive Committee member Chris O’Connor to explore some of the off and on-field development at the Academy.


What is your role is the Football Academy?

Chris: I’m on the executive committee and my portfolio is corporate partnerships.


What is your background and experience with women’s football?

Chris: This is my sixth season of women’s football. The last five years I was with Diamond

Creek Women’s Football Club and I started there in the junior program when my daughter joined the club. I was on the committee for four years and senior Vice-President for the last two years. Due to our VFLW team, Diamond Creek was also a very important club for the area, and we set up Community Liaison Programs where our senior players went out to junior clubs and really drove the excitement around AFLW, so it was a really good time and I loved working at Diamond Creek.


In terms of your role at RMIT Women’s Football Academy, what type of work are you

hoping to do?

Chris: There are two broad roles I have; one is the corporate partnerships role where the Academy wants to establish strong partnerships with the commercial sector and with key premier bodies, for example the VAFA (Victorian Amateur Football Association) or the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association).


Since it is the Academy’s foundation year, the other role I have is establishing the polices and processes with the Exec, jointly working with the players and the coaches and develop the culture.


Is sponsorship important?

Chris: It is important. RMIT University has been fantastic in supporting us in the establishment phase, but the Exec has a really clear vision that we want to be as self-sustaining as possible. We see corporate partnerships as being really important and the due to the vision of the Academy, we are starting to have some significant conversations with corporates. They are attracted to the Academy focus on excellence and best practice supporting women’s sport both on and off the field. Furthermore, they like that the Academy is looking to share the knowledge gain from RMIT Faculties across sporting bodies as a service to the community. This often reflects their own values within their business.

What is the process for approaching sponsors/brands? Are there certain values that you look for?

Chris: Absolutely and values is a great term. Being the first year of the Academy, there’s not a lot of awareness of what we’re doing, so we’re talking to people about what we’re doing and developing the relationship. Some want to engage this year, but others maybe year two or three as our reputation for grows. Over time we see our corporate partners increasing as we align their values with the Academy’s.


How did the alliance with Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) come about?

Chris: A part of the corporate partnerships is profiling sporting organizations and identifying which organizations that we could develop a corporate partnership with this year. The GAA was an obvious organisation to contact, they are an international body; the Australasian GAA covers Australian and New Zealand has a national vision and the Victorian GAA is expanding and increasing player participation. When we spoke to the GAA both parties discussed their own vision and it was obvious that the connections between the organizations are compelling.


Whilst it is early in the relationship, we are already discussing the Academy extending its knowledge in sports science to include the GAA, the development of a RMIT Redbacks GAA team and establishing relationships with Irish Universities (RMIT has a sister relationship with Dublin University of Technology), Irish GAA Uni’s and sporting clubs. This relationship could include Irish female players who want to come to Australia for a year and learn how to play AFL will come to the Academy and also Academy players and RMIT students who go to Ireland to study and/or play GAA. We are very excited about the opportunities with the GAA.


Was it important to partner with other faculties in RMIT?

Chris: Absolutely critical because obviously the resources and the knowledge reside

within those Faculties. Sally Tanner has been critical in developing those relationships. What we’ve found is that the levels of support we’re getting from the Faculties is exceptional.


A great example is our media and comms team, which is working really well and reflects the Academy structure. It is providing professional content because of the experience of Ryan Mobilia as Director of Media and Communications, Callum as Manager and Alex managing media content. Exercise Science is providing Interns and in the last week Myotherapy and Osteopathy has agreed to providing a supervisor and a team of interns. There has also been communication with the Chinese Medicine faculty.


The Faculties see the opportunity for their interns to experience working in a semi-professional environment and we also will be developing research projects.


And finally, what are you most looking forward to for the Academy?

Chris: What I’m looking forward to is being part of a team that is creating something special that uses the resources of the unit in a way that benefits everyone, whether you’re an intern, manager, director or a player. Also, as it gets bigger, I see the community extension program where the knowledge of RMIT flow outs into the community and I suspect in time into elite sports, will be great. So, to me it’s the individuals getting a great benefit and then seeing what big things can happen because we’ve got RMIT behind us.

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