We are at the table with Jim Barber, CEO and Vice-Chancellor of the University of New England (UNE), and Dave Schmude, Director of the UNE Sports Business Development Unit and SportUNE. Both men are passionate advocates of building bridges between sport and education and opening up new opportunities for university study.
UNE and the Parramatta Eels have formed an exciting partnership over the past two years. Tell us more about it?
Jim: For everyone, education is necessary in order to lead a full and productive life, whatever you do in life. And when it comes to sport, it has about every professional discipline that you can imagine. Sport is not just about the players running around the paddock; there is a great deal going on behind the scenes, including the medicine behind it, the financial and organisational aspects, and much more. All of that requires education.
So if you want to perform at your best on the field, when you think about this, you need a highly educated team behind you. Sport is big business and you can make a lucrative career out of it; it can be your whole life. We see our sponsorship of the Eels as a valuable partnership to build bridges between sport and education.
Dave: For UNE, and the wider community in this region, the partnership with the Eels creates all kinds of new opportunities. It gives us access to new markets and business possibilities which will help to make the university stronger, with a clear flow-on effect to the community at large. UNE is increasingly prominent in the marketing aspects of the Eels. This year, for example, UNE is on the front of the Eels playing jerseys and its training gear and apparel and is also highlighted at Parramatta Stadium to a national audience.
The Parramatta Eels are not just a Sydney team but also a national one, and UNE’s link provides a new form of extended exposure for the university and the New England region.
We know the Eels will be back in Armidale next week for their pre-season training camp. What will the week entail?
Dave: Yes, the Eels will call UNE and Armidale ‘home’ next week, and they will take full advantage of our exceptional training and sports science facilities. This is their second year in Armidale, and they have adopted the town as their regional centre.
Jim: Sports Science is all about producing the very best, bringing the best science there is to bear on sport and elite sports. We have assembled the best facilities, the best staff, and now we want the best students, and we want to be associated with the best players and elite athletes.
Dave: We are fortunate in Armidale to have fantastic sporting facilities, and the team will be able to take full advantage of these. They will have the opportunity to be living and training on campus, and there are very few places where a visiting sporting team can do this.
Jim: To have a national rugby league side in the New England region for a week gives our local community the opportunity to interact with players and see them in action. During the week there will be coaching clinics for school aged children, the showcase ‘Evening with the Eels’ dinner, and as the main event, the trial match.
The UNE Business School will also host a staff leadership development talk with Ricky Stuart as the guest speaker, which is a wonderful opportunity for our staff to hear from a well-known coach at an elite level.
The last NRL trial match held in Armidale was in 1993. What can we expect from this one?
Dave: Much has changed in the 20 years since the last trial match was hosted in Armidale: the pace of the game, the pressure on players, and a much larger fan base, particularly through the influence of TV and social media.
When Armidale hosts major sporting events, the community really gets behind them. In 2012 they came out in large numbers to support the event, and we are hoping this year is even bigger.
We believe that the Eels’ visit will show the great value of sport as a bridge to educational opportunity, and also, how a university initiative can benefit the entire community.
There are more than 2,000 tickets already sold for the game, and visitors are coming from around the region and beyond. There’s talk of buses coming from Moree, Gunnedah and surrounding areas, and these visitors may stay for a few days. The impact on tourism in the town will be substantial, with visitors eating, sleeping and shopping here in Armidale.
UNE is a strong advocate of tourism in Armidale. Its sporting events and activities based on campus have brought an estimated $14.1 million dollars into our local community over the past 5 years.
Jim: We see the UNE/Eels relationship as important, not only to UNE, but to all of the Armidale community. It offers both UNE and Armidale new exposure on a national level, highlighting our excellent sporting facilities and the beautiful New England region as a tourism destination and educational centre.
UNE’s connection with the Eels will be further strengthened this year, when we open our first ‘Future Campus’ in Parramatta to service the large number of Distance Education students we have in the Western Sydney region.
I know the Armidale community will make the Parramatta Eels players and staff feel welcome during their stay, and I hope the training camp sets them up for a successful season in 2013.
This article was published in issue 69 of New England Focus