We’re more than halfway through the AFL season, but there’s one team that still doesn’t seem to be up the ladder: Queensland Football Club.
Why? Because Queensland Football Club doesn’t exist – at least not in the realm of a football team.
Instead, Queensland Football Club is a recreational sporting brand run by South Yarra resident Ken Sakata. The third article shipment will be released today at 5:30pm AEST.
The third drop follows two successful runs that saw items sell out in just eight minutes and generated profits that allowed Sakata to continue investing in the business.
Chatting with SmartCompanySakata explained how the wrong club came about, his struggles with Mark Zuckerberg and why running Queensland Football Club is a bit like growing a plant.
Many Australians – and Victorians in particular – have found various lockdown hobbies to keep busy and distracted during the pandemic.
As an elective surgeon, Sakata has been working on the front lines of Australia’s response to COVID-19, which has been “a pretty intense time” to say the least.
“Everything had a huge impact on my own health or the health of others,” Sakata said.
“I felt like I was slowly losing my mind.”
Sakata went online to blow off some steam, but was quickly exhausted by the rhetoric Twitter took on regarding case numbers during the pandemic, considering he was so close to the action himself.
“So I was like, ‘Oh, you know what? Wouldn’t it be funny if instead of tweeting about our response to the pandemic, I just talked absolute rubbish on a daily basis,'” Sakata said.
With a fanbase of 400 at the time, Sakata decided to start making posts implying that he was quitting his job and becoming a professional footballer.
The joke grew when Sakata decided to ask his friends – who have their own t-shirt company with AFL legends printed on them – if they could also make a shirt with Sakata’s face on it.
The group thought it would be “pretty funny for about five minutes.”
“What we didn’t realize was that in a week we would be selling $2,000 worth of t-shirts.”
The quick fix turned into a lasting brand
The problem with selling so many of these shirts isn’t just that Sakata felt “a little weird” knowing that people were walking around in shirts with his face on them.
Shortly after the jerseys went live, Sakata received a cease and desist letter from the AFL, telling him he could no longer sell the jersey because it had Gold Coast Suns branding.
“For a few days we remodeled [the t-shirt] so instead of “Gold Coast Suns” it said “Queensland Football Club,” Sakata explains, as a band-aid to avoid further legal problems.
But the quick fix kept mulling in Sakata’s mind, and earlier this year he thought it might be a good idea to take the name and run with it.
Although AFL is arguably the most popular sport in Australia, you never actually see people wearing Team Guernsey’s because it’s “not really acceptable casual wear”.
“So I decided to start my own club and sell tastefully designed merch for it,” he said, aiming for it to be sporty merch that people can “walk the dog” with.
To start the business, Sakata “googled everything” about where to get sweatshirts, what printer to get, how to use Shopify, and so on, and treats the experience as “a bit of an adventure.”
But the “lean and mean” approach has allowed him to build the business that has been “profitable from day one.”
“Everything from drop one funded drop two, and drop two funded drop three and four,” Sakata said.
But profit isn’t the only reason Sakata keeps the joke going. He says the project helped him get in touch with many parts of his brain that “probably haven’t been working for a long time.”
“As you can probably imagine, you don’t want your doctor to say, ‘Oh, let’s try.’
“Whereas [at Queensland Football Club], I can do that. I give everything, but the stakes are very low.”
Unlike surgeries, a sweater that doesn’t sell would have gone wrong for Queensland Football Club, Sakata says.
“And who really cares?” he laughs.
“In a way, it’s good to have that freedom and it’s good to be frivolous.
“I know I’m being interviewed by Clever company, but it’s a stupid business. And I really enjoy running a silly business. It’s very, very fulfilling.”
The Zuckerberg Police
Sakata says he can appreciate that the business would not exist without social media as Queensland Football Club’s Twitter followers grow to more than 1,000 followers.
“It’s just word of mouth,” Sakata said. “I’m amazed people know about this.”
But people are doing it, and like other business owners, Sakata wants to reach even more people.
Despite being a legitimate company based on something completely false, Sakata has found his attempts to buy paid ads online fail after being flagged for misrepresentation.
“Again, Mr. Zuckerberg, selling casual wear for a club that doesn’t exist is odd behavior but not illegal,” Sakata tweeted earlier this month.
— Sakata (@QLDFootballClub) June 15, 2022
“The police of [Facebook and Instagram] Policies are all done algorithmically with bots I suppose,” Sakata said.
“And there’s no customer service to speak of because so many people have problems to deal with and there’s no one to talk to.
“I think it’s really a disaster.”
Sakata says he has “no choice” when it comes to keeping his advertising for Queensland Football Club organic, as his advertising account has not only been flagged as suspicious on Instagram, but has also been disabled.
“I think to myself daily, ‘How do I get more eyes on this thing? This very strange thing?’”
We’re going to the grand finale
Winning the flag this year is no doubt for Queensland Football Club, but Sakata is still optimistic about the future. He admits that the business has to “change fundamentally”.
One such change would be to make things locally instead of buying finished items abroad.
The shift to local branding, locally made, is already underway, with Sakata managing to find someone in Australia to make the products and a pattern maker to design a new cut of items – with Drop Five, the the first locally created publication is expected in a few months.
Amid his optimism and forward planning, Sakata says his ultimate goal is just for Queensland Football Club “not to die”.
“This is the lowest level [of expectations].”
“It’s like having a plant: everyone speculates, ‘Will this seedling be an oak tree or will it grow avocados?’ And it’s nice to speculate.
“But I’m just trying to keep it alive from month to month.”