In futsal, the conventional approach to building a successful club involves finding a wealthy benefactor and using all the investment to secure the best players. This has been proven to bring rapid results, but, equally, it can lead to even quicker downfalls and little lasting impact. Croatia’s Futsal Dinamo is breaking with this norm and showing a way to deliver sustainable success.
From Dream to Reality: Futsal Dinamo’s Remarkable Journey
Just over 10 years ago Futsal Dinamo was an ambitious dream among two close friends. Today, the club are Croatian champions after lifting the title in front of 5,500 fanatical fans, have been the no.1 sport story in the national media and are preparing to host the UEFA Futsal Champions League.
Head Coach Matija Dulvat does not see their rapid progress stopping any time soon “In the next 4 years the objective is to attack the UEFA Champions League Final Four and to challenge the best teams in Europe and to win a Champions league.”
Dulvat’s past record suggests he is not someone you should doubt. The former Croatian international and Italian Champion as a player is the key figure in Dinamo’s story. As well as co-founder of the club alongside another former Croatian International Mate Čuljak, who passed away in 2017, he has been club captain and then president.
When asked if he envisioned the club’s extraordinary rise at the beginning, he said he didn’t doubt it, just as he has no uncertainty about achieving their future objectives. Dulvat, who is also Head Coach of the Sweden Men’s National Team, has his own mind and, if he believes in something, he will not be influenced by popular opinion. This mindset is reflected in the model adopted by Futsal Dinamo.
Community-First Approach: Fostering Fan Loyalty and Local Bonds
The key to creating any financially sustainable club is building a strong connection with fans and the local community. From a business perspective, this would be referred to as customer loyalty but people’s expectations with sports teams are different and the intention to serve these groups must be authentic.
The deafening noise of a packed Dražen Petrović Arena during the climactic game of the Croatian Championship was testament to the profound and genuine bond has been built between the fans and the club. More evidence of the club’s strong links comes by the fact they had over 130 small sponsors and 1300 members paying an annual subscription last season.
This connection was built through various initiatives during the club’s short history. The fan-owned club’s members have a big say in key decisions including electing the President every four years and having transparency in the operations of the organisation. This involvement gives them a feeling of the club being theirs.
They carry out many humanitarian and charity activities in the local area (fans deciding where money raised is distributed), events where fans and players can come together and participate in and organise neighbourhood tournaments. One example is a league game every December where they raise funds and fans bring gifts for disadvantaged children.
One of the main actions to embed themselves in their community has been the development of a rapidly expanding youth academy where they currently have around 250 children involved. That creates 250 families with a direct connection to the club. The academy incredibly produced half of the players for the championship winning team, giving fans idols they can identify with.
Investing in People & Structure: A Differentiated Model for Club Growth
This success has been achieved by the management allocating a significant portion of the budget to non-playing staff who help promote the club. Staff on the payroll include 3 for public relations, 1 for marketing and 12 youth coaches and these are supplemented by volunteer staff.
“We invest in people who will work and earn money to cover their salaries and earn money for the club.” Dulvat says. This money is then used to invest in growing the workforce to generate further funds for the club that creates a virtuous cycle that underpins the club’s financial sustainability and expansion.
The share of the budget that is dedicated to the 1st team is not only allocated to players as is often the case. Instead, the club demonstrates its care for the players and supports them to perform their best with a full-time physio in addition to investing in a goalkeeper coach, fitness coach, assistant coach and kit manager.
This is very important to Dulvat. “We wanted to invest in environment where young players can grow and can fulfil their potential.” Part of this includes partnering with a university so the players gain a diploma with a playing career being precarious and short.
“We know we can’t compete with the best clubs in terms of money but we can invest in knowledge and make our players better so they can compete against the best. That is the main reason we are investing so much in structures and not directly in players.”
All this attention given to their community, whether outside or within the organisation, creates a special feeling around the club. As a former Futsal Dinamo player myself, this is something I can attest to.
A Bridge to the Future: Futsal Dinamo’s Example for the Sport
The link, although not official, with the football club Dinamo Zagreb by being part of their fans’ group has helped the club on its journey. However, it is important to understand this gave the club a head start rather than an advantage inaccessible to other clubs.
With futsal sadly still neglected by many federations around the world, the clubs, integrated and thriving in their communities, have the opportunity to be a powerful force in the development of the sport around the world. This requires financially sustainable models and Futsal Dinamo is a shinning example for others to follow.
“We want to show everyone that futsal has future as a professional sport.” Dulvat, 47, states defiantly. The fact Futsal Dinamo are one of the most followed sports teams in Croatia having moved ahead of many 1st Division football clubs with much longer histories, shows they are well on their way to achieving another of their goals.